I had more to do in and around London than walk, though walking is always part of the equation. So I reluctantly left the Thames Path and, prioritizing for the time remaining and a big fan of the Arts and Craft Movement, William Morris went to the top of the list. During my first walk along the Thames in the Cotswolds, I thought I’d have the opportunity to visit Kelmscott Manor, his home near the river about 20 miles west of Oxford. And as you’ve guessed, I didn’t. It was closed the day I was passing by.
In the intervening years, I’d learned that before Kelmscott there had been Red House, Morris’s first home of his own, completed in 1860. Built soon after he married, it was designed by him with architect, Philip Webb. Located in Bexleyheath, 15 miles and 45 minutes by train from Victoria Station in London, the house embodied Morris’s feeling for the medievalist esthetic that was the driving force in the work of Morris and his friends, among them Pre-Raphaelite painters Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. What became known as the Arts and Crafts Movement was a revolt by artists and craftspeople against the effects of the industrial revolution and mass production on decorative arts. Led by Morris, his friends and colleagues, what began in England became a renaissance in craftsmanship and esthetics throughout Europe and North America.
I set out from Wimbledon, took the District Line tube to Victoria Station, continued on a Southeastern train to Bexleyheath Station, followed by a 3/4 mile walk through nondescript neighborhoods. A sign on a wall told me that, in the midst of all this mediocrity, a milepost in the history of British design was just ahead.
Down the driveway was another world, peopled with men and women who come to Red House to help visitors understand the excitement they feel for the artistic movement created by William Morris and his compatriots. Steve Green was our enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide to Morris’s world on that noontime tour, welcomed our questions and made me very glad I was there. He was also able to prepare the way for my upcoming trip to the Cotswolds and a visit, at last, to Kelmscott Manor which would take place the following week.
Red House in its Gardens
Arts & Crafts Interiors, by William Morris & Friends
William Morris Fabric Designs
Morris only lived in Red House for 5 years, not able to afford its upkeep nor feeling it was ultimately suitable for his lifestyle. Today it’s considered one of the most important examples of 19th century architecture in England and has been owned by the National Trust since 2003. I recommend a pilgrimage to Red House for anyone with an interest in architecture and decorative arts. The journey will be richly rewarded.
Visitor information can be found on the National Trust website:
For those Americans planning a visit to the UK, I recommend a membership in The Royal Oak Foundation, American partner of the National Trust. Royal Oak supports the UK organization and membership allows free entrance to NT properties, among other benefits:
More on William Morris:
The William Morris Gallery, located in what was the Morris family home in Walthamstow, London, “the only public gallery devoted to the life and legacy of William Morris: designer, craftsman, socialist”.
Morris & Company, founded in 1861, still in business.
The William Morris Society, “Perpetuating the memory of one of the greatest men of the Victorian age”:
Another William Morris Society, this one in the United States: http://www.morrissociety.org/
Next week, a stop in Oxford on my way to the Cotswolds.