A lost ‘garden snug’ has been recreated at 19th century designer William Morris’ Arts & Crafts home, Red House, in Bexleyheath. Inspired by the original notes of architect Philip Webb, the design draws on an ordnance survey map from when Morris and his family were residents at the house between 1860-1865 which shows outdoor spaces separated into different ‘rooms’. Photos of the garden from the 1890s were also used to guide the project. The 100 square metre garden is enclosed with traditional hazel and hawthorn and the planting inside its bounds references some iconic Morris & Co designs like ‘Trellis’, ‘Daisy’ and ‘Fruit’. At the centre is a Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula) and the garden also features traditional cottage plants like Shasta daisies, columbines, honeysuckle, irises, peonies, jasmine and mock orange. Around the central tree are specially commissioned wooden seats from Scottish craftsman Angus Ross with distinctive two-metre high arches designed to echo the house’s medieval-inspired architecture. For more, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/red-house.
This iconic and unique Arts and Crafts home in Bexleyheath in London’s east was at the centre of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.
Commissioned by poet, designer and artist William Morris in 1859 – and built by his friend, architect Philip Webb (with whom Morris would co-found the The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877) – the L-shaped house was designed to be a home for Morris and his new wife Jane as well as a hub for the so-called “second wave” of Pre-Raphaelites.
Described by Dante Gabriel Rossetti as “more a poem than a house”, the two storey red brick property (hence the name ‘Red House’) is characterised by elements of romanticised Gothic medieval design – including a steep gable roof, tall chimney stacks, oriel windows and stained glass – but also contains a very practical layout.
The Morrises moved in during June, 1860, and, inspired by medieval art and literature, commenced elaborately decorating the property in bold colours. The couple hung the walls with embroideries and pictures and commissioned Webb to design furnishing while others who helped with the interior decoration included Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal and Edward Burne-Jones.
It was this communal response to the home’s design that is credited as leading to the founding of the decorative arts company Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co – often referred to as ‘The Firm’ – in 1861.
A plan to extend the property in the mid-1860s to add workshops as well as allow Burne-Jones and his family to live there was aborted after the then pregnant Georgiana Burne-Jones contracted scarlet fever, losing the child as a result.
Meanwhile, Morris – whose two daughters Jenny and May were born in the property – was apparently discovering the home’s short-comings – including its orientation away from the sun and its distance from London. He subsequently decided to move his family back to London and in 1866 sold the property, never returning to it again.
The house remained in private hands until it was acquired by the National Trust in 2003. Morris, meanwhile, went on to lease Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire with Rossetti and is buried in the nearby churchyard of St George’s Church.
The now Grade I-listed house, which still contains original features and furnishings, is surrounded by a garden which was designed to “clothe” the property and which, as well as being informed by Arts and Crafts principles, features a beautiful conical-roofed well-house. When open, there’s a cafe and second-hand bookshop on site.
The house has an English Heritage Blue Plaque commemorating Morris and Webb.
For more, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/red-house.
PICTURE: Top – The property with well house in the foreground (Steve Parkinson/ licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – A mural in the drawing room designed by Edward Burne-Jones depicting the marriage feast of Sir Degrevant (Ethan Doyle White at English Wikipedia (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)
A remarkable Pre-Raphaelite painting has been found painted on the wall of a Bexleyheath house lived in by artist William Morris. The bedroom wall painting at Red House, which is believed to have been painted by Morris and other Pre-Raphaelites, was hidden behind a wardrobe and covered by wallpaper for years with only two figures from the painting visible. But following two months of conservation work by the National Trust – which acquired the property in south-east London in 2003 – a six by eight foot image has been discovered depicting Biblical characters such as Adam and Eve, Noah, and Rachel and Jacob. Designed to resemble a hanging tapestry, the image also contained faded and incomplete lines of text which have been identified as being from the Biblical book of Genesis (chapter 30, verse six). Morris lived at the house between 1860 and 1865, during which time Pre-Raphaelite artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his wife Elizabeth Siddal, Edward Burne-Jones and Ford Madox Brown were regular visitors. It is understood his friends helped decorate the property’s walls, ceilings and items of furniture with wall paintings and patterns. While it is thought Jacob was painted by Morris, Rachel possibly by Elizabeth Siddal and Noah by Madox Brown, further research is being undertaken to help identify who painted which image. For details on visiting times and how to get to the property, check out www.nationaltrust.org.uk/red-house/. PICTURES: © National Trust / James Breslin and, © National Trust.