The Arts and Crafts design style remains popular over 150 years after its beginnings in the work of William Morris and his circle. The William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow reopened in 2012 to enthusiastic reviews 1, arts and crafts designs fetch high prices at auctions, and events like the current Arts and Crafts exhibition at the department store Liberty remain popular.
The development of the movement can be traced through records held at The National Archives. We hold records of designs registered for copyright with the Board of Trade and successor departments between 1839 and 1991, including samples and original designs by Morris & Co, as well as many registrations of designs by Liberty. Records from 1842 to 1883 are in BT 43 (representations – drawings, paintings, photographs or samples of the design) and BT 44 (registers). These series have been catalogued by item, and are searchable online by registered design number, proprietor, date, address and (sometimes) description of object. See our online guide for more information about registered designs.
Although nowadays we associate William Morris with the Arts and Crafts movement, this term was not actually coined until the 1880s, when the Guild of Handicrafts was formed. However, Morris and his followers had a huge influence on the development of the movement, helping to promote the idea that the design of furniture and other items for the home had as much right to be considered ‘artistic’ as the ‘fine arts’, such as sculpture and painting. Morris associated good design with moral values, and believed in the intrinsic value of hand craftsmanship, the value of art for everyone, and the democratisation of work. The National Archives holds many Morris & Co samples and some original designs, including ‘Anemone’, shown here.