Early Years

George Macdonald (1805-1868) was born in Stockport, the son of a Methodist minister. He married his Manchester-born second wife Hannah Jones (1809-1875), at Manchester Collegiate church (now Cathedral) in 1833. As a Methodist minister himself, George and his family were regularly uprooted and moved around the country, illustrated by the birthplaces of his children.

Henry, known as Harry, (1835-1891) and Alice (1837-1910) were born in Sheffield. Caroline (1838-1854) and Georgiana (1840-1920) were born in Birmingham. Fred (1842-1928) and Agnes (1843-1906) were born in Leeds. Louisa (1845-1925) was born in Wakefield; Edith (1848-1937) in Huddersfield. Three other children were born but did not survive infancy.

Rev’d George Macdonald in his late 40s, c. 1853.

Hannah Macdonald, aged 54, c. 1865.

By 1850 the family was back in Birmingham, where 14 year old Harry attended King Edward VI School. Here he befriended fellow student Edward Jones (later Burne-Jones), one of a number of Harry’s friends known as ‘the Birmingham set’ that the Macdonald sisters idolised.

In September 1853 George Macdonald was moved to the south London circuit, based at Sloane Square chapel. This move proved pivotal for three of the sisters, as this is where one renewed her association with her prospective husband and two others met their future husbands.

Whilst living at 39, Sloane Square they got to know another Methodist family from the Midlands. George P. Baldwin was an iron-founder from Stourport, Worcestershire; his wife Sarah was the daughter of the President of the Methodist Conference in 1845. Their son Alfred was later to marry Louisa.

Edward Burne-Jones went up to Oxford in 1852, but left at the end of 1855 after failing to complete his degree. He abandoned his intention to join the church, deciding instead to pursue a career in art with his fellow student William Morris, a decision taken after they holidayed together in France during the summer of 1855. By Easter 1856 Burne-Jones had moved to London and took lodgings in Sloane Terrace, opposite the Methodist Chapel. He must have been pleased that his old friend Harry Macdonald and his family were near neighbours. Romance between Georgiana Macdonald and her ‘Birmingham set’ idol Burne-Jones blossomed quickly; they were engaged as early as June 1856 when he was 22 and she was only 15.

The Macdonalds were introduced to London’s artistic group by Burne-Jones, becoming close friends with the poet and designer William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. In August 1857 Burne-Jones took Louisa to meet Rossetti on her own as a 12th Birthday treat. She would spend hours in the studio Burne-Jones and Morris shared furnishing them with pencils and paints.

Influenced by the company they kept, Louisa and Georgiana worked on wood engravings and were offered drawing lessons by Ford Maddox Brown (Georgiana studied at the Government School of Design).

An early woodcut by Georgiana.

    A drawing by Rossetti of Georgiana in 1860 to celebrate her

Georgiana and Burne-Jones were eventually able to marry on 9th June 1860 when his financial position improved. Their first marital homes were in Russell Place and Great Russell Street, near the British Museum. The wedding, however, took place in Manchester, where Georgiana’s grandparents still lived, and was held at the same church where her parents had been married. All of the sisters were married in Anglican churches and this was the only wedding where George was able to give away one of his daughters. In the same month William Morris moved into Red House, commissioned from architect Philip Webb. Philip Burne-Jones was born to Georgiana on 21st October 1861.

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