Biography of William Morris

Photo of William Morris

William Morris was a nineteenth century artist, designer and poet.

When and Where was he Born?

24th March 1834, Elm House, Walthamstow, London, England.

Family Background:

William Morris was born into a comfortably off middle class family.

Education:

Marlborough College. Studied for Holy Orders at Exeter College, Oxford (where he met Burne-Jones). (Renounced the church and then studied architecture).

Timeline of William Morris:

1840: The Morris family moves to Woodford Hall, near Epping Forest.

1847: Death of Morris’s father.

1848: He goes to Marlborough College.

1851: Morris visits the Great Exhibition in London. He studies at home for his examinations.

1852: Morris finishes his education privately with the Reverend F. B. Guy.

1853: He begins theological studies at Oxford University.

1855: He is granted a private income.

1856: Morris becomes an articled Clerk to G.E. Street.

1857: He helps to paint the frescoes at the Oxford Union.

1859: He marries Jane Burden, a model, on 26th April.

La Belle Iseult. 1858. Tate Gallery

1860: The couple move into the Red House at Upton in Kent, which he designed and furnished with help from the architect Philip Webb.

1861: Morris, Marshall and Faulkner and Co is founded. Birth of his daughter Jenny.

1862: Morris’s firm exhibit at the International Exhibition. Birth of his daughter May.

1864: He issues his first design of wallpaper called “Trellis”.

1865: The family moves to 26 Queen Square, Bloomsbury, London.

1866: Morris is given the jobs of decorating the Green Dining Room in the South Kensington Museum and the Armoury and Tapestry Rooms at St. James’s Palace.

1869: Morris begins working on calligraphy and illuminating manuscripts.

1871: He travels around Iceland. He takes on the joint tenancy of Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire with Dante Gabriel Rossetti. His wife Jane and Rossetti have an affair.

1872: He moves from Bloomsbury to Horrington House in Chiswick.

1873: He visits Italy and Iceland. He designs his first chintz pattern called “Tulip and Willow”.

1874: The affair between Rossetti and Jane comes to an end.

Broadway Tower
Broadway Tower, Worcestershire which Morris hired (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1875: He makes his first two designs for Wilton Carpets. He buys out his partners to form the firm Morris and Company.

1876: Morris serves as an examiner at the South Kensington School of Art.

1877: He takes up carpet weaving. He founds the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and gives lectures in public on the decorative arts.

1878: He moves to 26 Upper Mall, Hammersmith, London.

1879: Morris becomes Treasurer of the National Liberal League.

1881: The Merton Abbey Works are established. He begins weaving tapestries.

1882: He takes on Frank Brangwyn as an apprentice.

1883: Morris joins the Social Democratic Federation. He is made an honorary Fellow of Exeter College. He becomes an advisor to the new Kensington Museum on carpets.

1884: Morris becomes the leader of the Socialist League. He lectures on textile fabrics at the International Health Exhibition.

1885: He is arrested after an assault on a policemen but is later released as a well known man of letters.

1887: Riots take place in Trafalgar Square.

1888: The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society is founded by Walter Crane.

1889: Morris goes to Paris to attend the Second International Conference of Socialists.

1890: The Kelmscott Press is founded. Morris withdraws from the Socialist League. The Birmingham Guild of Handicrafts is formed. Morris and Co open a furniture factory in Pimlico.

1892: He refuses the offer of becoming Poet Laureate.

1893: the first issue of the journal “The Studio” is published.

1895: Morris starts to become ill.

1896: He travels in Norway. The Kelmscott Chaucer is completed. He dies later that year.

(1898): The Kelmscott Press is wound up.

When and Where did he Die?

4th October 1896, Hammersmith, London, England of tuberculosis.

Age at Death:

62.

Written Works:

1858: “The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems.”
1867: “The Life and Death of Jason.”
1868: “The Earthly Paradise.”
1870: “The Volsunga Saga”.
1872: “Love is Enough, A Morality.”
1874: “The Aeneid of Virgil.”
1876: “The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs.”
1882: “Hopes and Fears for Art.” “Ouida.” “In Maremma.”
1885: “Chants for Socialists.”
1886: “The Pilgrims of Hope.”
1887: “The Odyssey.” “The Aims of Art”.
1888: “A Dream of John Ball and a King’s Lesson”. “Signs of Change.”
1889: “The House of the Wollings.”
1891: “The Story of the Glittering Plain.” “News from Nowhere.” (published as a book for first time). “Poems by the Way”.
1894: “The Wood Beyond the World.” “How I became a Socialist”.
1895: “Child Christopher and Goldikind the Fair.”
1896: “The Well at the World’s End.”
(1912): “Collected Works.”

Marriage:

26th April 1859: To Jane Burden a model.

Site of Grave:

St. George’s Church, Kelmscott, Oxfordshire.

Places of Interest:

CAMBRIDGESHIRE:

The Stained Glass Museum, Ely.

GLOUCESTERSHIRE:

Kelmscott Manor, Kelmscott near Lechlade.
Memorial Cottage, Kelmscott.

KENT:

The Red House, Near Bexley Heath. (Owned by the National Trust).

LONDON:

William Morris Gallery,Water House, Lloyd Park, Walthamstow.
Merton Abbey Works, Merton.
Red House, Bexley Heath.
St. James Palace.
Victoria and Albert Museum.
6 Queen’s Square, Westminster.

OXFORDSHIRE:

All Saint’s Church, Middleton Cheney.
St. Mary’s Church, Bloxham.

NORFOLK:

Norwich Castle Museum.

WOLVERHAMPTON:

Wightwick Manor (Holds many original Morris decorations even though he never visited himself).

WORCESTERSHIRE:

Broadway Tower, at the top of Fish Hill, near Broadway. It has a room devoted to William Morris.