Step into the enchanting world of William Morris, a visionary artist and designer who, along with his creative companions from the Pre-Raphaelites, founded Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. in 1861. This dynamic venture, which later evolved into Morris & Co. (1875–1940), left an indelible mark on the realms of fabric and wallpaper, shaping the aesthetic landscape of churches and homes well into the early 20th century.
Born out of the artistic collaboration of William Morris, Ford Madox Brown, Edward Burne-Jones, Charles Faulkner, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, P. P. Marshall, and Philip Webb, the initial goal of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. was to craft and offer medieval-inspired, handcrafted items for home decor. Their workshop, headquartered at 8 Red Lion Square in London, quickly gained attention and flourished after showcasing their work at the 1862 International Exhibition.
As the demand for ecclesiastical decoration waned in the late 1860s, the firm pivoted towards secular commissions, expanding its product line to include furniture, metalwork, glassware, printed fabrics (chintzes), carpets, and more. William Morris, a true Renaissance man, ventured into the realm of fabric design, creating repeating patterns for wallpaper as early as 1862 and later designing his first fabric-printing pattern around 1868.
In 1875, Morris restructured the partnership, leading to the dissolution of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. and the establishment of Morris & Co. under his sole ownership. During this period, Morris immersed himself in the practical art of dyeing, experimenting with old and new methods. His dedication to dyeing paved the way for the revival of traditional techniques, including indigo dyeing and the use of vegetable dyes like madder.
In 1881, Morris relocated his dyeworks to Merton Abbey Mills, creating a vibrant complex for stained glass, textile printing, and carpet and fabric weaving. The expansion of Morris & Co. continued, with Morris teaching himself tapestry weaving in 1879. His apprentice, John Henry Dearle, played a crucial role in the expanded workshop at Merton Abbey, overseeing various departments and contributing to the design of tapestries based on Burne-Jones's drawings and cartoons.
As Morris delved into other interests such as socialism and the Kelmscott Press, day-to-day operations at the firm were entrusted to capable hands. May Morris, William's daughter, assumed the role of director of the embroidery department in 1885, while John Henry Dearle became the head designer for the firm by 1890.
Following Morris's passing in 1896, Dearle took on the role of art director, and the firm underwent another name change to Morris & Co. Decorators Ltd. in 1905. Dearle's contributions to textile design, often overshadowed by Morris, continued until his death in 1932. The firm persisted, producing high-quality stained glass until the 1920s, and finally dissolved in the early months of World War II.
Today, the legacy of William Morris lives on through his timeless designs, with Morris & Co.'s creations still available under licenses granted to Sanderson & Sons and Liberty of London. The rich history of Morris and his influential company continues to weave its way into the fabric of design and craftsmanship, a testament to the enduring impact of one man's artistic vision.