William Morris by Frederick Hollyer, 1887
William Morris was born in Walthamstow (East London). He was educated at Marlborough and Exeter College, Oxford.
In 1856, he spent a year as apprentice at the office of George Edmund Street, one of the leading English Gothic revival architects.
Morris is best known as a designer of wall coverings, stained glass, carpets and tapestries and is considered as a pioneer of the Arts & Crafts movement.
His philosophy was to reject the tawdry industrial manufacture of decorative arts and architecture in favour of a return to hand-craftsmanship, raising artisans to the status of artists, creating art that should be affordable and hand-made, with no hierarchy of artistic mediums.
In 1861, Morris founded a design firm ("The Firm", which would later become Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.) in partnership with the artist Edward Burne-Jones, and the poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The compagny was specialized in stained glass, furniture, carving, wallpaper, carpet and tapestries. "The Firm" had a profound impact on the decoration of churches and houses into the early 20th century. One of the most exquisite tapestries produced by the company was The Woodpecker, designed entirely by William Morris. It was shown at the Arts & Craft Exhibition Society in 1888.
In the late 1860's William Morris was the guest of the Earl at Charleville Castle. He stayed longer than expected (nearly three months), loved the ambiance of the building and set about the redecoration of the Dining Room (now called The William Morris Room). Unfortunately the exquisite wallpaper he designed (and made on site) was damaged during the period in which the castle was falling into decay with the roof valleys destroyed. Fortunately, a sufficient sample was rescued and presented to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London - perhaps one day its elaborate pattern of gold leaf print on red will be reprinted and re-installed at the castle. The matching gold leaf stencil placed by William Morris on the ceiling survives undamaged and gives some hint of the richness of texture and refinement that William Morris brought to this great building. Stiple-work patterns carried out by William Morris on the ceiling of the Library (now - the Anthony Cronin Room) remains relatively intact and amenable to full restoration.