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Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., later Morris & Co. (1861-1944)

Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., later Morris & Co.

London; designers, makers, artists and upholsterers of furniture (fl.1861-c.1944)

William Morris (1834-96) established ‘Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.’ in 1861. Other partners were the painters Ford Madox Brown (1821-93), Edward Burne-Jones (1833-98), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82), an engineer and amateur artist, Peter Paul Marshall (1830-90), and Charles Faulkner (1833-92).  

Morris was principally a painter in his early years, though it is believed he had earlier made a hexagonal oak table, with unusual decoration while a student at Oxford, and with Burne-Jones had designed furniture for the rooms they shared at 17 Red Lion Square, from 1856. The large, medieval-style furniture for Red Lion Square was made in plain deal by Henry Price, a local cabinet maker employed by Thomas "Tommy" Baker of Christopher Street, Hatton Garden. Price’s diary records a commission of ‘very old fashioned Furniture in the Mideael Style’ which included a settle (probably later adapted for Red House), high backed chairs, a large cabinet, three cupboards and an oak trestle table.  

Morris designed and/or decorated other furniture for his own use or for sale: The Prioress’s Wardrobe, c.1858-60; King Rene’s Honeymoon Cabinet and the St George Cabinet, c.1861-2. Three William Morris designs of The Legend of St George  in the V&A collection are illustrated below:

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William Morris design for a cabinet
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V&A Museum
The Legend of Saint George, 1861. 
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Morris design or a cabinet
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V&A Museum
The Legend of Saint George, 1861.
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Drawing of the St George legend
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V&A Museum
The Legend of St George, c.1860-90.

Morris’s first marital home, The Red House in Bexleyheath, was designed by Philip Webb. Furnished from 1859 with some of the previously commissioned medieval-style furniture, Webb also designed six additional large built-in pieces including The Dresser.  From 1865 the firm were based at 26 Queen’s Square and the Morris family lived above the showrooms. The 1871 census listed Morris as an artist and head painter employing eighteen men and … boys.

The lease of Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire, was taken by Morris & Rossetti as a country retreat from 1871. Morris took sole control of the firm in 1874, and it was then officially renamed Morris & Co. He opened new showrooms in Oxford Street in 1877 and the following year took a lease on Kelmscott House, Hammersmith, which like his home in Queen Square acted as a ‘semi-public showroom’.  

 
Furniture Ideology

Morris’s furniture fell into two categories; the ‘necessary work-a-day furniture’ and ‘state furniture’; the latter being produced primarily until 1870s. His views were expressed in his 1882 publication, Lesser Arts of Life: "Our furniture should be good citizen’s furniture, solid and well made in workmanship, and in design should have nothing about it that is not easily defensible, no monstrosities or extravagances, not even of beauty, lest we weary of it. As to matters of construction, it should not have to depend on the special skill of a very picked workman, or the super-excellence of his glue, but be made on the proper principles of the art of joinery; also I think that, except for very movable things like chairs, it should not be so very light as to be nearly imponderable; it should be made of timber rather than walking-sticks’….’workaday’ furniture should be simple, well made and proportioned and .... if it were rough I should like it the better, not the worse". 

 
Designers, Artists and Craftsmen

Philip Webb, designer (1831-1915). During his brief apprenticeship to George Edmund Street in Oxford, Morris met Webb, who at the time was Street’s chief assistant. Webb’s furniture designs date from 1858 and his role in Morris, Marshall & Faulkner & Co. and then Morris & Co. was integral to the firm’s early success. He designed most of the painted furniture exhibited in 1862 and his accounts for 1861 record payment for the design of the Backgammon Players cabinet and the St. George cabinet. In 1867 the partners of Morris, Marshall & Faulkner voted to give him a salary of £80 per annum for his work as a ‘consulting manager’ and Webb became chief designer, a position which he held until 1890. In these later decades his furniture designs became lighter and less elaborate in style. 

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Sussex chair
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V&A Museum
Sussex chair designed, c.1860 and made, 1870-90.

