Friday, 26 February 2016

William Morris at Wakefield

Below is a short piece regarding WIlliam Morris's early years.
This Saturday, 27 February 2016, we have a meeting at the Red Shed, 18 Vicarage Street, Wakefield WF1 1QX on WILLIAM MORRIS: REVOLUTIONARY SOCIALIST OR UTOPIAN DREAMER?  The event starts at 1pm.  The speakers are Colin Waugh (Independent Working Class Education Network), Bill Martin (Socialist Party of Great Britain) and Brian Else (Wakefield Green Party).
Admission is free and all are welcome.  There is a free light buffet and also a bar with excellent real ale. 

William Morris was born on 24 March 1834 at Clay Hill, Walthamstow. It was then a "pleasant village" to the east of London.
Six years later the family moved to Woodford Hall, a Palladian mansion stood in 50 acres of parkland with adjacent farmland.  Only a fence separated it from Epping Forest and it was -Henderson (1967) reflects- "very much the squire's house" with the garden gate opening on to the local churchyard.
The move to Woodford Hall had been made possible by a precipitate rise in the price of copper shares.  William Morris's father had 272 shares in a Devonshire copper mine.  They were originally valued at one pound but were now changing hands for £800.  His holding therefore was now worth about £200,000.
At the age of nine Morris was sent to prep school in Walthamstow. He got there each day -2 miles- by pony.
Then in the autumn of 1847 -his father having passed away- Morris was sent off to Marlborough 'one of the new public schools founded for sons of the middle classes.'
Life there wasn't very regimented.  Indeed he would later say he learned next to nothing "for indeed next to nothing was taught."  But it suited Morris.  He was able to Savernake forest, the stone circles of Avebury and the pre-Celtic long barrows on the ridges above Pewsey Vale.  Plus he was able to peruse literature in the school library -it was well stocked with books on archaeology and medieval architecture.
Marlborough was in ferment however.  It culminated in a "rebellion of the whole school" in November 1851.  Morris's family -who'd married to Water House, Walthamstow- brought him home and got him a private tutor to prepare him for Oxford.
In June 1852 he sat for the matriculation exam in the hall of Exeter College, Oxford. Sat next to him was Edward Burne-Jones.  They would become lifelong friends.

Alan Stewart
Convenor, Wakefield Socialist History Group

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