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Pillars of the Community

William Morris Gallery

This East London institution requires no introduction, but please humour us whilst we introduce them anyway! We are shining our Pillars of the Community spotlight on the globally renown William Morris Gallery. William Morris is a British, and worldwide, icon known for his work as a designer, craftsman, poet and activist. The William Morris Gallery is the only public gallery devoted to William Morris, and is housed in stunning Georgian house that was once the Morris family home. Right here in Walthamstow!

We’ve had the pleasure of working with Nicola, the Marketing and Engagement Officer for the William Morris Gallery, when collaborating on Hoppy Helles and Hopfenpils small batch releases. We took the opportunity to pick her brains and find out more about the well-loved organisation. She explained to us that the WMG is home to the world’s largest collection of William Morris’ work, with the Gallery’s wider collections including works by Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, May Morris and Philip Webb. The venue, is magnificent in its own right, ‘Water House’ us a Grade II* listed building that was home to Morris and his family from the age of 14 to 22. His childhood garden and stomping ground was what we now know as the beautiful Lloyd Park. 

The WMG was established in 1950, however plans to open a Gallery dedicated to William Morris were first made in 1914. The Gallery then underwent a major redevelopment during 2011-12, which was a project led by Waltham Forest council, who own and manage the attraction. The historic house was fully refurbished, and 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. New collection displays were created on the ground and first floors, and the top floor was turned into a learning and research centre. These renovations were funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Friends of the William Morris Gallery and numerous charitable trusts, sponsors and individual donors. The doors reopened to the public in 2012. The Gallery and its sister museum Vestry House now have a team of 27 staff members and 15 volunteers.

We asked Nicola to tell us a bit more about William Morris and his connections to Walthamstow. In all honesty, learning about his life achievements made us want to up our game! Morris is recognised as one of the most significant cultural figures of Victorian Britain. He was born in 1834 and grew up in Walthamstow with his widowed mother and eight siblings. William Morris was a leading figure in the British Arts and Crafts Movement and major contributor to the revival of traditional British textile arts and methods of production. He originally founded his company Morris & Co, alongside Edward Burne-Jones, Rossetti and Philip Webb.

Morris & Co profoundly influenced interior decoration throughout the Victorian period, with Morris designing tapestries, wallpaper, fabrics, furniture, and stained-glass windows. Many of Morris’s designs are still in production today. Although he is most famous for his designs, Morris was best known in his lifetime as a poet and novelist. In his final years, he founded the Kelmscott Press to publish limited edition printed books. Morris was also a committed activist, environmentalist and socialist – he founded the Socialist League in 1884.

In recent years the Gallery has developed an ambitious and hugely successful programme of special contemporary and historical exhibitions. Currently running, is Althea McNish: Colour is Mine, which is a retrospective of one the UK’s most innovative textile artists and the first designer of Caribbean descent to reach international recognition. The exhibition runs until 11th September 2022 and is accompanied by a programme of public events, all of which can be found on the WMG website.

The WMG also has a sister museum, Vestry House, which is the local history museum for Waltham Forest. Vestry House has been open to the public since 1931 and houses artworks, over 80,000 photographs, themed displays and archives, that capture the heritage of our wonderful borough. It has an award-winning volunteer-run garden which is free to visit all year around, along with the Vestry Garden Cafe which opened last year.

Nicola told us that the best way to support the Gallery is to come along and visit: ‘Admission is free and we are open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm.’ For families with young children, there is family trail around the permanent displays and special exhibitions. The Larder Café  is onsite if you need to take a break for tea, coffee or lunch. Every purchase from WMG shop supports the work of the Gallery, including it’s education, conservation and exhibition programmes. The Gallery also welcomes any donations that you’re able to make when visiting. You can find more information on the William Morris Gallery website.

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