As well as the popular Sussex chair & adjustable armchair, Webb-designed furniture includes an oak side table, based on a Japanese altar table, now at the Musee d'Orsay, Paris. This was part of the 1860s commission for Major (later Colonel) William Gillum, a member of the Hogarth Club, friend of the Pre-Raphaelites and amateur artist. Gillum founded The Church Farm Industrial School Boys, East Barnet in 1860 and built himself a new house on the same site, Church Hill House. The furnishing commission for the house included a wardrobe, dining table, sideboard, piano, chest of drawers, drawing room table, dressing tables, wash stands & towel horses, and billiard room benches [Pevsner, ‘Colonel Gillum and the Pre-Raphaelites’, The Burlington Magazine, vol. 95, March 1953, p.78-81]. Also of Webb’s design an oak serving table, c.1870-2, for the dining room for Isaac Lowthian Bell, at Rounton Grange, Northallerton and an oak swing toilet mirror (c.1862). Gillum’s side table and the Rounton Grange table and the mirror are illus. Mason (2021) figs.164, 165 & pl. IX. 19.

Webb’s architectural & interior design expertise are reflected in the refreshment rooms at the South Kensington Museum (1868), which fittingly housed furniture in the London Victorian and Edwardian Decorative Arts Exhibition, 1952.

Ford Madox Brown, designer (1821-1893). Prior to the formation of ‘The Firm’, Madox Brown had worked for Charles Seddon and Company. Many of the early Morris firm's designs were by Madox Brown of a type described in an early catalogue as being ‘of solid construction and joiner made’ (an example of a cottage-style chair with ladder back is illus in Aslin (1962), pl. 67). Other examples include a washstand and towel horse, c.1860-2, Kelmscott Manor (KM298 & KM304) and an Egyptian-style chair with cane seat inspired by earlier designs of W. Holman Hunt which were made by J. G. Crace. The Madox Brown version was reputedly made by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. (illustrated below):

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Madox Brown chair
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V&A Museum
Egyptian-style chair with cane seat, 1861-2.

Another possible example is the Sussex round-seated chair of the early 1860s at Kelmscott Manor (KM307), described by Robert Edis in Decoration and Furniture of Town Houses (1881) as a bedroom chair and still available for 10s 6d in the early 20th century.  In summary, The Artist, May 1898, stated that Madox Brown 'designed eight different chairs, four tables, a piano, bookshelves, couches, wallpapers, embroideries... [for the firm].  Madox Brown adopted the motto "Let us be honest, let us be genuine in furniture as in aught else....If we must needs make our chairs and tables of cheap wood, do not let them masquerade as mahogany or rosewood; let the thing appear that which it is; it will not lack dignity; if it only be good of its kind and well made". The firm also executed for him a number of washstands, towel horses and toilet tables which he had designed for his own use'.  

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, artist & designer (1828-1882). He worked with Morris on the decoration of two high backed chairs, c.1856 & 1857-8, for Red Lion Square; sold at Christie's London 29 October 1997 (lots 20 & 21) and now at the Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, Delaware, USA (1997-12 & 1997-13). With Burne-Jones, Rossetti painted the four interior panels of the Prioress’s Wardrobe, now in the Ashmolean Museum collection. It is believed that these panels were recycled from another piece of furniture made for Red Lion Square, c.1857. Another set of four painted panels painted by Rossetti and possibly Burne-Jones & Morris, c.1860-2, are thought to have been made for the interior of the bookcase at Red House (one panel illustrated below):

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One of four painted panels
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V&A Museum
Oil paint on wood by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris, c.1860-65.

A jewel casket with the design attributed to Webb, was decorated by Rossetti & Elizabeth Siddall, c.1860-2, and is now at Kelmscott Manor.

Later Rossetti designed a Regency-style chair and other furniture for Kelmscott Manor. His London home at Cheyne Walk was furnished with antiques which are visible in H. Treffrey Dunn’s gouache & watercolour, Dante Gabriel Rossetti & Theodore Watts-Dunton, 1882, at the National Portrait Gallery (illustrated below):

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Dante-Gabriel-Rossetti-Theodore-Watts-Dunton.jpg
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National Portrait Gallery
Dante Gabriel Rossetti & Theodore Watts-Duntonby Henry Treffry Dunn, 1882.

A version of the chair in this image was designed by Rossetti, made by the firm and still available in 1912 Morris catalogue at 16sh. 6d (illustrated below):

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Rossetti chair
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V&A Museum
'​​​​​​Rossetti' Armchair of painted and stained beech with a circular rush seat, 1870-90.

There are two Rossetti sofa designs at the Birmingham Museums Trust (illustrated below). One of these sofas was exhibited in 1862. 

