7 Hammersmith Terrace

Hammersmith Terrace is a pretty, quiet street of handsome Georgian properties. It’s so pretty and so quiet, you’d imagine that behind each and every glossy front door there was an oligarch not living there. Not so for number seven – or at least the last occupier was no oligarch, and won’t be returning, even for the occasional weekend.

IMG_1089With this in mind, it’s odd how, when stepping inside the house, it seems particularly lived in, to the point of feeling as though you’re intruding into someone’s private home. The decor is harmonious but not obsessively matchy-matchy, it’s clean and tidy but trinkets and everyday objects lie on tables and mantlepieces, and on the walls, photos and pictures seem like old neighbours, leaning against their frames as they exchange gossip.

As you might have guessed, Seven Hammersmith Terrace is a museum, albeit an unusual, little-known one. Formerly owned by Emery Walker (1851 – 1933), printmaker and friend of William Morris (1834 – 1896), its Arts & Crafts decor and contents were passed down to and preserved first by Walker’s daughter, Dorothy (1878 – 1933), then her friend Elizabeth de Haas (? – 1999), and finally the Emery Walker Trust, set up in 1999.

IMG_1092In this museum, there are no teasels on chairs, and the only labels were written by the owners themselves, shrewdly aware of the future importance of the objects.

Many are of little value and seem insignificant until combined with other objects or documents – such as the mended jug bought by Walker on holiday in Rome, and the photo capturing him in the act.

Some introduced me to a side of the Arts & Crafts movement I’d never known before – for example, the patterned lino flooring in the front hallway printed by Morris & Co. Initially called ‘Kampticon’, lino was first manufactured in 1864 (not the 1940s as I’d assumed), eleven years before Morris designed his flooring. Despite his tendency towards the archaic and traditional, it shows that Morris was clearly interested in new materials too.

IMG_1098Others are even more precious and unique, such as the sturdy seventeenth century chair used by William Morris in his study down the road at Kelmscott House and passed on to Walker when he died, and the wool and camel hair bedspread embroidered by May Morris (1862 – 1938, William’s daughter) for Emery’s frail wife Mary Grace. On Mary Grace’s death in 1920, it was used as a shroud to cover her coffin, then in 1933 it was used to cover Emery’s. Thirty years after that, it was used for Dorothy’s, then 36 years on for Elizabeth de Haas in 1999.

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In the life of this one object, much of the history of the house and its owners is encompassed. If it hadn’t been saved from the flames of the crematorium in time, an important Arts & Crafts object and piece of history would be lost forever. If separated from the house and the rest of its contents, the full value and meaning of both would be lost. The same goes for the entire house and its contents, described by John Betjeman as “a kingdom that can never be created again”. I highly recommend visiting at least once.

7 Hammersmith Terrace is viewable by appointment only, Saturdays (and some Sundays) from April to October. Bookings can be made via their website, £10 full price and some concessions available.

For a better look at Morris’s lino, there’s a piece on the V&A’s collections website here.

Photos with kind permission from the Emery Walker Trust.

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Lino cuts at the William Morris Society

As you can probably tell, lino printing has become a bit of an obsession lately. I’ve been making lino cuts both at home and at the William Morris Society in Hammersmith with my friend Alice, assistant curator there.

We’re making linos based on motifs in Morris designs from the Society’s collection, to use in printing workshops for school groups. Our linos are mainly based on two of Morris’s lesser-known designs, Bird from 1878, and Grafton from 1883.

IMG_1115I had the privilege of taking a good look (and some bad photos) of the two original designs, both housed in the Society’s collection. Bird and Grafton were both made well into Morris’s career as a wallpaper and textile designer. You can see this in his precise and confident drawing of Bird, which contrasts with the rubbings out and alterations apparent in his first wallpaper design, Trellis, of 1864, for which he employed the help of his friend Philip Webb. Bird is a symmetrical design, so Morris only needed to colour in half of it, giving us an insight into his working process and drawing style.

