Arts and Crafts was an influential movement of the late 19th century which attempted to re-establish the skills of craftsmanship threatened by mass production and industrialisation.
Its main protagonist was the designer-cum-poet, William Morris who was inspired by the writings of the art critic John Ruskin, notably his essay on ‘The Nature of Gothic’ from his book The Stones of Venice. In his book, Ruskin combined praise of the Gothic architecture of northern Europe with a critique of 19th century society, particularly the monotony of factory production and the deskilling of the individual worker, which destroyed any natural creativity. The solution lay in the medieval past and medieval architecture with its rich variety of ornament, embodying those individual craft skills being lost through the copying of standard forms. Morris sought to put Ruskin’s ideas into practice, by reviving medieval standards and methods of making artefacts, using traditional materials, and constructional methods as the essence of design. In 1861, he set up his company Morris Marshall Faulkner & Co to promote these ideals and produce objects of beauty incorporating the craft skills that had begun to be lost.
Architecture was to be reformed through traditional building crafts, the use of local materials, and be free of any imposed style. Function, need and simplicity (without spurious ornament) were to inform design, encapsulated in the work of Philip Webb, Richard Lethaby and Charles Voysey.