Helen Bratt-Wyton, house steward at Wightwick manor, was the speaker at the centre’s first meeting of the new year at Blakedown Parish Rooms.

Wightwick Manor is on the outskirts of Wolverhampton and is furnished with pieces by William Morris.

Morris was one of the leading designers of the 19th century. He was born in Essex in 1834, developing an interest in history and legends. Morris went to Marlborough College and then Exeter College, Oxford in 1853. He intended to enter the church, but he became disillusioned in the work on the frescos and ceiling in the Oxford Union building.

Morris married Jane Burton in 1859 and they lived at the Red House in Blexley Heath, which was designed for them by Phillip Webb. Morris was the founder of the arts and crafts movement. He liked bright, vibrant colours and in 1861 set up his fine arts firm, supplying stained glass, tiles, furniture, wallpaper and embroidery.

His hand blocked wallpaper was very expensive and cost up to £2,500 a roll. Arsenic dye was used in producing green wallpaper and this could cause serious health problems if the wallpaper got damp.

The firm was re-organised in 1875 as Morris & Co and the business continues.

Morris oversaw the interior decoration of Compton Hall, Wolverhampton (now Compton Hospice) and Standen, which is the last house designed by Phillip Webb. Morris never actually visited Wightwick Manor, but the family were inspired to extensively furnish their home with items designed by him.

Morris became a fervent socialist and was involved in various strict protests.

He became a publisher, setting up the Kelmscott press. He also set up the society for the protection of ancient buildings which still has an important role to this day. Morris died in October 1896 and is buried with his wife at Lechlade churchyard in Gloucestershire. Helen encouraged her audience to visit Wightwick Manor, The Red House and Standen, all National Trust properties with strong William Morris connections. Details of the activities of this local group of National Trust members can be obtained from the centre’s membership secretary Roy Fox on 01562 886728.