The name William Morris is often associated with home interiors, with some of his iconic patterns still available to buy today. However, the man himself was so much more, with poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist among the many hats he wore. Born to a middle-class family in Walthamstow, William Morris (1834-1896) became influenced by the Medieval world while studying the Classics at Oxford University. The Medieval period appealed to Morris because of its chivalric values and a more organic manufacturing process. He disliked what the Industrial Revolution had done to British people and their homes. He saw people were moving away from nature into the cities and were doing repetitive tasks, while their houses were full of identical, lower quality factory-made products. Morris grew to dislike capitalism and became enamoured with socialism. When he was at Oxford, Morris found a kindred spirit in artist and designer Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898), who went on to become a lifelong friend and collaborator. Following graduation, Morris became an apprentice to Neo-Gothic architect George Edmund Street (1824-1881), where he met fellow apprentice Philip Webb (1831-1915). However, Morris soon tired of architecture and wanted to focus on art. Around this period, he was spending a lot of time with Burne-Jones, who had become an apprentice to Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). Morris and Burne-Jones ended up living together in a flat at 17 Red Lion Square in Bloomsbury.
By the mid 1850s, Morris was writing poetry and designing furniture, manuscripts and hangings in a medieval style. While he hadn’t established a successful career at this point, his personal life appeared to be going well as he married Jane Burden (1839-1914) in 1859. Following his marriage, Morris teamed up with architect Webb to design a family home, The Red House, in Bexleyheath, south-east London. The house was very different from the Victorian and Georgian designs and exists today as a unique example of arts and crafts architecture. After furnishing The Red House in a Medieval style, Morris founded a decorative arts company, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co in 1861. They aimed to bring the craftmanship and beauty of the Middle Ages back to British homes. It sold furniture, murals, architectural carvings, metalwork and stained glass windows. With Victorians going nuts for Neo-Gothic architecture, the company’s stained glass in particular was a big hit. It didn’t take long before the wealthy became fans of MMF&Co’s aesthetic. Despite Morris’s socialist values, his products did have higher labour costs, so weren’t as accessible to the lower classes. A year after establishing the company, Morris abandoned painting and started designing wallpaper. Read the rest of this entry
Step back in time at the unique Emery Walker House in Hammersmith.
I must admit not knowing too much about the arts and crafts movement until recently. I had known of William Morris for some years, but had never heard the name Emery Walker until this year. Recently, I was invited along to the Emery Walker House with a group of fellow bloggers to join one of their guided tours.
The Arts and Crafts movement was a response to the Industrial Revolution, which saw objects being mass-produced in factories, losing their originality and connection with the natural world. Figures of the A&C movement wanted to make products with more integrity and higher quality, with the crafter actually enjoying the process of making it. Textile designer, novelist and poet William Morris (1834–1896) was one of the leaders of the movement and believed in creating beautiful objects and interiors, influenced by the past. Morris established his own company Morris & Co, and store on Oxford Street selling his furniture, wallpaper and other interiors.
The Emery Walker House stands on Hammersmith Terrace, a neat row of narrow Georgian terraces with gardens overlooking the Thames. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, this small neighbourhood in west London became the hub of the arts and crafts movement. Sir Emery Walker (1851-1933) was a London-born engraver, photographer and printer. He was a self-made man, having left school at 13 and establishing his own business by 30. In the late 1870s, he befriended Morris when he moved to Hammersmith Terrace as they bonded over socialism. The pair became firm friends and saw each other nearly every day. Walker initially lived at No.3 Hammersmith Terrace, before moving to No.7 – the house you can visit today – in 1903 and remained there for the rest of his life. Morris lived a short walk away at Kelmscott House and sowed the seed for the growing arts and crafts community of the area. Artist, bookbinder and sometime business partner of Walker (more on that later!), T.J. Cobden-Sanderson (1840-1922) lived at No.7 before Walker did, while Morris’ daughter May (1862-1938) ended up living next door at No.8 with her husband Henry Halliday Sparling. The playwright George Bernard Shaw lodged with the couple for a time and ended up having an affair with May, causing her divorce. Walker and Morris were firm friends with architect Philip Webb, who made Walker a beneficiary of his will, with some of his furniture now in No.7.
One of the most interesting stories about Walker is his business partnership and eventual feud with Cobden-Sanderson. The latter established the Doves Bindery in 1893, eventually becoming the Doves Press in 1900 when he partnered with Walker following the closure of Kelmscott Press in 1898. Cobden-Sanderson’s wife Annie provided funding after Walker admitted he didn’t have enough money to contribute. Their publications, featuring the Doves typeface which was inspired by Italian Renaissance, were a huge success. However, by 1902, their working relationship began to sour with Cobden-Sanderson complaining Walker wasn’t devoting enough time to the business. In 1906, they agreed things weren’t working, but disagreed over the splitting of the assets. Walker was entitled to have the metal letters and castings, but Cobden-Sanderson didn’t want him to have them. Between 1913-1917, the elderly Cobden-Sanderson made around 170 trips from Hammersmith Terrace to Hammersmith Bridge in the middle of the night, lobbing the heavy type, punches and matrices and hurling them into the Thames. Following Cobden-Sanderson’s death in 1922, his widow Annie paid Walker a large sum towards compensating the loss of type. Nearly a century later, designer Robert Green and the Port Authority of London searched the Thames below Hammersmith Bridge and managed to recover 150 types of the Doves Press. Read the rest of this entry