July 2022

William Morris Blue Plaque
Swindon gets another blue plaque, with thanks to Swindon Heritage and Noel Ponting and Noel Beauchamp. Before I go any further, let me dispel the oft-encountered, mistaken belief that OUR William Morris is one and the same as the William Morris of Kelmscott Manor and father of the arts and crafts movement. * He isn’t. Swindon’s William Morris founded, in 1854, the town’s newspaper. Educated in the town, he became its first historian.

According to British History online, he issued his paper, the Swindon Advertiser and Monthly Record, monthly – obvs. Following the 1855 repeal of stamp duty on newspapers, he published his paper weekly. By 1870 Morris had renamed the paper the Swindon Advertiser and Wiltshire, Berkshire and Gloucestershire Chronicle. Last issued as a weekly paper in December 1925, it thereafter became an evening paper, called the Evening Advertiser.

Following Morris’ death, his sons conducted the paper for some years. 1920 saw it acquired the Swindon Press Ltd. and in 1956 by Wiltshire Newspapers Ltd. The Swindon Press, however, remained the general printing company and both companies came under the ownership of the Westminster Press and Provincial Newspapers Ltd.

William Morris Blue Plaque
William Morris Blue Plaque on the Swindon Advertiser Building on Victoria Hill

Much belated recognition

This recognition for Morris has been a long-time coming. As Graham Carter said in his Adver column: ‘William Morris was the founder of the newspaper you are reading now, and an all-round great guy, but there has been nothing to commemorate him in the town, apart from the inscription on his grave at Christ Church.’

*A new William Morris Way and a new William Morris primary school in Swindon are named for the Kelmscott William Morris.

Graham goes on to tell us that Morris authored Swindon 50 Years Ago, a still-must-read for anyone interested in the town’s past. But, as Graham also states, what makes him more memorable still, is his tireless championing of ordinary folk via is newspaper. He used it to spotlight anyone falling short of the high standards he felt should apply to people in authority, public office or privileged positions. For instance, the winter of 1861 saw him berating the local gentry for organising a BBQ on a frozen Coate Water using surplus meat as a football. This at a time when people were struggling to afford food.

One could argue that our national and local politicians could do worse than take a leaf out of his book. I’ll go for it – I’ll argue it. They could! Boris Johnson spending £500 a roll on wallpaper anyone???

So – as Graham said: ‘He is surely one of the greatest men to never have a road or a school named after him?’

Desmond Morris

I can’t call this post complete without mentioning one of Swindon’s most famous sons, Desmond Morris. How so? Ad what’s the relevance? Well because Desmond Morris is the great, great grandson of our William Morris – the founder of the first penny newspaper.

Find out more about Desmond here:

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