William Morris – A History
A Move to Queen Square: Politics and Business
In November of 1865 Morris and his family moved from Red House to the Firm’s headquarters at 26 Queen Square. Morris was never to visit Red House again because, as Mackail wrote, “the sight of it would be more than he could bear.”
After leaving Red House, Morris’ professional life became wide-ranging, encompassing a huge range of interests.
Morris became a designer of carpets, tiles, stained glass, wallpapers, and fabrics. He taught himself to weave tapestries. A man of prodigious energy, Morris was also a painter, and a respected poet who was asked to be England’s poet laureate by Queen Victoria, an honour he declined. Morris’ other talents included designing and weaving tapestries and carpets, designing furniture and designing the typography for his own books.
He was both a businessman and a socialist, speaking at meetings and rallies. His visionary writings in his book News from Nowhere described a future Britain where art, peace, decency and harmony with nature have triumphed. Morris also founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, which continues Morris’ work today.
Morris and the Firm had a good client list. In 1866 they were working on the interiors of St. James’s Palace in London, and they again worked on the interiors in 1880-81, when they produced, among other designs, St. James’s Damask – a silk weave used for both wall coverings and curtains.
A Move to the Country: Kelmscott Manor
In June of 1871 Morris and Rossetti took the lease on Kelmscott Manor with 68 acres of property. The main part of the house dated from about 1570. Another block of rooms to the north-east was added about a century later probably by Thomas Turner (1620-82).
Kelmscott Manor is now owned and managed by the Society of Antiquaries of London. Kelmscott Manor, Kelmscott, Lechlade, Glos. U.K. and is open for visits.
A London Showroom
In the spring of 1877, the Firm opened a new Showroom at 264 Oxford Street (re-numbered 449 in February 1882 and now opposite Selfridge’s). Morris used to entertain clients in the offices above the shop. Morris also used the Showroom as a meeting place for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings [SPAB] on June 7, 1877.
Hammersmith: Kelmscott House
In the summer of 1878 Morris took a twenty-one year lease on Kelmscott House in London, keeping the “Kelmscott” name of the country Manor for their new London townhouse. The house had been built in 1790. The family moved into the house late in the year. Morris continued to stay at Kelmscott Manor at intervals.
Morris & Co. continued to thrive, supplying home furnishings to many clients. In November 1880 they again were asked to work at St. James’s Palace for another commission for redecoration. That job was completed in February of 1881 “happily, with good profit”, according to Morris, though other references indicate they fully completed the work in March of 1882.
The Firm showed their products at their Oxford Street showroom, as well as at special exhibitions in both England and in Boston in 1883-84. A carpet exhibit at the Oxford Street Showroom in 1884 was the impetus for Morris to write that he was trying
“to make England independent of the East for the supply of hand-made Carpets which may claim to be considered works of art”.