Monday, 30 March 2009
Last week I went to visit Red House, in Bexley Heath. William Morris built Red House as a home for his new wife Jane and hoped that it would become a community of artists, living and working together. This never happened, and in fact they only spent five years there, from 1860 to 1865. The architect was Morris's friend Philip Webb, one of the most important figures of the Arts and Crafts movement. The interior design company that Morris set up began as a need to furnish this curious and remarkable house.
I had somehow never got round visiting it, partly because it was not open to the public when I was originally researching the story. I had always longed to go and so a week ago I went off to see it with my artist friend Ilinca Cantacuzino. You have to email or call the house and reserve a place on a tour of the building. The tour leader was completely charming and full of interesting little stories about the secret places in the house, its history and the people who lived there both in Morris's time and afterwards.
We were lucky that it was one of those delicious early spring mornings, with all the blossom out. The structure of the garden has changed since Jane and Morris lived there and the curators hope that one day they will have the funds to reinstate the garden along its original lines. But it was still very beautiful, and still feels very much a part of the house.
I tried to imagine what it was like for jane to have lived there. It seemed so huge next to the tiny little apartment in the alleyway in Oxford. There was one particular little window seat which Jane was supposed to sit on doing her embroidery. She would have been able to look out of the mullioned windows while she worked, like a medieval princess. It must have seemed like living out a fairy tale dream for those few years they remained there.
Posted by Teresa Howard at Monday, March 30, 2009