From 1883 William Morris began creating a series of patterns named after tributaries of the Thames. These complex flowing patterns are widely seen as some of his most appealing designs. This pattern, designed by Morris in 1884, is from that series and was named ‘Wandle’ after the river that flowed through Merton Abbey "to honour our helpful stream".
Merton Abbey was a former Huguenot silk-weaving factory in suburban South London and had been at the centre of the British textile industry since the seventeenth century. Morris signed a lease for the seven-acre site in 1881. Before chemical bleaching was invented, cloths had to be lightened by soaking them and exposing them to sunlight. Merton Abbey was an ideal site for this situated on the river Wandle, a tributary of the Thames, and surrounded by meadows.
Morris too made great use of the river Wandle at Merton Abbey. Its soft water proved essential for dyeing textiles and was a key reason that Morris settled on this site. In the search for his new factory Morris had collected water from various sites which he had analysed to ensure it would be suitable to dye with. He was particularly shocked when a sample taken from pipes supplying water to Lambeth was declared unfit for human consumption by an eminent analyst. The water at Merton Abbey in contrast proved perfect for all his requirements.