William Morris in Cumbria

William Morris in Cumbria

William Morris
William Morris

William Morris (1834-1896) was born in Walthamstow, Essex, the son of a wealthy city stockbroker. He was educated at Marlborough public school, then went to Oxford, where he met Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) and Philip Webb (1831-1915), both of whom became lifelong friends.
Both Morris and Burne-Jones intended entering the Church, but they gained inspiration from the writings of John Ruskin, and decided they wanted to become artists. Ruskin saw the work of Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as ‘the dawn of a new era of art’.
After leaving university, Morris spent the years between 1856 and 1861 pursuing various careers, including training under George Street as an architect. Through Burne-Jones, he also met Rossetti and other Pre-Raphaelite painters. Encouraged by Rossetti, Morris turned from architecture to painting, and was at the same time writing poetry. In 1859 he married Jane Burden, the archetypal Pre-Raphaelite beauty with brooding eyes, who appears in several of Rossetti’s paintings. Early in their marriage they moved into ‘Red House’ in Bexleyheath, Kent, which had been designed for them by Philip Webb.
Here the Morrises and their friends conceived the idea of ‘The Firm’ in 1861. Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co, later to become Morris & Co, had as members Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Philip Webb, Edward Burne-Jones and Ford Madox Brown.
They created murals, carvings, stained glass, metal work, embroidery and furniture. Their success was mainly due to Morris and Webb’s associations with architects, church decoration being their most important activity.
His greatest achievement as a designer was in the field of textiles and wallpapers. The designs for these were influenced by his knowledge of the medieval works held at the South Kensington Museum and his own observation of natural forms.
The East window of Jesus Church, Troutbeck always attracts the attention of visitors. It is remarkably large for a comparatively small building, and is very light and colourful. The glass was mostly designed by Edward Burne-Jones, and made by Morris & Co. William Morris was responsible for the design of the greenery in the window. Some of the details are the work of Ford Madox Brown. Local tradition has it that William Morris and Ford Madox Brown came to Troutbeck on a fishing holiday while Burne-Jones was working on the window, and they stayed to assist him.
The East Window, Jesus Church, Troutbeck


Church windows in Cumbria designed by
Sir Edward Burne-Jones, and made by Morris & Co :
Armathwaite Christ & St Mary
Brampton St Martin
Lanercost The Priory
Broughton in Furness St Mary
Irton St Paul
Kirkbampton St Peter
Ponsonby church
Staveley St James
Troutbeck Jesus Church
Other work in Cumbria by William Morris :
Vale of Lune St Gregory
Field Broughton St Peter
Hutton-in-the-Forest – interior decoration

After the death of Morris and Burne-Jones, the Company continued under J.H. Dearle and W.H. Knight. Several windows in Cumbria are from this late Morris period – Wigton, Scotby, Cliburn, Plumpton Wall, Eaglesfield, Hensingham, Muncaster, Ulverston St Mary, Allithwaite and Field Broughton). The Morris firm ended with the death of Dearle in 1940. Many of Morris’s textile and wallpaper designs are still being produced today, and he has a reputation as one of the great names in design.
The William Morris Gallery at Walthamstow in London has a representative selection of tiles, windows, embroidery, paintings and drawings produced by the Morris Company.
For more information about William Morris see the William Morris Society, which contains links to many Morris related sites. The Friends of the Red House (William Morris’ House) is at www.rebs.demon.co.uk.
You may also be interested in the William Morris Society, whose headquarters are at Kelmscott House, 26 Upper Mall, Hammersmith, London W6 9TA. This was Morris’s home for the last 18 years of his life
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