William in Walthamstow

Image

Just before Christmas, I finally made the trip to the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow. I have been meaning to go ever since they reopened after their recent refurbishment, but I was put off by the thought of the journey out to the bleak wastelands of Zone 3. I shouldn’t have been; the Gallery couldn’t be easier to get to. Hop on the always (comparatively) calm and efficient Victoria line to Walthamstow Central and take a short walk through the rather dilapidated Victorian streets of Walthamstow and you’ll find yourself unexpectedly standing in front of a grand Georgian manor house that looks like it should be in a Jane Austen adaptation. This is where William Morris spent a good deal of his formative years. It was once surrounded by parkland and countryside, when Walthamstow was a very desirable Essex village rather than a busy and cosmopolitan London neighbourhood. Now it’s on a main road and is surrounded by concrete and Victorian terraces, but once inside, the years fall away as you completely enter the world of William Morris.

Image

I became fascinated by Morris after studying him as part of a Victorian Literature module at university. I had only known of him as a designer before my lecturer proved otherwise by having us read a selection of his utopian fiction. Idealistic and rather overwritten as it was, News from Nowhere was an intriguing insight into the mind of a man who had genuinely wanted a better, more equal world where craftmanship and community were keystones of a more thoughtful and humanitarian society. Amongst the predominant rhetoric of the Victorian world, Morris’ was a unique voice calling for a retrenchment to a simpler life in an age of relentless mechanisation. He was interested and involved in a huge range of activities during his lifetime, from writing and design to running a business and mounting political campaigns. As his doctor said, he did ‘more work than most ten men,’ which contributed to his relatively early death.

IMG_7540

The William Morris Gallery tells the story of Morris’ life and work, interweaved with information about his contemporaries and the wider context of his times. Each gallery focuses on a different element of Morris’ life and work, and displays a huge range of gorgeous objects, from furniture and textiles to paintings and stained glass. One brilliant gallery is a recreation of a workshop at Morris & Co, showcasing the various types of craftmanship such as wallpaper printing, fabric design and tile painting, with videos of modern makers demonstrating how these techniques were achieved in practice. Next to this gallery is a faithful recreation of the shop floor at Morris and Co’s flagship London retail outlet, demonstrating the range of furniture, fabric and wallpapers customers would have had to choose from…and their hair raising prices! It’s one of the best small museums I have been to in its range of exhibits and the depth of its information, and I was delighted to be able to see so many outstanding examples of the work of Morris and his contemporaries up close. The gallery is a beautiful, inspiring place with an excellent tea room, lovely gardens, a well stocked shop and very helpful staff, and couldn’t provide a more pleasant visitor experience. To top it all, it’s free! I already can’t wait to go again; what a discovery!

IMG_7536

16 comments

  1. Thanks for generously sharing this outing Rachel. I have enjoyed the trip, all the way from a rather hot Adelaide. Yay for small, beautiful niche museums. They seem a lot less overwhelming than the bigger than Ben Hur ones. Isn’t it nice to know too, that there have always been altruistic, visionary people who take their passion across many fields of the arts. . In our age of specialisation its good to have examples of people who were well rounded and holistic; the universal scholar idea I guess. No doubt the likes of William Morris had the money and liesure at their disposal too!

    I love the pic of the tiles. I think I would almost commit a crime to own some of those!

    1. I know you would love the gallery, Merenia. The smallness of it makes it a better experience, because you don’t feel the rush that you do at bigger places to ‘get round everything’ – there is a limited number of objects to view so you can take your time and relish the experience. Yes – that is the essential paradox of Morris. It’s all very well to want social equality and to hark back to a simpler time when you have no concept of what a simpler life entails and have the freedom to pursue whatever interests you. I also find it sad that his designs were far too expensive to be used and enjoyed by anyone but the wealthiest in society – a practice entirely in opposition to his socialist aims. I know that if you’re going to do small scale individual production of beautiful things, a price tag must be attached to them, but still…there is a real struggle between ideal and reality that I do find difficult to reconcile when it comes to Morris.

  2. Who would have thought that such a lovely building and free museum would be in Walthamstow. Maybe a place to visit on my next trip to UK. Thanks for sharing

  3. Sounds so lovely. I am always envious of how many such cultural options are there to see in and around London. And free of cost, to boot!

  4. Glad you enjoyed it Rachel, I also visited it recently, and also went to the old picturesque village of Walthamstow nearby, which is marooned in the Victorian suburbs. It’s an enjoyable visit, and apparently the village, which has a church, museum and several nice shops and cafes, is enjoying a renaissance, as people who can no longer afford Hampstead are moving there!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s