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William Morris, the Facts

Who doesn't love a William Morris print, his life, his work and his legacy. There’s so much behind his work; from his inspirations and the pioneering processes that he achieved to print his fabric to his politics and literature and poems.

But – what might you not know about him? Here are 10 quirkiest William Morris facts…

1. His nickname was Topsy

After a character in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

2. He was married with two daughters

One of the most famous muses of all time, he married Jane Burden They met after she was spotted by Dante Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones; friends of Morris’ and members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They saw her in the audience of a theatre in Oxford and wanted her to model for their art – Rossetti decided she’d be perfect for his Queen Guinevere. Though initially resisting, she eventually sat for their paintings and was soon engaged to be married to Morris.

They had two daughters together; Jenny and May Morris.

William and Jane Morris with their two daughters, May and and Jenny, and Georgiana Burne-Jones

3. His wife Jane had a well known affair with his friend Rossetti

As we said, Jane actually met Rossetti first. Though there was apparently an attraction between the two from the very beginning, he was already engaged to be married to Lizzie Siddal. Before he died, he did tell a friend that he went through with the marriage “out of a mistaken sense of loyalty and fear of giving pain” despite have fallen for another. Jane, from a poor family, couldn’t have rejected a proposal from a wealthy man and Morris, due to inheritance from his father, was a wealthy 24 year old who did adore Jane.

The charming Rossetti, following the death of Lizzie Siddal in 1862, woo’d Jane and she frequently modelled for him over the years. The betrayal didn’t end there – Morris and Rossetti joined a lease on Kelmscott Manor and it enabled Jane and Rossetti to become even closer. Over the years, it even caused Morris to take a trip to Iceland to both explore and clear his head away from what was going on at his home.

The affair was ended in 1876 following the decline of Rossetti’s health and addictions. When asked years later, Jane did admit to loving him. As a widow, she did confess she never truly Morris but never had any regrets as to the choice she made, “I suppose if I was young again I should do the same thing.”

4. He had strong political views

A socialist, Morris was more than just a designer. In 1884, Morris founded the Socialist League. In 1885 he was even arrested for disorderly conduct during a socialist demonstration. He’s famously quoted, ““…I do not want art for a few; any more than education for a few; or freedom for a few…”

5. He was intended to be a man of the cloth

Along with his friend Edward Burne-Jones, they decided to become clergymen – their aim was to live a life of chastity and channel their energies into artistic pursuit. Ultimately, after a trip to Belgium and Northern France, they were inspired by Medieval churches and cathedrals and were inspired to dedicate themselves to a life of art instead.

6. Not content with just textile and wallpaper designs, Morris also founded the Kelmscott Press.

He wrote of the venture – “Here is a new craft to conquer and to perfect.” Printing began at the press in Spring 1891. He designed multiple fonts including “Golden” Roman typeface and “Troy” Gothic type along with “Chaucer.”

He worked to create beautiful books in regards to their designs which took into account their type, image and decorative elements – you can see beautiful examples of what he achieved today if you do a quick search on the Kelmscott Press.

7. He travelled Iceland

Along with Faulkner, W.H. Evans and Magnusson, in July 1871, Morris left for Iceland. He visited twice and helped to form and confirm his political views on the inequality of the classes after he saw the poverty levels here.

8. Morris, Marhsall, Faulkner & Co. – The Firm.

In April 1861, Morris, along with his friends; Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Philip Webb, Ford Madox Brown, Charles Faulker and Peter Paul Marshall, set up the decorative arts firm. It was in response to the fact he bought Red House and was unable to furnish it with textiles that were up to his standard and taste. He wanted to create and he saw an opportunity here. In March 1875, Morris disbanded the company and it led on to become Morris & Co. with the original partners working on their individual projects. However, lifelong friends Burne-Jones and Philip Webb remained producing designs for Morris & Co.

9. His legacy.

His designs remain popular across generations and years. You’ll be just as likely to see his designs being crafted into beautiful furniture in stately homes as you will seeing the designs adorning the walls in quirky cafes. You might have spotted that our fabric was featured on the Alan Carr Christmas special last year – a nod to the fact Morris’ designs are often seen on Gogglebox on the couch of one of the couples. This season, you’ll see his designs strutting down the catwalk as part of H&M’s latest collection. Though his legacy includes his literature, poetry and political vision, his designs are really popular today, if not actually growing in popularity and awareness. Influencing designers and artists of today, along with everyone else who simply love his designs.

10. His life work.

He achieved so much during his life, from his designs to work in politics and his writing – not to mention his pioneering methods of production in printing both textiles and literature with the Kelmscott Press. He did so much that upon his death, his physician gave cause of death as, “Simply being William Morris, and having done more work than most ten men.”

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