William Morris Fabrics and Textiles

Page 2

Establishing the Textile Printing Works


Thomas Wardle

Thomas Wardle

George Wardle had been Morris’ second Manager for the business. He introduced his brother, Thomas, a silk dyer, to Morris in 1875, and he and Morris had a long association, with both mens’ interests combining in trying out old recipes for vegetable-based dyes that had commercial applications.

The fabric printing had been done by Thomas Wardle during the 1870’s, and Wardle was also responsible for producing the dyed yarns for Morris’ textile projects, including woven fabrics, carpet wool and embroidery silks.

Wardle’s firm had been printing fourteen fabric designs for Morris, but Morris became more interested in establishing his own printing works close to London where he was living.


The Merton Abbey Workshops

By June of 1881 Morris had finally decided to quit the old quarters in Queen Square, and establish his unique workshop at Merton Abbey.

The premises and buildings at Merton Abbey provided enough space for several different manufacturing processes. Carpet weaving, fabric weaving, fabric printing, dyeing, stained-glass production, and tapestry weaving were all housed in the workshops at Merton Abbey.

The workshops at Merton Abbey as seen from the bridge over the River Wandle

The workshops at Merton Abbey as seen from the bridge over the River Wandle

The Merton Abbey works had been established in the ruins of an old Norman Abbey, on the banks of the River Wandle, in the early 18th century.

The river water was used for both power – by way of a waterwheel – and for providing clean water for dyeing fabrics, as well as for washing the fabrics after they had been printed, to eliminate excess dye.

The buildings had been used as workshops since the days of the Reformation, and were well-suited to Morris’ vision of an appropriate place for the kind of manufacturing that he wished to encourage and develop. The windows of the workshops looked over the river, and the quiet sounds of block-printing would have added to an air of peaceful industry.