Arcadia in E17
If you are curious about how an out-of-the-way gaffe in Walthamstow was named Museum of the Year, get down there and see for yourself. The William Morris Gallery is balm for the soul. It's housed in a wonderful Georgian building in its own grounds - William Morris, who was born nearby, lived here through some of his teenage years.
The museum takes you through the main areas of endeavour of this remarkable man: tapestry and textile design; painting, not his great forte but he was part of the pre-Raphaelites scene and his wife, Jane, was a muse and model and later ran off with Rossetti; furniture and interior design; writing, much of it epic verse influenced by Icelandic sagas; book design, typesetting and binding; the preservation of the built environment ... and then there's his politics.
The displays give full weight to William Morris's political activism, From 1883 for about a decade, he was Britain's most engaged socialist intellectual - libertarian, somewhat utopian (he was the author of News from Nowhere), and very much an activist.
On show is the satchel that Morris took with him to political meetings and demonstrations - and a wonderful display of his pamphlets, many of them embellished by Walter Crane's designs, along with handbills, posters, a few marvellous photographs and a banner which has a touch of Morris about it.
Not the least of the delights is a cafe, airy and light, which sells excellent cakes - and has an open-air terrace overlooking the grounds. There's a good shop (see below) - and it's all free.
Just ten minutes walk away is Walthamstow's other museum, the Vestry House Museum - the displays are nothing like as memorable, but the building and its surroundings are enchanting. I have never come across such an arcadian idyll within the bounds of the M25. Opposite the Vestry House is a single storey 1830s school room now a spiritualist church, and an early Victorian fire station - nearby there's a wood-beamed fifteenth century house and opposite a red hexagonal Victorian pillar box (both below) - footpaths arched by apple-heavy boughs - alms houses - a row of charming country-style Victorian cottages ... and this is E17!
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