Wednesday, 8 June 2011

William Morris Pub

Swift visit to Oxford today to see how our son Justin is bearing up after his shoulder operation yesterday. To cheer him up as the anaesthetic wears off, we took him out for a drink to an Oxford pub called ... the William Morris! But lest this conjure up a scene of genial medieval fellowship akin to that in the Rose tavern in chapter two of A Dream of John Ball, I have sadly to inform you that this public house is named not after our socialist William Morris, but rather after the Oxonian capitalist William Morris (1877-1963), who from modest beginnings in his small garage in Longwall Street eventually ran a giant car-manufacturing empire, became Viscount Nuffield and founded a postgraduate Oxford college which he had named after him.

Sigmund Freud has an important essay on ‘the antithetical meaning of primal words’ (1910); and with these two radically opposite William Morrises before us, I think we will have to extend his model to personal names too. The capitalist William Morris has won out over our man, not least in the naming of this pub, but even he can’t in the end escape from antithetical meanings, because the William Morris pub is situated in Between Towns Road in Cowley, which is exactly where Raymond Williams’s fine Oxford novel, Second Generation (1964), begins.

Williams, as a great socialist theorist in the Morris tradition, is interested in the social liminality evoked by that most peculiar street name, the way it indicates an indeterminate no man’s land or ‘border country’ (to use his favourite metaphor) between the dreaming spires of Oxonian middle-class intellect and the hard-pressed working-class lives of the Cowley car factories. So, even if the pub is named after the wrong William Morris, we can down our pints in it in Between Towns Road and warmly remember Williams’s socialist novel as we wipe the froth from our lips.


ianmac55 said...

Hi Tony,

There is a "William Morris" pub in King Street, Hammersmith, named after our man!

Oddly enough I met a present-day Hammersmith inhabitant (on a midnight bike ride to Brighton) who assumed that his local was named after the "other" William Morris!



ianmac55 said...

P.S. On "border country", it's worth reminding ourselves that Raymond Williams was from the indeterminate Welsh-English border in the area where it's criss-crossed by the Hereford to Abergavenny main road. I believe he is commemorated by a stained-glass window in the church at Pandy which is just, and only just, in Wales (and hence in the Brecon Beacons National Park - the Black Mountains). The minor road to Pandy leaves the main road in England, crosses into Wales, and returns to England before reaching Longtown.

Although "People of the Black Mountains" might be considered a "Welsh" novel, or a novel about Wales, Williams must have felt that the area he loved was a mysterious borderland.

Cheers again,


Tony Pinkney said...

Thanks for this, Ian. Glad to learn that there is a "genuine" Morris pub somewhere, will have to look it up one day. And perhaps the time will eventually come when, visiting friends in and around Pandy, we shall be able to go out for a drink with them to 'The Raymond Williams'!

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