Friends' visit to Red House

 

In September 2013, the De Morgan Foundation hosted a group visit for our Friends to Red House in Bexleyheath. Here is a review of the visit, written by Jean McMeakin:

 

Nestled behind a modest brick wall with a small blue plaque on an ordinary suburban street in Bexleyheath, we stroll down the shady path to The Red House.  Warmly welcomed by Claire and Emma, we make use of our early arrival to take a peek around the lovely gardens before joining other members eager to start our tour.

From our informative guide, our little group learns the history of the only house Morris commissioned and built with architect Philip Webb, and of Morris' desire that it be an expression of his views about art and life. Completed in 1860, it was described by Burne-Jones as "the beautifullest place on earth".

We admire the mellow red brick and roof tiles, the eclectic mix of windows featuring gothic details, a taster for what lies within.  Over the porch door where Jane and William would greet their guests a Latin inscription reads "God preserve your going out and your coming in".

Walking around the house past the bowling green with its abundant flower borders, we arrive at one of the most iconic views of the house and spy some jousting motifs that decorate the house inside and out.

We admire the Burne-Jones stained glass windows and the delicate tiles in the garden porch, known as the Pilgrim's Rest (the house being near Chaucer's pilgrims route to Canterbury, an historical link which pleased Morris), before entering the hall passage.

Tiny details bring the house alive; names scratched by visitors onto the glass door panels (we spot May Morris), the peepholes for children let into the light-filled oak staircase, the secret smiley on the ornately decorated hall ceiling.

The hall houses a striking cupboard with Arthurian scenes painted by Morris.  In the dining room is an original Webb table, and it is fun to imagine Morris and friends carousing and enjoying themselves in here.  A great settle in the drawing room is flanked by wonderful Burne-Jones murals depicting William and Jane as characters in a medieval romance.

We save a highlight until last, the recently discovered ‘Genesis’ wall painting in the bedroom, thought to be by Elizabeth Siddal, a joy to actually see it after all we had read about it.

Too soon it was time to leave the house described by Rossetti as "more a poem than a house", after an enlightening and enjoyable visit, perfectly organised by our fab De Morgan Foundation ladies.

- Jean McMeakin, Friend of the De Morgan Foundation

 

Many thanks to Jean for her wonderful review! If you'd like to become a Friend of the Foundation and join us on our group visits, please take a look at our shop here.