William Morris (1834—1896) lived and worked in Victorian Britain. He is best known for his designs for Morris & Co, and for the beautiful books produced by the Kelmscott Press.
During Morris’ lifetime there was a huge demand for machine made, mass produced goods like wool, cotton, coal and steel. Morris rejected the ideas of the Industrial Revolution, believing instead in the hand-production of useful but beautiful items. He founded Morris & Co, the famous firm dedicated to the decorative arts, that produced such things as ceramic tiles and pots, dyes, textiles, and designs for fabric, wallpaper and stained glass. A reproduction of 'Tulip' wallpaper can be seen in the Mill Manager's house at the museum.
Like most Victorians, William Morris was interested in other cultures. He was inspired by Persian design, particularly geometrical patterns and highly stylised images of plants and animals. He also claimed to have studied the designs of the Ancient Egyptians, Byzantines, Indians and Northern Europeans. We can see these influences in Morris' work, which is remembered for its natural themes, flowing lines and curves and repeated patterns. Medieval art and ideas also influenced Morris, particularly the Arthurian Legends and illuminated manuscripts. You can see Morris & Co. stained glass, based on the legend of Tristram and Isoulde, on permanent display at Cliffe Castle Museum, Keighley.
The Kelmscott Press
Printmaking was another of Morris' passions. In 1891 he established the Kelmscott Press, which aimed to print books that were a complimentary balance of type and illustration. The decoration of his books was important to Morris because he felt very strongly that the books must be a pleasure to look at. Books were printed on handmade linen paper and the illustration and decoration was all done by hand - Morris even designed all the Kelmscott borders and initials himself and created his own typefaces: "Golden", "Troy" and "Chaucer".
In 1890 Morris began designing the Golden type. Based on Roman type designed in the fifteenth century and copied from handwriting styles, Morris' design is severe and solid, with thick strokes that are round and open.
Morris' Troy type is Gothic in style. Designed in 1891, it was also influenced by fifteenth century type. Gothic types are characterised by narrow, tall, pointed designs with acute angles, and heavy black strokes. Morris designed a semi-Gothic type that would be more legible to Victorian readers and was 18pt size.
The Chaucer type is a smaller 12pt version of the Troy. It enabled Morris to produce pages with solid, dark blocks of type. Morris wanted to create pages that artistically looked like a single unit with border and text unifiying to minimise the amount of white space.