Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. later Morris & Co.
London; designers, painters, architects and furniture makers (1861-c.1944)
William Morris was twenty-three in 1861 when he established ‘Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.’ in partnership with painters Ford Madox Brown, Edward Burne Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the architect Philip Webb, and an engineer and amateur artist, Peter Paul Faulkner. From 1865 they were based at Morris’ home in Queen’s Square. At the time Morris was principally a painter, though he apparently had some experience designing furniture because the rooms he shared with Burne-Jones in Red Lion Square had been furnished in 1857, with large medieval-style furniture made by a local carpenter, in plain deal from rough drawings of the two friends’ requirements. His home, The Red House in Bexleyheath (designed by Philip Webb), was furnished in 1858-9 with some of this medieval furniture and Webb designed large built-in pieces for the hall and dining room.
Throughout his life Morris expressed views on furniture. He was not a furniture maker or designer although while a student at Oxford it is believed he made a hexagonal oak table with unusual decoration. His views on furniture 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". The other partners Ford Madox Brown and Philip Webb had designed furniture in the 1850s; Madox Brown having worked for Charles Seddon and Company and Webb as an architect and designer whose furniture designs date from 1858.
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 is illustrated in Agius (1962), pl. 67]. These rugged simple pieces were just one area of Morris and Co. furniture designs. Their first commercial display was at the London International Exhibition of 1862, described then by William Burges as "an association of architects and painters .... who have set up a shop in Red Lion Square...". They paid £25 to rent two stands for its display in the Medieval Court at the 1862 exhibition where they exhibited furniture designed by J Sedding, Pugin, William Burges, Philip Webb, William Morris, and Edward Burne Jones. The catalogue described it as merely ‘decorative furniture’. They were awarded a medal for these pieces and sold £131 worth of goods. 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".
The Backgammon Players, 1861 [MET 26.54]. The Met Collection API. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/195456
The most spectacular of exhibition pieces was the King Rene cabinet or desk 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 Ford Madox Brown, Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William 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.
King Rene's Honeymoon Cabinet, 1861 [V&A W.10:1-28 – 1927]. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Other objects exhibited were a chest; screen with stamped leather panels; dressing-table mirror; 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); a red-lacquered music-stand (£15); a sofa designed by Rossetti (£30); 2 ebonised and partly gilded drawing room chairs, designed by Webb to complement the sofa; a washstand and an iron bedstead; also the ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ chair, made by T & G Seddon and decorated by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.; and a cabinet with two beautiful figures painted by Burne Jones with a price tag of 30 guineas. Philip Webb designed most of the painted furniture exhibited in 1862. His accounts for 1861 recorded payment for the design of the Backgammon Players cabinet and the St. George cabinet painted by Morris, priced at 50 guineas.
St George Cabinet on stand,1861-1862 [341:1 to 8-1906]. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
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. Possibly the firm’s two best known and popular early pieces were the ‘Sussex chair’ and the upholstered adjustable chair, illustrated in Aslin (1962), plates 65 & 66.
'Sussex chair', 1870-1890 [CIRC.288-1960]. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London. https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O7883/sussex-chair-armchair-webb-philip-speakman/
Adjustable armchair upholstered with fabric designed by William Morris, c.1883-1900. [CIRC.642:1-3-1962]. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
A sketch of the adjustable chair (1866) by the manager, Warrington 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 ....". Other known furniture produced in these early days were an oak writing table designed by Webb (between 1860-68) for a client, Major Gillum; an oak swing toilet mirror (c.1862), designed by Webb or Madox Brown; a music stand or what not designed for the Birket Foster home in Witley, Surrey; and various Rossetti and Sussex chairs [all illustrated in Gere & Whiteway (1993), p.98 -101].
In 1867 the firm was commissioned to design the V&A original refreshment rooms which housed its furniture in the London Victorian and Edwardian Decorative Arts Exhibition, held at the museum. Architect designers who worked with the firm at various times during the 1860s – although not necessarily on furniture – were G. F. Bodley, George Gilbert Scott the Younger and Thomas Garner, who in 1874 established Watts and Company.
Marshall had lost his job as an engineer in Tottenham by 1873 and sought to assume a more active role in the partnership. 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 Colonel 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 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.
In 1881 Morris & Co. took larger premises at Merton Abbey by the Thames to extend Morris's range of products, especially woven tapestries. Furniture continued to be manufactured in his workshops at Ormond Yard until about 1890 when the Pimlico cabinet-making workshops of Messrs. Holland were bought. Ultimately the workshops produced quantities of furniture and even used machine-carving. However, writing of the Jubilee Exhibition in Manchester of 1877, 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’. "
Most of the important pieces of furniture and the larger schemes of decoration were carried out for wealthy clients. However, the founders were also intent on providing a range of modestly priced furniture as well, seen for example in the revival of the 1830’s and 1840’s ‘Sussex’ chairs, priced at 5s each. Joiner-made furniture and wallpaper was also relatively inexpensive. One of the designers in the early years of Morris & Co. was Holman Hunt; the Egyptian chair was his design but it was never manufactured [illustrated in Aslin(1962), pl. 64]. Other renowned designers included the gesso decorator, Kate Faulkner (the sister of Charles); Burne-Jones, who specialised in the decoration of pianos in 1862; and Dante Gabriel Rossetti who possibly designed a Regency-style chair for Kelmscott Manor (now in the V&A) as well as furniture used at William Morris’ Cotswold retreat, a place Rossetti often visited.
