“If a chap can’t compose an epic poem while he’s weaving a tapestry, he had better shut up, he’ll never do any good at all.”
Words to live by, according to William Morris.
You can pick up other catchy slogans in a museum dedicated to the Victorian designer set in one of his childhood homes. After her husband’s death in the 1840s, Mrs Morris moved with her family to Water House, in the village of Walthamstow. Their circumstances much reduced, they were forced to scrape by in the three-storey Georgian villa with its own pleasure gardens, moat and stables. The rooms that the young Morris once clanked around in wearing a suit of armour now house themed galleries covering his life and works.
Spend five minutes exploring them and you’ll feel thoroughly ashamed if you haven’t yet mastered oil-painting, made wallpaper for the Queen or founded a society to preserve Britain’s ancient buildings. So prolific was Morris that the doctor who attended his death gave the cause as “simply being William Morris, and having done more work than most ten men”.
He made furniture, embroidered, designed tiles, started a printing press, created typefaces, engraved wood, wrote novels. And he campaigned. If he’s now most famous for the floral wallpaper glued to the walls of provincial B&Bs across the land, there’s a radicalism to his politics that’s completely modern.
His fight for the environment, employment rights and social equality places him firmly in the zeitgeist of the 21st century. Were he alive today, he’d likely be sitting in front of traffic on Oxford Street with Extinction Rebellion.
If you’d like to be a little more William Morris yourself, there are interactive displays that have you creating a business plan for your Victorian start-up, drawing textile patterns and designing a stained-glass window (OK, so these are aimed at children, but you can elbow them out the way.)
The gallery also runs workshops if you want to take any new-found enthusiasm for craft beyond the ‘dabbling’ stage. After a couple of sessions, you’ll soon be sat at your loom bashing out epic poems and plotting to change the world.
NOTE: William Morris Gallery is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10am–5pm. It’s free to enter – you can find out more HERE.
William Morris Gallery | Lloyd Park, Forest Road, Walthamstow, E17 4PP
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