William Morris was an eminent Victorian, born in 1834. He had a many-sided career as poet, artist, manufacturer and socialist. At Oxford he began a life-long friendship with Edward Burne-Jones, the painter and designer, who subsequently introduced him to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the poet and painter, and a leader of the Pre-Raphaelites.
At one time Morris intended to enter the church, then began to write poems and prose romances, decided (under Rossetti’s influence) to become an artist – and eventually became an architect. Jane Burden, whom he married in 1859, was painted many times by Rossetti. In furnishing his red brick house at Upton, Kent, Morris found his true vocation as artist and designer. He founded a firm in Bloomsbury where, with the help of Rossetti, Burne-Jones and others, he produced furniture of simple shapes and solid workmanship, and fabrics, hangings and carpets which did much to change the heavy Victorian outlook on interior decoration.
Throughout his life William Morris took an active interest in social reform. He preached socialism in writing, in lectures and at meetings. He was arrested twice – once in 1885 and again in 1887, after the ‘Bloody Sunday’ meeting in Trafalgar Square on 13 November. His interest in early printed books led to the foundation of the Kelmscott Press (1890)-a landmark in the history of printing which revived the art of fine book production.