It’s not quite what you expect to find in Walthamstow; a major gallery devoted to one of the most significant designers of the nineteenth century. But that’s where the William Morris Gallery is located, in the house where Morris, who was born in Walthamstow in 1834, lived with his widowed mother and his eight brothers and sisters from the age of fourteen until he was twenty-two.
The Grade II listed house was built in the 1740s, though the two semicircular bays were added about forty years later. It passed through various hands after the Morris family left and was first opened as the William Morris Gallery in 1950. There was a major restoration in 2011-12 led by Waltham Forest Council, which owns and manages the Gallery. It now contains over 10,000 objects which tell the story of the life and work of Morris and his artistic circle.
The ground floor introduces Morris the Man and chronicles the beginnings of Morris & Co, the interior design company he founded, which focused on quality materials, artist-led design and high standards of craftsmanship.
This is Morris’s very first wallpaper design, Trellis, first made in 1862 and still in production today.
In 1877 the firm opened a shop in Oxford St which functioned as a showroom for the products of Morris & Co. It was unusual for the time in displaying the prices of its goods, so that customers were not embarrassed by having to ask.
This elaborate embroidery was made by a customer using a kit supplied by Morris & Co.
William Morris was a pioneer of the Arts and Crafts movement, which emphasised the importance of hand craftsmanship, designing from nature and the sympathetic use of materials. Morris’s great friend, Edward Burne-Jones, was another devotee. Some of his stained glass is on display in the house.
Morris founded the Kelmscott Press which produced beautifully made and hand tooled books, including an edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The original is on display in the gallery, along with a facsimile which enables visitors to turn the pages and study the work in detail. (You can see the tools he used to work on the book in my post about the Society of Antiquaries).
Central to Morris’s aesthetic were his politics – he was an active socialist and also a passionate defender of old buildings through the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings which he helped to found.
The Museum is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm and is free to visit. It’s a short walk from Walthamstow tube station.