No it’s not our little moggy which has travelled to many places all the way from Greenwich, London to the Anatolian plateau I’m referring to in the title. It’s a human.
There’s still one famous person’s house I haven’t mentioned we visited London last month. In many respects it’s a house belonging to one of the most remarkable and multi-faceted persons who ever lived. The descriptions of artist, designer, typographer, writer, poet, translator, revolutionary, visionary do not exhaust his activities. Furthermore, he is the one person who, more than ever, links up places where I was born, where I was educated, where I lived, where I worked, where I am now – indeed all those places and more: all those places dearest to me today.
Walthamstow, notorious for its part in the 2011 London riots when large parts of that city were in flames, does not immediately suggest a pilgrimage on the Victoria tube line to visit it. Its multi ethnic high street is lively but has unremarkable shops and modest architecture. Nobody there seemed to know the place we wanted to visit. Had we come to the wrong place?
Of course not. Finally, we were pointed in the right direction. At the entrance of a park stands a fine Georgian mansion where the man whose achievements we had come to hallow was born and brought up: William Morris, Britain’s greatest designer, whose work we have already touched on in a previous post when we visited an exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery with a section on him. (See https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/arty-crafty/)
There’s a fine web site at http://www.wmgallery.org.uk/ dedicated to William who was also (naturally) involved with the Pre-Raphaelites, one of whom snatched his wife off him (I’ll leave you to find out who if you didn’t already know).
The museum is beautifully laid out and much better organised than when we last visited it Here are some photographs of that museum thirty years ago (and us thirty years younger!)
But how does Morris link up with all the places I’ve lived and worked in? For a start there’s the Red House in Bexleyheath designed by Morris and Webb, where William spent the earlier part of his married life – a house called “the beautifullest house in England” which is just round the corner from where I lived in the same borough. We were privileged to have known the couple who saved the Red House from demolition when such architecture was unfashionable (what a philistine age I was brought up – the number of gorgeous buildings demolished in the Britain of the 50’s to the 70’s is too heart-breaking for me to go through.) We were also among the first visitors when the National Trust realised the uniqueness of that Red House and was able to add it to its list of very precious London properties. Again these photographs date from our distant past:
Red Lion square in Holborn, London, where William Morris had his design company headquarters, was also the square where I worked as a civil servant in the now defunct Wages Inspectorate. (Incidentally, it’s the same square where Sir John Harrington, Queen Elizabeth I’s “saucy godson” invented the first flush toilet in 1596. Hence the use of the word “John” to describe the same useful invention in the states. But I digress…)
The Kelmscott press on the Thames at Hammersmith, which Morris founded and from which he published some of the most stunningly set books in the English language and his masterpiece of printing, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, also has an intimate and living association with me and the great river itself – a river about which Conrad in that book which I am constantly re-reading “Heart of Darkness” writes “what greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth! . . . The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires.”
Even Bagni di Lucca enters into my associations as among William Morris’s best friends was Robert Browning whose holiday residence in Bagni di Lucca is being so lovingly restored (see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/the-most-beautiful-house-in-bagni-di-lucca-villa/
William Morris is fortunate in having several houses in which he lived or is associated with. There’s Wightwick Manor, of course, near Birmingham and Standen in Sussex, both of which we have also visited and both which belong to the National Trust.
If you’re an American you can see this gorgeous stained glass window designed by William Morris in Trinity Church Boston (there’s also an archive of William Morris material in San Marino California,
and if you’re an Australian and a fan of William Morris designs you must be the luckiest person in the world for Adelaide’s art gallery has the most comprehensive collection of Morris & Co. furnishings outside Britain).
If you’re in London and don’t want to go that far to see some William Morris you can always have a cup of tea at the V and A – the dining area was designed by William Morris and is now appropriately called “The William Morris” room.
I don’t have to go too far either in Bagni di Lucca to see that Browning house with its associations with William Morris. After all, not only were they good friends but Morris can justly be counted as the main inspirer of the art nouveau (“stile liberty” as they call it here in Italy movement so gloriously seen in much of Italy, particularly around Lucca and Viareggio, and now revealed like an awakened sleeping beauty in BdL itself.
Few people read much of William Morris’s literary work today but two of his phrases have certainly echoed in the minds of many of us:
There’s this one which some of us try to aspire to:
“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
And there’s this one too, a little more difficult in this day and age to practice.”
“No work which cannot be done with pleasure in the doing is worth doing”.
To conclude, here are some photographs we took last February of a few of the items designed by Morris in the house that makes a visit to the end of the Victoria line at Walthamstow worth every minute of the journey: