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.


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:


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.”


26th April 1859: To Jane Burden a model.

Site of Grave:

St. George’s Church, Kelmscott, Oxfordshire.

Places of Interest:


The Stained Glass Museum, Ely.


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


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


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.


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


Norwich Castle Museum.


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


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