MORRIS, William, 1834-1896, designer, craftsman, poet and socialist

Scope and Content

Letter from William Morris, 1885, to an unknown recipient (addressed as 'Comrade') relating to the Social Democratic Federation; Justice , the weekly propaganda paper produced by the Federation and financed for a time by Morris; and The Commonweal , the organ of the Socialist League, formed by Morris following a split from the Social Democratic Federation in 1884.

Administrative / Biographical History

Born 1834; educated Marlborough College and Exeter College, Oxford University, 1853-1856, where he met Edward Coley Burne-Jones; entered Oxford office of the gothic revivalist architect, George Edmund Street, 1856; financed first 12 monthly issues of The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, 1856; persuaded by Dante Gabriel Rossetti to give up architecture for painting, and joined a group painting the walls of the Oxford Union with scenes from Arthurian legend, 1856; shared a studio in Red Lion Square with Burne-Jones, 1856-1859; married Jane Burden, 1859; commissioned Philip Speakman Webb to build the Red House at Bexleyheath, 1859-1860; founded the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Company, 1861, which included Ford Madox Brown, Rossetti, Webb and Burne-Jones and produced fine art furniture, stained glass and embroideries; moved to Bloomsbury, 1865; published various works of poetry, including The defence of Guenevere , 1858, the Death of Jason , 1867 , The Earthly Paradise , 1868-1870, and the Book of Verse , 1870; moved to Kelmscott, Oxfordshire, 1871; visited Iceland, 1871 and 1873; reorganised the firm under his sole proprietorship as Morris and Co, 1874, and began revolutionary experiments with vegetable dyes; gave first public lecture on 'The Decorative Arts', 1877, and published Hopes and fears for Art , 1882; founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, 1877; moved to Kelmscott House, Hammersmith, 1878; moved the firm to Merton Abbey, Surrey, 1881; joined the Democratic (later Social Democratic) Federation, 1883; formed the Socialist League and the Hammersmith Socialist Society, 1884; started the Kelmscott Press, 1891; died 1896.


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Archivist's Note

Sources: Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 1995); British Library On-Line Public Access Catalogue 97; Historical Manuscripts Commission National Register of Archives. Compiled by Sarah Aitchison as part of the RSLP AIM25 project.

Separated Material

Further papers relating to William Morris may be found at the British Library, the William Morris Gallery, London, the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University, the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, the Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis, Netherlands, the Society of Antiquaries, London, Hammersmith and Fulham Archives and Local History Centre, the King's School, Canterbury, the Brotherton Library at Leeds University, the Houghton Library at Harvard University, USA, Staffordshire Record Office, the Library of Congress Manuscripts Division in Washington, USA, the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, California, USA, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, London, and the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center Library, University of Texas at Austin, USA.

Conditions Governing Use

No copyright restrictions. No documents may be photocopied.

Related Material

The BLPES holds other material relating to William Morris in the papers of the Social Democratic Federation (Ref: Coll Misc 0522), The Commonweal (Ref: Coll Misc 0897), the Fabian Society (Ref: Fabian Society/A8/2), the Independent Labour Party (Ref: ILP/4/1894, 7/1/5, 7/11/2, 8/A, 8/1898, 8/1910, 16/1878, 16/1879, 16/1884, and 16/1900-01), and Graham Wallas (Ref: Wallas/1/6/6-7 and 1/7/5).