I grew up surrounded by William Morris prints, my childhood house had William Morris curtains, cushion covers, chairs and just lengths of fabric waiting to be sewn up.
A great admirer of his prints I made a trek some years back to North East London’s Walthamstow, the most unlikely of locations it seemed to me at the time, to house such a gallery. As it transpires, this used to be William Morris’s family home from 1848-1856.
During my first visit the house was beautiful but a bit worse for wear, the front and rear garden in a state of disrepair, the interior in much need of some TLC. But in 2011-2012 it underwent a major redevelopment and I headed on up there last month on a sunny London afternoon, with my mother, for a much overdue re-visit.
The redevelopment of the William Morris Gallery is beautiful, it is almost unrecognisable both in and out.
With a new wing housing a gallery and a café , a lovely walled front garden and a beautifully landscaped Victorian garden to the rear, it has regained its former charm and glory.
Carefully thought out it tells the story of William Morris and his artistic circle. Housing textiles, wallpaper, furniture, glass ceramics and books right down to his very own famous canvas satchel with leather trim, something that a bag designer like me can only look at and admire.
For those who’ve not yet explored the life of William Morris, there is so much more to the man than design, in fact the more I know the more I admire him and his values. During his life he was best known for his poetry and politics, it was only after his death that he became best known for his textiles.
Although born to a wealthy middle-class family he became a radical socialist, engaging his energies to create a free and fair world, where all people are equal. Tackling the issues of free education, shorter working days and better housing for workers. In his company he employed young destitute boys as apprentices and hoped to give them a skill and an opportunity in life. He sought to make craft a lifelong skill to be taught at school. He fought for preservation of heritage and strongly opposed the destruction of old buildings and features within them. He fought for the environment and I wonder what he would make of the environmental ‘mess’ we live in today.
And with that in mind it is not at all surprising that his textiles and sense of style are still as contemporary today as are the causes he fought for, I can only think that he was one of a kind and one step ahead…