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Walkers to take on 13 mile pilgrimage to Bexleyheath home of artist William Morris

PUBLISHED: 12:47 05 September 2013 | UPDATED: 12:47 05 September 2013

Red House, in Bexleyheath, was designed for William Morris by Philip Webb in 1859.

Red House, in Bexleyheath, was designed for William Morris by Philip Webb in 1859.

©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Little more than a fortnight ago it was revealed that a forgotten wall painting by Pre-Raphaelite artist William Morris had been uncovered behind a wardrobe at Red House in Bexleyheath.

William Morris lived at Red House for five years shortly after leaving Oxford University.William Morris lived at Red House for five years shortly after leaving Oxford University.

The National Trust site is celebrating the life and times of Morris with a 13-mile pilgrimage on Saturday from London Bridge to his former home, reminiscent of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

About 300 people are expected to trek through Deptford, Greenwich and the ancient oaks of Oxleas Wood before arriving for a feast inspired by Morris’ love for all things medieval.

Red House, the artist’s home for five years, was purposely built in 1860 just yards from the route taken by Chaucer’s characters as they journeyed from London to Canterbury.

Joe Thomas, of the National Trust, sees this as a chance to take part in living history and to experience the charm of Red House.

The wall painting shows biblical figures painted by Morris and friends.The wall painting shows biblical figures painted by Morris and friends.

“It’s a kind of neo-medieval house and that comes from Morris’ fascination with the times of the Canterbury Tales.

“We tend to think of him as an old, heavily-bearded man, but this house reflects Morris fresh from university in Oxford. He spent time experimenting and living a fantasy life there with his friends from Oxford and his wife.”

The recent discovery of Morris’ Biblical wall painting has thrust Red House into the limelight once again, with experts speculating which Pre-Raphaelite artists may have played a part.

Names such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown and Morris’ wife, Elizabeth Siddal, all have strong ties with the home Morris built from scratch.

Those on the pilgrimage on Saturday will hear tales of these names from story-tellers dotted along the route, as well as house manager James Breslin and president of the William Morris Society, Jan Marsh, who await the 300- strong crowd in the evening.

Speaking of the recent discovery, James said: “The early years at Red House were a flowering of ideas and creativity for Morris, who encouraged his friends to help him design a home uniquely medieval in feel. To uncover such a remarkable example of this early decoration has been so exciting.

“As we uncover more and more of those original schemes, we have been delighted that our visitors today have been able to share in these discoveries, and see the conservation in action, every step of the way.”

The end of Morris’ love affair with Red House is a sad story, according to Joe, who says money issues forced him to leave.

He added: “It’s thought that Morris was so upset he could never bring himself to set eyes upon Red House again and, as far as we know, he never did.”

The pilgrimage will begin at The George Inn in Borough High Street at 9am and finishes at Red House at 5pm, when a pilgrims’ party will run until 9pm.

Tickets cost £20 for adults, though there are concessions for redheads by way of celebrating all things Red House-related.

Pilgrims will be given a map, a pilgrim passport and a free download to access an audio guide from smartphones.

For more information, and to book a place, visit nationaltrust.org.uk/red-house.

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