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Rossetti sofa design
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 Birmingham Museums Trust
Two Designs for a Sofa, annotated with pencil notes and inscribed with measurements and other notes, mostly in William Morris' hand, 1861-62.

Edward Burne-Jones, artist & designer (1833-1898).  He decorated the Ladies and Animals sideboard, and was involved with decoration of The Backgammon Players cabinet and a walnut mirror with gilding (both illustrated below):

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Ladies and animals sideboard
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V&A Museum
Ladies and Animals sideboard, made of deal and painted by Edward Burne-Jones, 1860.
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The Backgammon Players
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V&A Museum
The Backgammon Players, made of pine, oil paint on leather, brass and copper, 1861. 
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Toilet mirror
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Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Toilet mirror made of walnut, gesso, paint, gilding, glass, and brass, 1862. 

Burne-Jones also decorated a piano manufactured by Frederick Priestley (illustrated below) and assisted by W. A. S. Benson, designed a number of innovative pianos inspired by 18th century harpsichords.

Kate Faulkner, gilder & decorator (1841-1898). She was the sister of founding partner of the firm, Charles Faulkner.  Her work features on a piano, with works manufactured by John Broadwood & Sons, which was supplied as part of the Morris & Co. commission to Aleco Ionides for 1 Holland Park, London, 1883. This piano was exhibited at the Arts & Crafts Exhibition, 1888, and later given to the V&A. Also known to have provided elaborate gilt gesso work on embossed panels of settles for the firm.   

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Grand piano
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V&A Museum
Grand piano made of oak and stained and decorated with gold and silver-gilt gesso. Designed by Edward Burne-Jones and decorated by Kate Faulkner, 1883.

George Washington Jack, designer and carver (1855-1932). He held a salaried position in Webb’s office as draughtsman and site architect from 1882 and his account books (now at the William Morris Gallery) show that he began designing for Morris & Co. in 1885. In 1890 he took over from Webb as chief designer.

Examples of Jack’s design work for Morris & Co. included the ‘Saville Easy chair’ (probably) c.1890, originally retailed for £7 5s; a bergère, c.1893-5; and a cabinet, c.1890-91, all now in the V&A.  Much of Jack’s finest furniture were exhibited at early Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society shows. For Morris & Co. he also produced architectural designs for Lord Leconfield at 9 Chesterfield Gardens; working drawings for window and door architraves in 1888; and in 1890 fittings for the ballroom, anteroom, and smoking room, as well as a design and working drawings for a carved wainscot cabinet. 

Jack commissioned Morris & Co. to produce furniture for his private use, including his Italian walnut chest inscribed ‘Hunting and slaying is my praying, my life is the dove's betraying G J 1892’.

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George Jack walnut chest
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V&A Museum
Carved walnut chest, designed by George Jack, 1892.

Jack had carved the panels for this chest, which was subsequently shown by him at the 1893 Arts & Crafts Society Exhibition and the 1914 Anglo-French Exhibition, in the Louvre, Paris. The chest was then returned to George Jack's home and remained there until his daughter gifted it to the V&A in 1972.

W. A. S. Benson, designer (1854-1924). Director of Morris & Co. from 1896 and Chairman from 1905, Benson designed furniture for Morris & Co., some of which was exhibited at the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition (one of which is illustrated below). Also the bedroom furniture which was made by Morris & Co. and supplied to Melsetter House at the turn of the 20th century. With Burne-Jones, Benson designed various piano cases in the form of 18th century harpsichords.  Later Morris & Co. stocked Benson designed & manufactured metalwork, including an oil table lamp (now in the V&A) and he designed at least one wallpaper for the firm entitled The Daisy.

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Benson cabinet
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V&A Museum
Cabinet made of mahogany and satinwood with marble slabs and silvered mounts, designed by William Arthur Scott Benson c.1900-1913.
 
Exhibitions

London International Exhibition of 1862. This was the first commercial exhibition in which the firm participated. They paid £25 to rent two stands for its display in the Medieval Court, where they exhibited furniture designed by J. Sedding, Pugin, Burges, Webb, Morris, and Burne-Jones. They were awarded a medal for these pieces and, despite criticism of the prices, sold £131 worth of goods.