'Rossetti' armchair, 1870-90 [CIRC.304-1961]. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
In 1877 Morris & Co. opened a shop at 264 Oxford Street. Philip Webb worked as its chief designer until 1890 when the carver, George Washington Jack inherited the role. https://bifmo.history.ac.uk/entry/jack-george-washington-1855-1931
From 1885 Jack simultaneously worked for Webb and Morris & Co. Examples of Jack’s design work for Morris & Co. included the ‘Saville Easy chair’ (probably designed), c.1890, originally retailed for £7 5s; a bergère, c.1893-5; and a cabinet, c.1890-91, all now in the V&A.
'Saville Easy Chair' , c.1890 [CIRC.401-1960]. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Bergère armchair with cushions in 'Tulip' chintz, designed by William Morris, 1875. Made 1893-95 [CIRC.249 to B-1961]. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Glazed cabinet,1891 [W.42:1 to 8-1929]. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Morris & Co. exhibited two items to Jack’s designs in the first Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society’s show in November 1888 at the New Gallery, Regent Street, London: an inlaid mahogany cabinet and an inlaid mahogany sideboard, both made by H. Sidewell and W. Thatcher. The cabinet secretaire was available to purchase through Morris & Co. until c. 1912 and was also made for Melsetter House (now in the V&A), as well as Ickworth House, Stanmore Hall, and for an American collector (now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: https://philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/82196.html?mulR=1176062077|5.
Cabinet and stand, 1893 [CIRC.40:1 to 10-1953]. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
In the second Arts and Crafts Society exhibition (1889), Jack displayed a handmade table with six carved legs and a piecrust top which he designed, made by Sidewell and Thatcher, with carving by H Dodd. 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 other object exhibited in the 1889 Exhibition was the cabinet (above) which was still shown in the Morris & Co. catalogue of 1912 priced at 98 guineas for the version decorated in marquetry or at 60 guineas for a plainer one. Jack’s work for Morris & Co. also included designs for Lord Leconfield at 9 Chesterfield Gardens; working drawings for window and door architraves (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.
George Jack also 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 GJ 1892’. He had carved the panels for this chest, which was subsequently shown at the 1893 Arts & Crafts Society Exhibition and the 1914 Anglo-French Exhibition at the Louvre. 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.33-1972).
Chest on a low stand with drawers, 1892 [W.33-1972]. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
When George Jack was formally appointed to Morris & Co. in 1890, the range of furniture they produced expanded while consistently maintaining a high quality. Other designs were supplied by Mervyn Macartney and W. A. S Benson [see https://bifmo.history.ac.uk/entry/benson-w-a-s-1854-1924]. From 1890 only cabinet furniture was stamped with the name of Morris and Co.
Benson became a director of the firm following the death of William Morris in 1896 and was appointed as chairman in 1905. Many of the later pieces supplied by Morris & Co. made of rosewood with elaborate marquetry were the work of George Jack and Mervyn Macartney, and metal-mounted rosewood or mahogany cabinets and seats incorporating a sinuous line were the work of Benson.
Cabinet, c.1900-1913 [W.12:1-1978]. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Another Benson design made by Morris & Co. was a washstand with splayed sides, displayed at the New Art Museum Exhibition in Queen’s Park, Manchester in 1884 [illustrated in The Cabinet Maker (vol.5) p. 155]. Bedroom furniture designed by Benson and made by Morris & Co. was also supplied to Melsetter House at the turn of the 20th century.
During the 1890s catalogued furniture 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). About 1912 the firm published an illustrated catalogue, which included the Rossetti chair at a price of 16/6.
In the 1920s the showrooms moved to George Street, London. Morris & Co. continued to flourish until about 1940-44. Over the years one of the firm’s numerous furniture commissions was for the homes of the Ionides family at 1 Holland Park and 8 Holland Villas Road, London and 23 Second Avenue in Hove. The firm also supplied design services, furniture, textiles etc., to owners of stately homes, town houses and cottages.
Examples of furniture made by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. and Morris & Co. can be found in many UK public museums including the V&A, Kelmscott Manor; the William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow; the Wilson Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum; the Higgin Art Gallery & Museum, Bedford; and Blackwell House Cumbria.
NB: Textiles, tapestries, carpets and interior decorating of the firm falls outside the scope of this biography.
By Clarissa Ward
Sources: 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).