Small outline map

Model of William Morris site

This is our model of the Willliam Morris works at Merton as it would have been in its heyday.

So far as we know, it is unique.

The accompanying notes provide greater details.

The following is a note prepared by Merton Library Service


In 1881 William Morris bought premises at 10 and 11, Merton High Street. Here, by the River Wandle, were established the famous printed and woven fabrics, tapestry, stained glass and carpet works. (Furniture, wallpaper , tiles and embroidery were made elsewhere.) Although Morris did not live on the premises, he commuted daily from his home at Hammersmith. T'he Merton Abbey site was chosen because the quality of the water in the Wandle was excellent for madder dyeing. In addition the buildings were light, and the setting of seven acres of meadow with orchard and vegetable garden gave an excellent environment for the workforce.

Initially, Morris managed the factory himself and was always determined to master the crafts technically as well as designing. However, it would be a mistake to assume that Morris did most of the design: Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Walter Crane, Philip Webb, J H Dearle and May Morris were also involved at various times .Neither did Morris do much of the production work. Unskilled youths were apprenticed to skilled workers to learn the trades of carpet and tapestry weaving. Morris was confident that given the training, encouragement and a comfortable work environment any young person could learn and master those crafts. This confidence proved well-founded and the workers were so loyal that none would willingly have joined any other workshop.

Craft work and pleasurable working conditions were two aspects of Morris’s concern. Another was Radical and, later, Socialist political activity. Morris put tremendous energy and thought into a succession of organisations : the Democratic Federation, the Social Democratic Federation and the Socialist League. This was taken up by some of the workers at Merton Abbey, many of whom attended lectures by Morris, Hyndman and others in a room at the works. Morris also involved the workforce in the business, with meetings at least once a year to discuss the balance sheet and the state of the business. The workers were paid on piece rates and by accounts wages were above average even when business was slack. Morris also provided a library to help the education of the workers.

As, first, his political involvement grew and then, later, the setting up of the Kelmscott Press took more of his time, the management of the factory was taken on by J H Dearle and the Smith brothers. However Morris maintained his interest in the factory until his death in I896. At his funeral, alongside his family and friends, were the workers from Merton Abbey wearing their daily work-clothes .

In 1905 a new company was formed : Morris & Co Decorators Ltd, later to become Morris & Co Art Workers Ltd. The directors included the Smith brothers and J H Dearle, who had bee. running the business since Morris's death. During the war of 1914-18 several departments had ceased production, and, without William Morris’s guiding hand, designs stagnated. Tastes changed, the workshops became infested with rats and the wages were below average: H C Marillier, the Managing Director, retired, and, on 21st May, 1940, the company went into voluntary liquidation. The buildings were levelled ,and the land was subsequently redeveloped.

from Merton Library Service, Notes on Local History, No 10