Lately I’ve been re-reading, and revisiting, the life and themes that define William Morris (1834-1896), and although he appears to have been a man of contradictions – his family wealth (through which he was able to choose his circumstances and mode of living), came from mines in Devon and Cornwall that had brutal working conditions - and later his strongly held socialist beliefs and convictions, there is no doubt of his great contribution to art, poetry and the design and style of day to day objects and fabrics that have seen such great influence in middle class homes over the years, and that some of us want to amateurishly emulate and surround ourselves with.
For a short time, in the early 1990’s I lived in a small mews house on the edge of Connaught Village in the centre of London. It was chosen as the location for the movie Scandal because it was the classic London mews, with cobble stones and pretty close packed houses whose original use was as dwellings for the staff and grooms to the important people who lived in the great houses that lined the main thoruoghfares.
I undertook the laborious, but hugely enjoyable task of finding furnishings (mostly damaged and therefore quite cheap but still charming), and fabrics that were as close as I could find to the William Morris ‘style’, occasionally visiting Liberty’s, that most engaging and ‘English’ of London department stores, to get ideas. And now and again to splash out and actually buy something quintessentially ‘Liberty’s’.
It was great fun and hugely distracting from the dramas of real life.
I loved that little house, and all the fantasies it represented – but it was expensive and I couldn’t afford it. So, I sold it, just at the wrong time in the market of course! And later, friends and family would say ‘Imagine if you had kept that house, how much it would be worth now? C’est la vie.
There was a medieval influence about the work and writings of William Morris and somehow I see a link through that to three of the most beautiful guitars I play. They are the McPhersons. Yes - I’m lucky enough to have three – two 12-string guitars and one six string – all in the same style and wood – but all set by me in different tunings. They are simply stunning, and every time I touch any one of the three is a joy for me. I’m astounded at the craftsmanship – and the thought, planning and dedication that have gone into these true works of art.
The boys and girls at McPherson know how I feel.
I’m sure William Morris, and the whole ‘arts and crafts’ movement would agree, and approve.