The Violent Childhood of the Pioneers of Modern Design

While reading the childhood parts of Walter Crane’s autobiography, it’s impossible not to notice how much gunpowder was involved in an upper-class child’s upbringing during Victorian England. They were constantly blowing stuff up, playing with functioning toy cannons and rifles.

William Morris’s biography tells of a student rebellion at Marlborough school in 1851 involving boys assaulting teachers, staff, and bystanders with firecrackers, rockets, and bottles of gunpowder. Hundreds of boys roamed the surrounding zone, harassing farmers, killing livestock, and destroying property. By today’s standards, it would be between a riot and small-scale war.

Fiona MacCarthy attributes Morris’s lifetime dislike of fireworks to this childhood event, and also his aversion for mindless violence:

«The Rebellion was Morris’s first experience of anarchy. It must have affected the way he came to look at the whole question of revolution and mass violence. He was never afraid of physical resistance; he could comprehend that revolution implied bloodshed. What he was opposed to, with a deep repugnance that increased as he knew more of it, was mindless violence. He was repelled by the movement of the mob. At Marlborough, for weeks, he had seen it in the ascendant. He was deeply alarmed at the power of the hooligan; and what more potent proto-Fascist image than the Marlborough boys tramping through the town in military formation eight abreast?»

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