As the attached labels state, the sitters were the parents of William Morris (1834-1896), known in his own day pre-eminently as the author of The Earthly Paradise, now probably revered more as the leading figure in the Arts and Crafts movement and an early socialist. William Morris, senior, was of Welsh descent; his own father (the first of the family, it is said, to have dropped the Welsh Ap from his name) had settled in business in Worcester in the late 18th century and married Elizabeth, daughter of Dr. Charles Stanley, a naval surgeon who had retired from the service and was in practice at Nottingham. William, born 14 June 1797, was their second son. About 1820, his father having moved his business to London, he was articled as a clerk in the firm of Harris, Sanderson and Harris, discount brokers, at 32 Lombard Street. In his early thirties he became a partner in the firm, which was now known as Sanderson & Co. and was to move its offices to 83 King William Street some years later.
In July 1826, soon after his admission to partnership, William married Emma Shelton, the subject of the companion miniature. Born 24 May 1805 (i.e. eight years later than her husband), she was the daughter of Joseph Shelton, who had been a neighbour of the Morrises in Worcester. The family could trace itself back to Henry Shelton, mercer, of Birmingham, in the reign of Henry VII, and had produced a number of prosperous merchants, landed proprietors, and members of the Church and Bar. Emma's immediate family was intensely musical; two of her uncles were singing canons of Worcester Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, a third taught music in Worcester. The married couple lived first over the business in Lombard Street, but in 1833 they moved to Elm House, Walthamstow, Mr. Morris travelling daily to the city by stage coach. Here their son William, the future poet and craftsman, was born the following year. He was his parents' eldest son and third child; six more children were to follow.
Mr. Morris's father had been 'very religious', and he himself was a staunch Evangelical. He was also, following a familiar Victorian pattern, a shrewd businessman, making a considerable fortune and becoming a well-known figure in the City. In 1840 he moved his family across Epping Forest to Woodford Hall, a Georgian mansion standing in fifty acres of park, and in 1843 he obtained a grant of arms from the College of Heralds - 'Azure, a horses's head erased argent between three horse-shoes or'. The climax of his career came when he invested in Devon Great Consols, a famous and highly profitable company launched in 1844 to mine copper near Tavistock. For a while his holding of 272 shares, said to have been assigned to him in payment of a debt, rose to over #200,000.
Unfortunately his own enjoyment of this wealth was brief since he died in September 1847 at the age of fifty. The following year his widow and her family left Woodford Hall and settled at a smaller establishment, Water House, Walthamstow, now the William Morris Gallery, where they remained until 1856. Mrs. Morris lived on until 1894, dying at the age of eighty-nine only two years before her famous son. A photograph of her in old age is reproduced in Philip Henderson, William Morris His Life, Work and Friends, 1967, fig. 74.