William Morris was an Essex man and one whose aspirations and achievements have had a profound effect far beyond his native county.
Morris was born at Walthamstow which was then a suburban village on the edge of Epping Forest. He was the son of prosperous middle class parents. When he was six the family moved to Woodford Hall, a large mansion with extensive grounds. His father died when Morris was thirteen but five years before that the two of them had visited Canterbury Cathedral. Later Morris recalled his impression that “the gates of Heaven had opened”. The family moved on to Water House in Walthamstow which has since become the William Morris Gallery.
It is clear that the early memories of his childhood had a particular significance for Morris and were always precious to him. In almost every aspect of his work, poetry and stories, designs for wallpaper, fabrics, tiles and furniture, stained glass, metal ware and jewellery, evidence can be found of the sights which so delighted him as he grew up in the Essex countryside.
In 1861 the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co was established. In addition to Morris himself, other distinguished artists and craftsmen such as Rosetti, Burne Jones and Madox Brown placed their talents at the firm’s disposal. Morris led by example and had untiring energy. His chief recreation seems to have been to indulge in a different kind of activity. Over 600 of his original designs have survived, their chief characteristics being an absolute mastery of pattern and skilful use of bright colours.
“The firm” supplied the stained glass windows for Bodley’s original building of All Saints, Dedworth. The windows were designed, made and installed in All Saints between 1863 and 1888.
Three stained glass panels, which originally formed the East window of the old church, have been installed in the Church foyer. The centrepiece is Rosetti’s Crucifixion with Burne Jones’ Nativity on the left and Morris’ Resurrection on the right. Also in the foyer are Burne Jones’ Annunciation between Burne Jones’ St Elizabeth and Madox Brown’s St Anne.
The remaining windows are installed on the North facing wall of the main church hall. All have an attractive background of clover and hawthorn. Six windows are mounted in the window next to the organ. St Gregory, and St George are by Burne Jones, and the window of St George is noteworthy for a spelling mistake – it is not known who was responsible. The other windows are Morris’ St Catherine, and Burne Jones’ Virgin and Child, St Nicholas and St Ursula. There are two other windows mounted in a vertical light box behind the Altar. Both are by Burne Jones’ – St Margaret and St John the Evangelist.
What Morris would have made of the present building is open to conjecture; one suspects he would probably not have approved. Surely, though, his heart would have been gladdened to see windows from “the firm” maintaining the link from his times to our own.