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Gallery displays

The William Morris Gallery offers visitors of all ages an intense and personal encounter with the revolutionary Victorian designer, craftsman, writer and campaigner William Morris.

The galleries are arranged thematically, and centre on our internationally-significant collection of textiles, furniture, ceramics, paintings, designs and personal items connected with Morris and his associates, including the Pre-Raphaelite artists.

Beautiful objects are complemented by films, audio and hands-on interactives. The displays are updated regularly, so there will always be something new to see and do for everyone, whether you are a first-time visitor, a family with young children, or a William Morris enthusiast.

To help you prepare for your visit, please find below more information about the displays in each gallery. You can also find out more by exploring our collection themes. Follow the links on the right-hand side.

Guided tours are available for pre-booked groups. Please contact us using the contact details at the bottom of this page for more information.

Gallery 1: Meet the Man

Who was William Morris? What did he do and why is he famous? Why is there a Gallery devoted to him in Walthamstow? You will find the answers to these questions in this introductory gallery.

On display are key works which exemplify the different strands in his life – as a designer, craftsman, storyteller, political activist and poet. This room also examines Morris’s childhood in Walthamstow. Find out about Morris’s experiences growing up in the house that is now the William Morris Gallery and use an interactive map to trace Morris’s footsteps and discover the local places he used to know and visit.

Gallery 2: Starting Out

Morris never had any formal art training. He shocked his family when he decided to devote his life to art. His moving letter, in which he tries to explain his motives to his mother, can be read in this gallery.

This room explores Morris’s early influences, including the Pre-Raphaelite artists and the art critic John Ruskin, with whom Morris shared a passion for medieval architecture. You can examine Morris’s early efforts at drawing, build your own gothic cathedral, or discover how Morris and his young friends experimented with decorating Red House – where Morris lived with his wife Jane and their two daughters – before setting up an interior design business. 

Gallery 3: Morris & Co

Morris and his friends had radical ambitions; they wanted to revolutionise design and change people’s taste. They developed a strong brand identity for their decorating business based on quality materials and design led by famous artists of the day. In this gallery you can find out how ‘the Firm’, as it was known, became a successful business.

Morris & Co worked for a wide variety of clients, and you can see the full range of their products. These include stained glass for churches, furnishing fabrics for wealthy industrialists and a wallpaper designed for Queen Victoria. More affordable items, such as the best-selling Sussex chair, were available off the shelf from a shop on Oxford Street, London. A range of marketing materials is on display, and you can even have a go at running Morris & Co yourself in an interactive game.

Gallery 4: The Workshop

Morris went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the quality of his products. He insisted that they should be made by skilled craftsmen using the best possible materials. He took inspiration from nature and his designs are filled with birds, plants and animals.

This gallery is inspired by the Morris & Co workshops at Merton Abbey. You can discover how craftsmen and apprentices made the famous printed cottons, carpets, tapestries and stained glass, drawing on traditional techniques from around the world rather than industrial manufacturing methods.  Short films delve deeper into the processes involved, including the use of natural dyes. Younger visitors can have a go at weaving, designing a pattern from nature, assembling a stained glass window and more.

Gallery 5: The Shop

The next room has a very different atmosphere. Laid out as a shop, visitors are invited to become consumers, imagining a visit to Morris’s fashionable Oxford Street shop. The voice of a shop attendant talks you through the products on display, while you browse through sample books and handle contemporary textiles.

Gallery 6:  Ideal Book

Morris’s love for stories and books lasted a lifetime. In his own day, he was most famous as a poet. This gallery introduces Morris’s Earthly Paradise – one of the longest narrative poems in the English language – where Morris retold classical myths and legends to the delight of Victorian readers. It also explores his love for the Icelandic sagas and his travels to the country. Younger visitors can dress up as a character from the Beauty and the Beast story, which you can see illustrated on a tile panel designed by Morris’s best friend, Edward Burne-Jones.

In the last decade of his life, Morris decided to learn a new craft. He set up a private press and became a book designer. Original designs as well as Kelmscott Press books are on display. A replica of the Press’ masterpiece, the Kelmscott Chaucer, is available for visitors to leaf through.

Gallery 7: Fighting for a Cause

There was more to Morris than design. Always concerned with creating a better world, when he was nearly 50, he ‘crossed the river of fire’ and became a radical socialist. He focused his tremendous energies on ‘the cause’ to create a free and fair world where all people are equal.  He also fought for preservation of heritage and the environment.

The gallery show the lengths he was willing to go to – travelling the country to give speeches and even getting arrested. You can see the satchel which he used to carry bundles of socialist pamphlets to rallies and demonstrations, and an impressive, hand-made socialist banner. A new film explores how Morris’s concerns and actions relate to issues society faces today.

Gallery 8: Arts and Crafts

Morris inspired a new generation of artists, designers and makers who shared his enthusiasm for quality materials, craftsmanship and designs based on natural forms. This gallery displays a selection of Arts and Crafts stained glass, ceramics, metalwork and textiles, including a spectacular embroidered cape designed by Morris’s daughter, May.

The display in the centre of the room is dedicated to a particular designer or maker in focus.

Gallery 9: Frank Brangwyn

Frank Brangwyn was one of the founders of the William Morris Gallery. He was briefly apprenticed to William Morris in his youth and later became a successful artist. Brangwyn collected art, and in the 1930s he donated a large part of his collection to the people of Walthamstow, along with many of his own paintings, prints and decorative art. A selection of this work, which will be rotated regularly, can be seen in this Gallery.