At the time William Burges (1827-81) described their work as being the product of  "an association of architects and painters .... who have set up a shop in Red Lion Square..." and the catalogue described it as merely ‘decorative furniture’. Walter Crane recalled in his 1907 An Artist’s Reminiscences that "one saw in the work of these men the influence of Gothic Revival and the study of medieval art generally. Their painted furniture and rich embroideries had previously only been seen by close friends".

The press generally ridiculed the display, seen for example in The Illustrated London News, July-Dec 1862: "Messrs. Morris, Marshall and Co. exhibit furniture and worsted and serge hangings of still earlier date, with no suspicion of any but barbarous Saxon character, caricaturing even the old illuminations. A lacquered cabinet with figures playing at the ancient game of backgammon is ugly enough, but a sofa consisting only of rectangular bars is simply absurd and has been excusably ridiculed in Mr Dicken’s periodical. The medievalists tax our patience sufficiently when they seek to interest us with emblems, the meaning of which had been forgotten for ages; but it is too bad to attempt to rob us of our domestic comfort". 

In addition to the Backgammon Players cabinet the firm also exhibited:

  • St George’s Cabinet (£50) The St George Cabinet was later purchased by Lawrence Hodson of Compton Hall and sold at Christie’s, 6 July 1906 (illustrated below): 
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St George Cabinet
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V&A Museum
St George Cabinet on stand, the doors painted with scenes from the legend of St George. Designed by Philip Webb and painted by William Morris, 1861-62.
  • A screen with stamped leather panels
  • A dressing-table mirror
  • A part-gilt ebonised bookcase with 'autumn-leaf-coloured velvet curtains, sown [sic] with bees and flowers', and sides showing British wars from 1815-1862 (£18). The bookcase was later owned by Peter Paul Marshall (current location unknown) though Ford Madox Brown’s seven designs for the side panels are in the Fitzwilliam Collection, one of which is illustrated below:
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The Departure for the Peninsula, by Ford Madox Brown
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The Fitzwilliam Museum
The Departure for the Peninsula, by Ford Madox Brown, 1894. 
  • A red-lacquered music-stand (£15)
  • An Egyptian style sofa designed by Rossetti (£30)
  • Two ebonised and partly gilded drawing room chairs designed by Webb to complement the sofa. The chairs are now at Kelmscott Manor
  • A washstand and an iron bedstead
  • A chest, probably the one designed by Philip Webb (illustrated below):
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Webb-designed chest
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V&A Museum
Wooden chest (probably pine) with painted decoration and silver leaf, 1861-2.

Probably the most spectacular of pieces in 1862 was the King Rene cabinet designed for his own use by the architect, J. P. Seddon and made by Seddon & Co. The panels were designed and painted by members of the firm Madox Brown, Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Morris and Val Prinsep. The V&A tried unsuccessfully to buy the cabinet from the Exhibition. It was finally acquired from Seddon’s daughter in 1927.

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King Rene's Honeymoon Cabinet
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V&A Museum
King Rene's Honeymoon Cabinet, 1861.

Manchester Exhibition, October 1882: William Morris attended the opening lunch of this exhibition and delivered a speech. Furniture displayed by the firm included an inlaid mahogany table. Also items more suitable for the middle classes; a well-designed settee at 35s, an armchair at 9s 6d, and an ordinary chair at 7s [The Furniture Gazette, 9 & 30 September & 18 & 25 November 1882].  

New Art Museum Exhibition, Queen’s Park, Manchester, 1884: Morris displayed inexpensive ideas for furnishings, in a workman’s model ‘small house’ setting (illus. Mason (2021) fig.149). Benson was employed to select the exhibits, which included examples of the Sussex chair and a Madox Brown washstand with splayed sides [illus. The Cabinet Maker (vol. 5) p. 155]

Manchester Jubilee Exhibition, 1887: The furniture was described as 'not extensive in their collection, but what there is is remarkably fine' [The British Architect, 13 May 1887]. The 'quaint sideboard with high back and sides', inlaid with Italian walnut, satinwood and ebony, and a small hexagonal table were particularly praised. This sideboard designed by Jack, private collection, illus. ed. Mason (2021) fig.168. The Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher said: "Most of the articles are eccentric and that is natural for if Messrs. Morris were to show things similar to any forms in the trade however perfect such forms might be, the artistic subtlety of the school which they represent would be gone.... [that] Messrs. Morris and Company should seek business and reputation in the wealthy city of Manchester is not natural, for it requires a long purse to live up to the higher phases of Morrisean taste’.

Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society Exhibition, 1888: Held at the New Gallery, Regent Street, London: The firm exhibited two items of Jack’s design; an inlaid mahogany cabinet and an inlaid mahogany sideboard (cat. nos. 50 & 50g), both made by H. Sidwell & W. Thatcher. Aleco Ionides also loaned his Burne-Jones designed and Faulkner decorated piano for the exhibition.  

Second Arts and Crafts Society Exhibition, 1889: Morris & Co. again exhibited several items of Jack’s designs:

  • An inlaid mahogany cabinet executed by George Turner, H. Green, W. Thatcher & A. Dicks (cat. no. 412)
  • A mahogany table with pie-crust shaped top & carved legs made by W. Thatcher & H. Sidwell and carving by H. Dodd (cat. no. 415). A walnut version of the 1889 mahogany pie-crust table was supplied in 1889-90 to James Beale at Standen House, East Grinstead (National Trust, NT1214006).
  • A hanging cabinet in Italian walnut, inlaid with ivory & brass made by Lawrence, H. Sidwell and W. Cook (cat. no. 437)
  • A ‘remarkably pretty chimney-piece in American walnut, illus. [The Furniture Gazette, 15 December 1889]. In the 1889 Morris & Co. catalogue the exhibited version appeared as No. 376, priced at 8 guineas, and a plain version No. 370 available in oak or mahogany for £4 10s. 

The cabinet secretaire on stand was available to purchase through Morris & Co. until c. 1912 and one was supplied to Thomas & Theodosa Middlemore at Melsetter House, Orkney Islands as part of a Morris’ furnishing commission; it is now at V&A.

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Jack marquetry cabinet
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V&A Museum
Secretaire cabinet on stand designed by George Washington Jack, with marquetry of naturalistic oak leaf, acorn, ash and thistle motifs on the front and stand, and diaper pattern on the sides and back, 1893

Other examples of the secretaire cabinet were purchased by Theodora, 3rd Marquess of Bristol (Ickworth House, National Trust, NT850082), Lawrence Hodson (Compton Hall), W. K. d’Arcy (Stanmore Hall) the Christie family (Tapeley Hall, Devon). Another example was sold to Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead, American Arts & Crafts collector, which is now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  

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Secretary cabinet
Copyright (Attribution/Credit)
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Secretaire cabinet on stand designed by George Washington Jack, made of mahogany with marquetry made of hardwood, c. 1889

In the Morris & Co. catalogue of 1912 the cabinet was priced at 98 guineas for the version decorated in marquetry or at 60 guineas for a plainer one.

Third Arts & Crafts Exhibition, 1890: Morris & Co. exhibited two pieces of furniture to Jack’s designs; a bachelor’s sideboard in mahogany with cabinet work by H. Green, W. Thatcher, A. Allam & W. Drummond (cat. no. 319); and an oak cabinet with cabinet work by W. Thatcher & H. Green and carving by L. Turner (cat. no. 323).

Fourth Arts & Crafts Exhibition, 1893: Morris & Co. did not exhibit any furniture under its own name but George Jack displayed a Italian walnut chest of his design and carved by him, with joinery by W. Thatcher (it is not known whether Thatcher was employed by Morris & Co. at this date or whether this was a private commission).  

Franco-British Exhibition, 1908: A photograph of Morris & Co.’s stand shows furniture designed by Jack & Benson (illus. ed. Mason (2021), fig.169).

 
The business

By 1862 furniture was only a small part of the business, although as early as 1863 about half the total assets were accounted for by the stock of furniture, including the St George cabinet valued at £40. At this time the firm’s style of furniture moved from elaborate and heavily decorated to a more functional design and finish, with more emphasis on the choice of wood, ebonising, gilding etc. Much of this furniture was designed by Webb; possibly the two most popular being the ‘Sussex chair’ and also the upholstered adjustable chair. A sketch of the later chair (1866) by Taylor was sent to Philip Webb annotated "back and seat made with bars across to put cushions on, moving on a hinge, a chair model of which I saw with an old carpenter at Hurstmonceux, Sussex by name Ephraim Colman ....".

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Adjustable armchair
Copyright (Attribution/Credit)
V&A Museum
Adjustable armchair upholstered with fabric designed by William Morris, c.1883-1900.

