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Merton Abbey


Much of Morris & Co.'s design work and manufacturing after 1881 was done at Merton Abbey, a village on the River Wandle in Surrey where textile printing had gone on since the middle of the 18th century. The building which housed the Merton Abbey Works no longer exists on the site.

painting
MERTON ABBEY by Lexdon Lewis Peacock

A "Wandle Industrial Museum," on the Wandle River, preserves some of the area's history. For further information contact:

Museum of London Archeology Service
Walker House
87 Queen Victoria Street
London EC4V 4AB

(020) 7410 2200
Fax (020) 7410 2201
molas@molas.org.uk

David Saxby writes in William Morris at Merton (1995):

William Morris signed the lease to the site on 16 June 1881 He refused to pull down any of the existing buildings, and apart from some minor alterations they remained unchanged until the works closed in I 940.

The works consisted of a dwelling house, coach house, and workshops along Merton High Street with various out-buildings and two large two-storey tarred weather-boarded sheds, one on each side of the River Wandle. A mill house, mill pond, meadow, orchard and vegetable garden were also included within the grounds of this picturesque seven-acre site.

photo
Photo source: Fairclough, Oliver and Emmeline Leary,
Textiles by William Morris and Morris & Co.

Before Morris could start production a number of alterations had to be made to the buildings. The sheds were strengthened, trenched and puddled to keep out the damp, roofs heightened and re-tiled too fit the looms, floors re-laid and eight six-foot cubes were dug out of the floor of one of the sheds to serve as dyeing vats.

Morris adapted the buildings to suit his needs. Next to the main entrance was the office and caretaker's house, the upper floor of which Morris used as a meeting room. Next door was the drawing and design room which later held a glass-firing kiln, and next door again was the large white house used as a dormitory for the apprentice boys.

The two-storey shed to the rear of the High Street buildings contained the dyeing vats on the ground floor, with the stained glass studio on the first floor. Outside this building was a single-storey weaving shed. On the south bank of the River Wandle was a large shed overlooking the mill pond. The ground floor housed the carpet and tapestry looms and the first floor was used for fabric-printing.

By (Christmas 188I all the equipment had been installed and the works started production.

Morris did root live at Merton but furnished a couple of rooms at the works, often spending three or four days a week there. He commuted by train to the site from his house in Hammersmith,a journey taking two hours. First be would travel by Underground from Hammersmith to Farringdoon Street, then on to Ludgate Hill where he would catch a train to Merton Abbey Station.

A circular issued at the end of 1881 gives a list of the different types of work undertaken by Morris & Co.:

  • Painted glass windows
  • Arras tapestry woven in the high-warp loom
  • Carpets
  • Embroidery
  • Tiles
  • Furniture
  • General house decorations
  • Printed cotton goods
  • Paper h:ungings
  • Figured woven stuffs
  • Furniture velvets and cloths
  • Upholstery

Furniture, tiles, embroidery, and wallpapers were made elsewhere than at the Merton Abbey works.

William Morris at Merton by David Saxby

The definitive guide to the subject, William Morris at Merton was published by the Museum of London Archeology Service following the results of an archeological at Merton which Morris & Co. occupied from 1881 to 1940. Fully-illustrated, it looks at the history of the site, how the workshops were arranged, and what was produced there. It features excellent descriptions of the manufacturing processes Morris used, including dyeing, block printing, stained glass, and weaving.

Copies are sold by the Museum of London, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Kelmscott Manor, and the William Morris Gallery.


tapestry
return to TOPAngeli Laudantes, 1898
Edward Burne-Jones (designer) (English, 1833–1898); John Henry Dearle (designer) (English, 1860–1932); Merton Abbey Tapestry Works (English, founded 1881)
Merton, Surrey, England
Wool and silk weft on cotton warp (15 warps per in.)

Source: Edward Burne-Jones, John Henry Dearle, Merton Abbey Tapestry Works: Angeli Laudantes (2008.8) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art