Oxford Union Ceiling

Leach was employed by William Morris to paint Morris’ ‘new and lighter design’ on the ceiling of the Oxford Union in 1875. On the 4th March 1875 Frederick Leach recorded in his diary that he had been to Oxford for the day at a cost of 15 shillings and he added, ‘see estimate book for the arrangements at the Oxford Union rooms’. He recorded that the work was finished on the 5th August 1875. Sadly, the estimate books of the Leach firm have not survived having most likely been burnt in a fire in Caroline Place in Cambridge in August 1970 which destroyed the workshop of John Leach, grandson of Frederick. The loss of the central records  have meant that the firm has not had due recognition for the amount and quality of the work they undertook in Cambridge and across the country from the 1860s to the early 1900s.

Nearly twenty years earlier, John Ruskin had commissioned Morris, Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Prinsep, Spencer Stanhope and others to paint murals in the union chamber with scenes from Arthurian legend and this is when Jane Burden first modelled for them. Unfortunately, the walls were inadequately prepared and the paintings decayed rapidly.


K. L. Goodwin, William Morris’s ‘New and lighter design’, William Morris Society Journal, Vol 11, No. 3 (Winter 1968)


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