The V&A has another example of this design in ebonized wood (Circ.250-1961).

Warrington Taylor (c.1835-70) joined the company in 1865 to act as the firm’s manager. He was aware of its furniture prior to this date as letters by him to the architect, Edward Robert Robson, which are preserved among Burne-Jones papers at the Fitzwilliam Museum, mention ‘a jolly little round table at Morris’ on six legs with trays underneath’ and ‘their new sideboard’. The latter could have been the sideboard designed by Webb, several examples of which survive including the two-door version, one of which survives at Kelmscott Manor and another one, which was part of commission (1864-65) by Myles Birket Foster for The Hill, Witley, Surrey, which also included a music stand or what not and Madox Brown-designed Sussex round seated chairs.

By 1873 Marshall had lost his job as an engineer in Tottenham and from then sought to assume a more active role in the firm. He had previously created several cartoons for glass, a few designs for furniture, and church decoration. He had also introduced several important clients in the 1860s, including Gillum, and acted as a business advisor at various client meetings. He designed a printed letterheading for ‘Morris, Marshall & Co.’ and proposed plans to open a branch in Fenchurch Street. Morris presented this sample letterhead at a business meeting of the partnership on 23 October 1874. However, members disapproved and thereafter the partnership was dissolved. In March 1875, Marshall, Rossetti and Brown were each paid £1000 compensation.

Morris then took sole ownership of the business and renamed it Morris & Co. This new title had been used in 1874, probably as a simplification, when it was published that ‘Morris & Co. of Queen Square…whose legitimate business was stained glass, was now showing paper-hangings & furniture, some of which was of ‘a very agreeable character’ [The Furniture Gazette, 28 March 1874]. 

The Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition Catalogue, 1876, contains an advertisement for Morris & Co. stating that the firm had appointed Elliot & Bulkley, 42 East 14th Street, New York, as its decorative manufactures’ agent in America (including furniture); Morris & Co. only exhibited textiles, painted glass, tapestries and carpets at the exhibition. A. H. Davenport, fine furniture manufacturers of Boston & New York, also advertised in the exhibition catalogue that his firm was the ‘importer of novelties, and the finest grade of upholstery goods and wall papers, including the productions of Morris & Co.’.   

In the mid-1860s a local cabinet maker, Mr Curwen, produced some of the firm’s early furniture [Mackail, Life of William Morris, 1899]. Another known furniture maker of the firm was called Stennett [John Holbrooke Stennett], listed in Webb’s address book at 23 Wilmot Street, Brunswick Square and made furniture for Burne-Jones in 1865-66. As demand increased furniture was manufactured in workshops at Great Ormond Yard, behind Queen Square. In 1877 Morris & Co. opened a shop at 264 Oxford Street [The Furniture Gazette, 3 March 1877]; this premise was renumbered 449 in 1882. A Manchester shop opened in 1883 but this was short-lived and instead the firm used Kendal, Milne & Co., to represent Morris & Co.

Mid-1880s marked another stylistic change in the furniture made and retailed by Morris & Co. This resulted mainly from the involvement of George Jack and his emphasis on decoration. In 1887 Morris acquired Holland & Sons workshops in Pimlico and inherited a team of skilled craftsmen, who produced quantities of furniture and even used machine-carving. From c.1890 the Oxford Street address was stamped on cabinet work, along with a batch number. A range of Sussex rush-seated chairs, including the Rossetti, continued to be advertised until at least 1890s.

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Saville chair
Copyright (Attribution/Credit)
V&A Museum
'Saville Easy Chair', c.1890.

When George Jack was appointed chief designer to Morris & Co. in 1890, the range of furniture they produced expanded while consistently maintaining a high quality. Morris & Co.’s commission for the Sanderson Family, Buller’s Wood, Kent, included furniture designed by Jack (1890-91) and the last documented Jack of work for ‘the firm’ was a lectern & carved prie-dieu in 1907.

The firm provided a decoration and furnishing service to many town & country clients which featured Morris furniture. By the late 1880s it was advising on furnishings for cabins and staterooms for ships of the Orient Line. In 1891 Morris & Co. took part in two theatrical projects; furnishing of Richard D’Oyly Carte’s Royal English Opera House (later the Palace Theatre) and produced furniture and upholstery for a production of The Crusaders at the Avenue Theatre.  

