Anarchy & Beauty: William Morris and his Legacy – National Portrait Gallery

I went to see Anarchy & Beauty: William Morris and his Legacy at the National Portrait Gallery last Friday after work. This exhibition aims to explore the life and ideas of Morris, who was an artist, writer, socialist and visionary thinker.

The exhibition was interesting, but I thought it focused too little on Morris himself and too much on his contemporaries and those whom he inspired. Books, ceramics and artworks by people such as Eric Gill, Terence Conran and Dante Gabriel Rossetti were interesting in their own right but moved the focus away from Morris. I did like how the exhibition highlighted Morris’ concept of “art for the people” and his Socialist sympathies.

Overall, a good exhibition to visit if you want an overview of William Morris’s life, contemporaries and followers, but not if you are particularly interested in Morris himself.

William Morris Gallery

William Morris Gallery

Located in a Georgian house in Walthamstow, which was home to Morris and his family between 1848 and 1856, is the recently redeveloped William Morris Gallery. I paid a visit as part of my tube exploration plan.

I find Morris a fascinating character – a talented poet and artist who believed that everyone should have beauty in their lives, he became a socialist later in his life and could often be found handing out pamphlets or taking part in demonstrations. He disliked the growing machine-made culture of the Victorian age, and championed small-scale production and handcrafted goods.

The museum tells us about Morris’ life, from his childhood through to old age. It also simultaneously tells the story of the house itself. Displayed in the rooms of the house are several artefacts and examples of his art, and that of his contemporaries. I particularly liked the reconstruction of the Morris and Co. store, which showed how customers could combine the different elements of the design to create a truly Arts and Crafts home. The museum is free to enter, too, which is a bonus!

FACTS

Address: Lloyd Park, Forest Road, Walthamstow, London, E17 4PP

Website: wmgallery.org.uk

Opening Hours: Wed-Sun (& Bank Holidays) 10am-5pm

Prices: Free

Merton Abbey Mills

On the same day I went to Epping, I found the time to go south of the river and take a quick look around Merton Abbey Mills. This is a shopping and restaurant complex near Colliers Wood Station, sited near the William Morris Printworks.

Heritage plaque
Plaque marking the site of the William Morris Printworks

The buildings, most of which are original factories and mills, are sited near the river in a lovely location. There are shops and market stalls, as well as a tiny theatre (the Colour House Theatre), a stage for performers, and restaurants.

Merton Abbey Mills
Merton Abbey Mills

In one of the buildings there is a brief museum about the history of the mills, with some interesting exhibits.

Water wheel
Water wheel
The Merton Rat
The Merton Rat

I would like to come back here in the future – I think it would be a lovely place to relax over a meal.