Travel to the very Northern end of the Victoria line and you reach Walthomstow Central. Walk for a further 10 minutes or so past takeaways, nail bars and bakeries, until you reach the rather aptly named Ruby Road. Aptly named because at the end of it is a real gem, the rather beautiful William Morris Gallery. It is in complete contrast to everything around it, and the only clue you are getting close is the William Morris quote emblazoned across the side of a house at the end of Ruby Road.
William Morris was an esteemed, designer, writer and political activist, still revered today for his stunning patterns and fabircs. There can be few people who are not familiar with William Morris. His designs have adorned houses across the land and have been reproduced on to bags, clothes, lampshades and almost anything else you might think of.
The gallery dedicated to his life and legacy is housed in the 3 storey Georgian villa in which William Morris lived for a number of years from the age of 13. The fact that this is the house that his family downsized to gives you some idea of wealthy background from which he originated. It is a large and other grand house set in pretty and well tended gardens. The day I visited was a beautiful autumnal Saturday and children raced by on scooters, families meandered past and others simply sat on benches watching the world go by.
There are 9 galleries all thematically arranged giving a personal and intimate insight into the man and his life. The early galleries focus on his early life, what shaped him as a child and how his approach to design was influenced in the early days before his business went on to become the hugely successful firm Morris & Co. His fabrics decorated the walls of the Titanic and have been printed almost continuously since his death. The firm was also invited to decorate one of the refreshment rooms at what is now known as the Victoria & Albert museum.
The workshop is lovely light filled room where children and adults have the opportunity to make their own designs. Morris fabrics adorn the ceilings and walls, and there is lovely selection of ceramic tiles at one end.
Other galleries given an insight into Morris the writer and book lover with examples of Kelmscott Press books and souvenirs picked up on his travels. Furniture from the Arts and Crafts movement is on display and Morris’s influence on this generation of crafts people is evident.
The gallery is peppered with quotes by William Morris, one of my favourite of which is this
“If a chap can’t compose an epic poem whilst he’s weaving a tapestry, he’d better shut up, he’ll ever do any good at all”.
If you happen to visit the gallery before the end of January you can also enjoy the May Morris: Art & Life exhibition. May was the daughter of William and an incredibly talented artist in her own right. Her embroideries are exquisite and the chance to see these is a real treat.
The cafe is rather good too and definitely worth calling into, before or after your visit, or maybe both. As you would expect it is well designed, white and bright and altogether aesthetically pleasing. It even boasts an outdoor area overlooking the gardens and park behind the house. I can vouch for the coffee and the Pastel de nata.
There is also a very tempting gift shop brimming with William Morris printed goods. Of course I had to buy a notebook (you can never have enough) and I may also have slipped a WM inspired Christmas decoration into my shopping bag…
It was a glorious day when I visited and after the gallery I enjoyed a meander through the gardens and Lloyd Park, the public recreation ground behind the house. It was a lovely place to be still and quiet before stepping out of the tranquility and back towards Ruby road and the rather less glamorously named Walthamstow Central.
“There is no square mile of earths inhabitable surface that is not beautiful in it’s own way if we will only abstain from wilfully destroying that beauty”
Entry to the Gallery is FREE and it is open Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am – 5pm. It is absolutely worth that trip the the end of the Victoria line.