Morris & Co. catalogues of the late 19th/early 20th show included illustrations of Hepplewhite and Sheraton designs as well as the typical Regency bergère. Also included were designs and illustrations of Morris beds, washstands, cabinets, various types of chairs (including the 1911 Coronation chair for Queen Mary), tallboy chests, desks, and mirrors (illus. Joy, 1977).

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Glazed cabinet
Copyright (Attribution/Credit)
V&A Museum
Cabinet made of mahogany with inlaid decoration in sycamore, ebony and other woods, glass doors and brass handles, designed by George Jack, 1891. 

London Post Office Directories, 1894-1902, recorded the firm as glass painters, decorators, upholsterers & cabinet makers at 449 Oxford Street and 2a Granville Place (works), north of Oxford Street.

Morris was a member of both the Art Workers’ Guild and the Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society; serving as President of the latter from 1890. On his death in 1896 the business was left in the hands of his two partners, Messrs. R. & F. Smith, and Mr. John Dearle (1859-1912), his former pupil who managed the Merton Abbey Works. Probate on Morris’ estate was granted with effects approx. £54,000. 

Benson was appointed as chairman in 1905 when the other partners had retired and the company was renamed as Morris & Co. Decorators Limited. The 1915 London Post Office Directory listed the firm as Morris & Co. Decorators Limited, by appointment to H. M. The King, with the same trades as in the 1890s at the address of 449 Oxford Street, with the only works’ address at Merton Abbey so it is not known if furniture was still being produced in or outside of London, or simply outsourced. The showrooms moved to 17 George Street, Hanover Square in 1917.

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Interior of Morris & Co
Copyright (Attribution/Credit)
William Morris Gallery
Watercolour of the Morris & Co. in George Street showroom.

Morris & Co. continued to flourish until about 1940-1944. The first museum exhibition on William Morris was at the V&A in 1934. A photo showing furniture, illus. ed.Mason (2021) fig. 239. 

Examples of furniture made by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. and Morris & Co. can be found in many UK public museums including the V&A, the William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow, London; the Wilson Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum and the Higgin Art Gallery & Museum, Bedford. Also Kelmscott Manor (Society of Antiquaries) and Blackwell House, Cumbria; Standen House, East Sussex and Wightwick Manor, Staffordshire, all National Trust, and American museums across the country, some of which are illustrated above.

NB: Textiles, tapestries, carpets, stained glass and interior decorating of the firm falls outside the scope of this biography.

By Clarissa Ward

Sources: A Brief Sketch of the Morris Movement and of the firm (1911); Aslin, 19th Century English Furniture (1962); Symonds and Whineray, Victorian Furniture (1962); Jervis, ‘Sussex Chairs in 1820’, Furniture History (1974); Joy, Pictorial Dictionary of British 19th Century Furniture Design (1977);  Collard, ‘The Regency Revival’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (1984); Gere & Whiteway, Nineteeth-Century Design from Pugin to Mackintosh (1993); Harvey and Press, ‘The Ionides Family and 1 Holland Park’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (1994); Gibeling, ‘Peter Paul Marshall: The Forgotten Member of the Morris Firm’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (1996); Hall, ‘Furniture of Artistic Character: Watts and Company as House Furnishers, 1874-1907’, Furniture History (1996); Morris, ‘The 1952 Exhibition of Victorian and Edwardian Decorative Arts at the Victoria and Albert Museum: A Personal Recollection’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2001); Clarke, ‘George Jack, Master Woodcarver of the Arts & Crafts Movement’,  The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2004); Rose, ‘Christopher Dresser From Design to Retail in the late 19th century’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2005); Meyer, Great Exhibitions. London, New York, Paris, Philadelphia.  1851-1900 (2006); Faulkner, ‘The Odd Man Out.  Morris among the Aesthetes’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2010); Bennett, Liberty’s Furniture 1875-1915.  The Birth of Modern Interior Design (2012); Evans and Vandenbrouck, ‘A Collection as a Man of Taste Would Wish to Live With'. Constantine Ionides at Home’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2012); Carruthers, The Arts and Crafts Movement in Scotland (2013); Donnelly, ‘Rapture and ridicule.  Furniture in the 1862 Medieval Court’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2014); Collard, 'Furniture', in Mason (ed.), William Morris (London, 2021), pp. 182-209.