Utopian collaboration? William Morris, Jeffrey & Co and the Morris & Co wallpapers 1864-c.1928

Supervisory team: Dr Clare Taylor (Open University) and Dr Keren Protheroe (Sanderson/Morris & Co archive).

Morris & Co, founded first as Morris, Marshall and Falkner, by William Morris in 1861, produced more than 100 wallpaper patterns as part of their ‘Decorative Art for Household Uses’. The majority were designed by Morris, many of these have become visual icons of the Arts & Crafts Movement. However, unlike the other components of the interior retailed by the firm, wallpapers have never been the subject of detailed investigation despite (or perhaps because of) their relative affordability in terms of the firm’s hand-crafted production. Where they have been studied, the narrative has frequently centred on establishing a chronology around style, and the originality and skill of Morris’s pattern designs.

This PhD would re-orientate study of the Morris & Co wallpapers to examine how William Morris’s ideals were played out in a commercial arena and in particular the significance of his collaboration with Metford Warner (1864-1896), the artistic force behind Jeffrey & Co which printed the firm’s wallpapers. It would probe the processes of wallpaper printing in relation to ideals of craft production. Analysis of the log books of Jeffrey & Co (3 ledgers, 913 pages) and Morris & Co (two ledgers, 260 pages) would enable conclusions to be drawn both about the role of Morris in establishing Jeffrey’s status as a leading ‘art’ manufacturer of hand printed wallpapers, and the extent to which he provided Warner with a model for commissioning patterns from contemporary designers and architects.

The PhD would further examine how and by whom Morris & Co and Jeffrey’s wallpapers were consumed. Although certain clients for Morris wallpapers were well known figures, including Queen Victoria and the playwright George Bernard Shaw, the Morris & Co log books list sales from 1866-69 to a much wider range of wholesale and retail consumers. Preliminary investigation revealed that these included prominent decorating firms (Jackson and Graham), paper hangers and builders, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Llandeilo, alongside individual clients.

The Morris & Co log books also contain pattern samples and annotations relating to orders, block cutting and pattern naming, however, this information has never been systematically surveyed and analysed to address questions such as: how far designs were adapted in response to consumer demand; who controlled the design process; the significance of the Morris papers to Jeffrey & Co; and how far these designs challenged or promoted a new concern with flat pattern making and the rejection of naturalism.

The study would therefore enable conclusions to be drawn about the key role played by wallpapers in bringing William Morris’s ideals to a much wider range of consumers than was possible with other components of the interior retailed by the firm; the role played by Jeffrey’s in creating a market for ‘art’ manufacture within the Arts & Crafts Movement; and how far the production of Morris & Co wallpapers fitted with utopian ideals of craft making. It will also enable understanding of two internationally important, late nineteenth-century design firms which are currently under-researched in relation to their place in consumer culture.