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Bexley remembers artist William Morris

PUBLISHED: 10:11 10 October 2012

Red House as it is today

Red House as it is today

Archant

William Morris craved a "palace of art" in which he and his friends could enjoy producing decorative but functional items - Bexley provided just the setting.

The family of William Morris (back) with that of Edward Burne-Jones. Pictire: Waltham Forest Council.The family of William Morris (back) with that of Edward Burne-Jones. Pictire: Waltham Forest Council.

Red House, now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the borough, was to become his haven.

It remains one of the key architectural reminders of the Arts and Crafts movement, which came to the fore in 1860 and lasted for about 50 years.

Its craftsman owner - who died 116 years ago last Wednesday - wanted a brand new home for himself and his new wife Jane to start a family – both of the couple’s daughters Jenny and May were born during their time at the house.

The artist loved the countryside and Upton (now in Bexleyheath) in 1859 fitted the bill.

The plaque at Red HouseThe plaque at Red House

The house, in Red House Lane, was designed by Philip Webb and, when building work finished in 1860, Morris’ contemporary Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones described it as “the most beautiful place in the world”.

Inside, relics include Morris’ most famous work of all – his floral wallpaper along with intricate glass panels painted by Burne-Jones.

While Morris enjoyed spending time in the house with his family and friends, he did not endear himself to his new neighbours.

Penny Duggan, of Bexley Historical Society, said: “Apparently Morris and his family were treated with suspicion by their neighbours. They kept themselves to themselves, inviting their artistic friends to the house, and did not go to church on Sundays.

“His wife Jane wore her hair long, which was quite shocking at the time.”

There are further reminders of the artist in the town centre despite him only spending five years in the house.

Morris, best known for his art but also a staunch Socialist, had a bust commissioned in his honour in 1997 which sits in an alcove at Bexleyheath clocktower, just down the path from the flower bed (and former fountain) in Bexleyheath Broadway that bears his name.

He made quite an impact in such a short space of time.

But it was financial problems that signalled his departure from Red House.

After leaving, he vowed never to return to the property because “to see the house would be more than I could bear”.

The Grade I listed building was used as a residence until 2002 by various families when it was bought by the National Trust.

To discover more about William Morris, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/redhouse.

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