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Thursday, August 13, 2009

My giant, Giant

Driving home from London's Continental train station, St Pancreas, after a trip away the other day...I found myself on the Great West Way out of the city , at Hammersmith, which stands on one of the oxbow bends in the tidal Thames, near where I yearly go to see the Oxford - Cambridge Boat Race.

It was also the last home of my all time favourite historical figure in my life, William Morris, the Victorian architect, furniture and textile designer, artist, writer, and socialist.

Morris, centre right , with white beard.

I don't like the word hero in any context. We've all got feet of clay. I'm not even sure about the words 'Role Model', as that suggests lack of self. I prefer the word Giant, as in the saying " ..standing on the shoulders of giants" , something I try to do on a daily basis with this man.

Morris was a modest giant among giants, someone whose successes and deeds would swamp a KMSA blog..........

(read more at ;

........His Energy you can estimate by the fact that when he died aged 62, his Doctor summarized it by saying " he passed away through doing the work of ten men."

Born north of London in 1834, he went to Exeter College in Oxford ( which I managed to show the Fab FF Four round, on their trip to town, and into the Fellows garden for photographs. )

He fell, as I have , under the life long influence of John Ruskin, and in particular the seminal work "The Nature of Gothic" a chapter in his book The Stones of Venice ;

........We are always in these days endeavouring to separate the two; we want one man to be always thinking, and another to be always working, and we call one a gentleman, and the other an operative; whereas the workman ought often to be thinking, and the thinker often to be working, and both should be gentlemen, in the best sense. As it is, we make both ungentle, the one envying, the other despising, his brother; and the mass of society is made up of morbid thinkers, and miserable workers. Now it is only by labor that thought can be made healthy, and only by thought that labor can be made happy, and the two cannot be separated with impunity.

Armed with this fervour and also close design links with the pre-Raphealite brotherhood, he went on to be the best he could be in every artistic field he encountered. This was Morris's huge legacy. If he came across a printing press, he would endeavour to become the best printer around. A language?..he would take time to master it. Indeed pretty much everything he tried his hand at , in Arts and Crafts, he became the leading light and driving force in its future.

And so to Hammersmith 1879. At age 45, He already owned Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire, on the stripling River Thames. But his work and one of his main craft factory's, meant he needed to be in the Capital a great deal of the time.

So he chose a large Georgian building overlooking the River Thames, partly because it was just out of town, but on the newly built Underground system that still ran on steam,............. but mostly because when he looked out of the windows at the water, he knew they had passed his beloved wife Jane, at home far upstream.

It was the first time I had been there, and I pondered all this as I soaked up the ambiance and the view of where he started the Kelmscott Press, and printed the fabulous Utopian , News from Nowhere,... and as I took a break in the sun and looked at the river, with the tide out, I knew he had seen this too.

I even went next door, in true KMSA Knight style to The Dove pub, a 17th century Inn, much caroused in by himself, and later such famous writers as Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene.

Here I found a very tasty new "blond" Bitter ( not a wheat beer ) by local brewers Fullers a few blocks away, called Discovery, and sat and wrote in my moleskine and admired three other blondes in the ancient wooded room.

In his later years....Morris worked hard in politics, helping to start the Hammersmith Branch of the Socialist League, a fact still remembered in the words of the man himself, carved and painted in Gold over the door of his Coach house ;

"Guests and neighbours, on the site of this Guest Hall once stood the lecture-room of the Hammersmith Socialists. Drink a glass to the memory!" which i will, and all those who are prepared to work and think hard at the same time.

Sir Dayvd .......( who learned well from William, that "all is gained when all is lost " ).. of Oxfordshire.


  1. A "lovely" story about a very interesting and industrious man. I don't know much about William, but I intend to get to know him better. I remember you talking about him while in Oxford.

    He reminds me of another industrial-socialist who settled a community of artists, writers, scientists, etc. just a few miles west of here on the banks of the Wabash River in New Harmony, Indiana. His name is Robert Owen. Check him out. (I wrote a paper on him for my British History Minor) The spirit of New Harmony, as he named it, is still alive and well under the Owen family trust, spear headed by 90 year old Jane Owen, a lovely woman who spends equal time in New Harmony and Houston, TX. Still another reason you would love this area of the country!

    I like the idea of thinking and working cannot be separated with impunity. Much as I believe that faith and reason should be viewed, as I have stated before.

    So, as a FF of KMSA, we are well on the track to making merry with thinking, working, faith, reason, and of course drinking!

    I'm sorry to have missed the Dove. That was a perfect KMSA journey!

    Sir Hook the Healthy and Happy of Warrick

  2. an intriguing man all the way around
    thank you for the information!

    my thoughts on
    thinking while working...daydreaming while cutting the grass...working out an angry moment while scrubbing the tub...remembering people from my past as I rub wax into the furniture...the mind is busy, as are the hands
    it's all connected

    heart, mind, busy hands
    working continuously
    shaping our own world

    Lady Suzanne

  3. Is it true that his last journal entry was:

    "I will endeavor to create the world's greatest social networks and I'll call it Knights of Journals, Essence, and Bitter. No, wait, that doesn't sound quite right. Maybe...
    Knights of M..."

    Then he passed!

    Sir Bowie of Greenbriar