The William Morris Gallery is housed in a Georgian house, built in the 1740s and set in Lloyd Park in Walthamstow, in north-east London. The grade II* listed building was Morris's family home from 1848 to 1856. The only public Gallery devoted to William Morris, it reopened in August 2012 following a major redevelopment.
The building is a fine example of Georgian domestic architecture dating from about 1744 (the date scratched on a brick found in the upper east wall). Records indicate that there was a house on the site – or perhaps on the moated ‘island’ to the rear of the present house – as far back as the fifteenth century. The existing house was variously known in its earlier history as The Winns or Water House, the latter name deriving from the ornamental moat in the gardens at the back of the house.
A map drawn in 1758 shows the building with its original east and west wings, but without the two semi-circular bays on the south front which were added some thirty or forty years later. The east wing was demolished in the early 1900s, but a new extension was built upon the same site in 2012 as part of the William Morris Gallery development project.
One of the finest features of the exterior is the Corinthian-style porch, its fluted columns and elaborately carved capitals executed in timber, with rosettes used as decorative motifs on the canopy soffit. The original windows on the front elevation (those in the three centre bays) have architraves. These, together with the use of band- or string-courses and the upper cornice – added at the same time as the two semi-circular bays – were intended to give order and symmetry to the façade of the building.
From 1848 to 1856, the house was the family home of William Morris (1834-1896), the designer, craftsman, writer, conservationist and socialist. Morris lived here with his widowed mother and his eight brothers and sisters from the age of fourteen until he was twenty-two.
The young Morrises used the garden moat for boating and fishing in summer and for ice-skating in winter. One of William’s younger brothers, Thomas Rendal Morris, briefly ‘marooned’ himself on the island after reading Robinson Crusoe, but soon crept back into the house when night began to fall.
William Morris wrote some of his earliest poetry seated in the tall window on the main staircase, and his friend Edward Burne-Jones, on a visit to the Morrises in the 1850s, painted studies of the trees on the island.
When the Morris family left the house in 1856, its next occupant was the publisher Edward Lloyd (1815-1890). Lloyd made his fortune from publishing ‘Penny Dreadfuls’, cheap semi-plagiarisms of Dickens’s novels, and bloodthirsty melodramas. Long before Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Lloyd had published Varney the Vampire, or the Feast of Blood, the first such story to appear in England. Lloyd is said to have insisted to one of his illustrators: ‘There must be more blood, much more blood…’
However Lloyd expanded his range by establishing some of the most successful newspapers of Victorian England; Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper and The Daily Chronicle. Always keen to reduce production costs, Lloyd introduced new technologies soon copied by all major publishers. Lloyd left the house in 1885, five years before his death. His son Frank eventually donated the house and grounds to Walthamstow and ‘Lloyd Park’ was opened in July 1900. Read more about Edward Lloyd here: www.edwardlloyd.org
Foundation of the William Morris Gallery
Plans to establish a Gallery dedicated to William Morris were first made in 1914. The William Morris Gallery was opened in 1950 by the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee. One of the Gallery’s first visitors was H.M. Queen Mary, whose husband George V had given Morris & Co the Royal Warrant for its contributions to the 1911 Coronation.
The artists Sir Frank Brangwyn and Arthur Mackmurdo presented a large part of their collections of 19th and early 20th century art as a memorial to the achievements of William Morris and those who worked with him. Frank Brangwyn himself began his career as an apprentice draughtsman with Morris & Co in the 1880s. Regularly changing displays of works by, and from the collections of, Brangwyn and Mackmurdo are on display in the Gallery.
Redevelopment of the Gallery
The Gallery underwent a major redevelopment during 2011-12. The project was led by Waltham Forest Council, which owns and manages the Gallery, and was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Friends of the William Morris Gallery and numerous charitable trusts, sponsors and individual donors.
The historic house was fully refurbished, with new collection displays being created on the ground and first floors. The top floor was turned into a learning and research centre, with staff offices being relocated to the refurbished basement. A new extension was built on the site of the old east wing, housing a tea room, a special exhibition gallery and a collection store. Pringle Richards Sharratt were the architects and exhibition designers.
The project also created a new website, new schools resources and a three-year activities and events programme designed to engage the widest possible audience with the Gallery, the collection and the life, work and continuing influence of William Morris.