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Stage Set by Morris & Co: The Crusaders 1891

22/06/2016
by Fiona Rose

William Morris was famously thought to be theatre adverse but new evidence detailed in a lecture by Morris scholar Peter Faulkner for The William Morris Society shows he designed a stage set in 1891 and won the admiration of the playwright in the process.

Arthur Henry Jones (1851-1929) wrote 60 plays in his lifetime but they have not aged well and have rarely been performed in the last 100 years. He wrote in a similar realistic style to the much more famous Henrik Ibsen. As a young man Jones met the printer Emery Walker and through Walker he met William Morris. Jones greatly admired Morris's craftsmanship and skill in the decorative arts and asked him to design the scenery - furnishings and tapestry draperies - for his new play The Crusaders performed in 1891. Never a man to turn down work, Morris asked his then principal furniture designer at Morris & Co, George Jack, to design several pieces. The mahogany cabinet with sycamore and ebony inlay, shown in the photo, is one of those pieces. Jones liked the cabinet so much that he kept it in which to store manuscripts. The cabinet now lives in the V & A Museum. John Henry Dearle designed Persian brocante drapes for the set.

However, The Crusaders was not a success with the critics praising the furnishings but not the play! Jones though became a great admirer of Morris, saying, "he was the greatest man I ever met". Jones career didn't end with The Crusaders, he went on writing plays with his last production in 1904. He also wrote political non-fiction, advocated for a National Theatre and campaigned for the Sunday opening of theatres.

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William Morris was famously thought to be theatre adverse but new evidence has come to light that Morris & Co. designed the stage sets for the 1891 play The Crusaders by Arthur Henry Jones.