Despite my fondness for William Morris, I’d never visited Red House (National Trust) before, despite its status as the family home built by Philip Webb with Morris’s approval. I gave a talk there recently and found it much easier to get to than expected (despite floods, engineering works and rail strikes!) and it was well worth the visit. The house was built from 1859, though Morris only lived in it 1860-65, but the tour we went on made it clear that this was both a family home and the centre of a community of artists and craftspeople, as well as the place from which he developed The Firm, and began his process of work and thought on house decoration. The house contains a variety of experimental approaches to design, from the clearly medieval-inspired to the almost art deco, and to see the house as a work in progress, with the input of a range of people associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, gives it a unique status.
Red House has been owned by several subsequent owners, with varying attitudes to their illustrious predecessor, so not all of the house is as Morris left it, and this and the different restoration attempts over the years – some more successful than others – are addressed by the guides and are still being explored by the National Trust; the house feels as though it is still being developed, which makes it quite exciting. And of course new discoveries continue: in 2013 a mural was rediscovered at Red House (read about it here); my (terrible) photo below. It’s thought that Elizabeth Siddall worked on it, and I did find it exciting to stand in a room where I knew Siddall had been.
It’s thrilling (to me, and my son!) to visit the house Morris loved, though his tenure there was short, and quite sad. It adds to my sense of Morris as an enormously complex man, and one I intend to continue pursuing. Consequently I finally joined the William Morris Society on the way home!