When we think of names like Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-52) and William Morris (1834-1896) today, we think of these men as decorators; Pugin being responsible for the insides of the Houses of Parliament, and perhaps rather unkindly, Morris for wallpaper, tiles and placemats. However, both these men were ardent reformers of their day and were in part responsible for the beginnings of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which reacted against low quality made in huge amounts furniture and other household items being manufactured during the Victorian era.
Both these men wanted a return to simpler hand crafted forms of production. For Pugin ended up being the medieval designs of Gothic furniture and honesty in construction, where joints were shown on leading of pieces. A famous design of his, an armoire made by K. G. Crace for the 1851 Great Exhibition, was purchased directly along with Victoria and Albert Museum where it remains as we speak.
Morris set up Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Denver colorado. in 1861. Unlike Pugin, Morris did not design furniture but his associates J P Seddon, William Burges and Philip Webb all produced the hand crafted simply styled pieces so reminiscent of Arts and Crafts article of furniture. The 'Sussex' chair' by Webb was modifications a traditionally styled rush seated chair made of blackened or ebonized beech. Other later examples by George Jack included a handmade oak dining table with herringbone design up and down the side, and eight hand carved and twisted legs with floral decorations inserted.
Keeping to the idylls of the Arts and Crafts movement was difficult. Pugin exhausted himself in his attempts to recreate his Gothic Revival style in the Houses of Parliament and died soon after the decorations were completed. Morris was fighting a losing battle in his desire to compete with Victorian mass produced furniture which was much cheaper than his firm's hand created pieces. Ironically, Crafts and arts furniture that was forced to champion the handcraftsmanship in the artisan could only be afforded by the very wealthy.
After going into politics in 1883, Morris caved in to mass production somewhat by allowing furniture from his firm in order to become made using machinery just in order that pieces should be cheaper even better generally affordable. In his idealised world, factories were only open four hours a day and workers were able to wander around factory gardens and appreciate pieces of sculpture on show, rather than be chained to the wheel of Victorian mass production.
The Arts and Crafts Movement itself gained momentum later in the nineteenth century and through followers such as Voysey, Mackmurdo, Ashbee and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Arts and Crafts 'progressive' furniture was developing its own particular style and was eventually adopted by firms regarding Heals & Son. Rennie Mackintosh's furniture designs still retain that element of modernity today and also the work managed to straddle the simpler right angled styling of the Crafts and arts with the more organic floral forms of the Art Nouveau.
Fine Crafts and arts furniture and Cumbria happens to be synonymous on the inside antiques country. Should you wish to source some interesting examples of Arts and Crafts furniture in Cumbria, local antiques dealers you must assist you.