Morris's Early Life
Earliest known image, a self-portrait of the young Morris in 1855


William Morris (1834-96) was a multi-sided Victorian--a poet, designer, businessman, translator, fantasy writer, art theorist, and socialist leader. Born in Walthamstow, then a rural suburb east of London, the young Morris enjoyed riding horseback and wandering on the grounds of his family’s property. His father, a prosperous banker, died when he was ten, and his firm-minded and religious mother, moved her family to a slightly smaller house (Water House, now the William Morris Gallery) to raise Morris and his siblings--brothers Arthur, Thomas Rendall and Edgar and sisters Henrietta, Emma, Isabella and Alice. The young Morris read widely, including all of Walter Scott’s novels by the time he was four, and schoolmates remembered his habit of inventing long romantic tales. He was also close to his eldest sister Emma, who later married a clergyman of High Church (Anglican) convictions, with whom he shared an interest in older forms of church music.

Morris attended a local grammar school, spent two years at a boy’s (high) school, Marlborough College, and studied with a tutor before taking the entrance exams for Oxford University. Although his formal studies emphasized classical literature, he was greatly attracted to medieval remains and enjoyed visiting churches such as Westminster Cathedral and reading books on architecture in the school library. Previous writers such as A. N. Pugin had identified gothic architecture with social morality and cohesion, and although the adult Morris exhibited a more realistic understanding of medieval violence and injustice, his love of medieval history and art remained with him throughout life.

Associated Place(s)


  • William Morris

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