Detail from original design drawing ‘Bird’ by William Morris

Detail from original design drawing ‘Bird’ by William Morris

Grafton is an unusual Morris design, being the only one resembling a stencil design. Most of Morris’ designs are much more complex, employing interwoven elements and many more colours. His most complex wallpaper and textile designs could need over twenty woodblocks (one for each colour) to print.

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IMG_1082 Detail from original design drawing ‘Grafton’ by William Morris

Perhaps I’ll try a more ambitious two-colour (not twenty-colour) design next, but for now, we’re quite happy with the results of our first… IMG_1117…and second lino cutting sessions. IMG_1269

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Cartoon by Edward Burne-Jones, showing Morris carving a woodblock

Photos of Grafton and Bird by kind permission of the William Morris Society.

 

Kelmscott House

Screen shot 2014-03-19 at 14.18.21ROM Piccadily Circus to the foot of Hammersmith Bridge is just an hour – if one catches the bus with the right flag. The Upper Mall is hard-bye, though not easy to find, if one loses his head in the maze. “You turn right at Bridge Court, pass Mall Road, cross over the foot bridge, and pass the house where Thomson wrote the ‘Seasons,’ next the Dove’s Inn, and there you are, you see.” All of which sounds easy enough, if one can identify these landmarks when one sees them. The streets are little more than alleys, the bridge one could almost carry under one’s arm, Thomson’s house falls beneath one’s notice, and The Dove’s will just hold a barmaid and a barrel of “bitter.” No sign marks the Kelmscott Press, the objective point, but after stumbling into two or three door-ways, the right one is finally reached, and here..

..I should explain that this is an 1896 account of a visit to Kelmscott Press, now a museum which I had the pleasure of visiting last week.

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Hammersmith Bridge

wmsoc17wmsoc20wmsoc21A few things have changed since W. Irving Way’s visit 118 years ago; Kelmscott House is now largely privately occupied, with the William Morris Society and Museum found in the adjoining Coach House and basement. We are no longer greeted by Mr S. C. Cockerell, the Secretary of the Press, nor can we hope to meet Morris himself, who died only a few months after Way’s account was published. But visitors can still expect to find many artworks made and equipment used by Morris and his friends, in:

“A quiet, tidy, orderly place …, but with nothing modern about it. No noise of machinery, escaping steam, or hum of electric motor, distracts one”. p. 79

wmsoc02wmsoc03wmsoc04Morris lived and worked at Kelmscott House from 1878 until his death in 1896. Here he was busy designing furnishings (which he is most well known for today), as well as writing poetry, translating Icelandic sagas, printing books and pamphlets and holding Socialist meetings. Morris was known for working on several different projects at the same time, and once said ‘If a chap can’t compose an epic poem while he’s weaving tapestry, he had better shut up; he’ll never do any good at all.’ After his death, his daughter, May Morris and others continued Morris’ legacy, and in 1955 the society was set up.

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Despite its modest size, the museum pays fitting tribute to Morris by representing the sheer range of his activities. The coach house, where he first experimented with tapestry-making and hosted Socialist talks, now holds a changing exhibition display, and, fittingly, talks and educational activities. In what was once a kitchen, there is now a display of furniture, textiles, stained glass, drawings, pamphlets, books and a Socialist banner. In another room stands Morris’ original printing press, which he used to self-publish books and pamphlets at extremely high quality (and cost). The press is still in working order, with hand printed cards in the gift shop to prove it!

wmsoc08wmsoc09wmsoc10wmsoc15On one wall of the gift shop hang an impressive embroidery piece by William’s daughter, May Morris, alongside her full scale sketched design. As this and other surviving examples of her handiwork show, May was a talented designer and embroiderer herself, as well as an editor and activist.

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Today, the society is run by a small number of dedicated staff, volunteers and trustees.

William Morris Society and Museum, Kelmscott House, 26 Upper Mall, Hammersmith W6 9TA

Opening hours: Thursday and Saturday afternoons from 14.00 to 17.00 and at other times by appointment.wmsoc16

Opening text from ‘A Visit to William Morris’, by W. Irving Way, Modern Art, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Summer, 1896), pp. 78-81.