|Red House Garden||Bexley|
Red House was designed and built by Philip Webb for William Morris in 1859 and represents an important example of Arts and Crafts domestic architecture. Built in an orchard and retaining many of the old trees, Red House and its garden were conceived as a unity, the garden designed to 'clothe' the house. A series of medieval-style compartments were arranged around the grounds and old flower varieties were planted, inspiring Morris's later wallpaper design. Morris lived here with his family until 1865 and it remained in private ownership until 2003, when the property was acquired by the National Trust. The garden retains much of the overall shape of Morris's time, although subsequent owners added what is now the Orchard and Kitchen Garden.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/07/2010
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Photo: Colin Wing
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Red House was designed by architect Philip Webb for his friend and colleague William Morris in 1859 and represents an important example of Arts and Crafts domestic architecture. At that time surrounded by orchards and open land, Red House is now within suburbia. Constructed with an emphasis on natural materials in red brick with a red tiled roof, Red House was Webb's first house and shows the influence of Gothic medieval architecture. Items of furniture in the house were jointly designed by Morris and Webb and there are paintings and stained glass by Edward Burne-Jones and others. It was the process of furnishing his new house that led to Morris founding Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co, 'Fine Art Workmen in Painting, Carving, Furniture and the Metals' in 1861, which was later re-organised as Morris & Co. in 1875. Built on land that was formerly an orchard, Red House was set in a picturesque garden that was designed by Webb and Morris to 'clothe' the building. The principles on which the Red House garden was laid out were influential on garden design of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and it also inspired some of Morris's later wallpaper design. Many of the old orchard trees were retained, including apple, cherry, oak, ash, yew, hazel and holly, and a series of medieval-style rectilinear compartments or 'rooms' with wattle trellis were created in the grounds. The planting scheme favoured old varieties of flowers and plants, inspired by medieval tapestries, and the Pilgrim's Rest, the name given by Morris to his garden porch, called to mind Chaucer and the proximity of the medieval pilgrim route to Canterbury.
Near the house Webb's picturesque circular well-head with its conical tiled roof remains today as do Webb's stables and outbuildings to the north-east. There was a Bowling Green adjacent to the house to the west where family and friends played games of bowls, and the original boundary of the garden was to the west of this along the outer edge of a long herbaceous border. Part of the western boundary wall still exists, but the Orchard beyond this today was part of land acquired from the adjoining Aberleigh Lodge by later owners.
Morris's dream of establishing an artistic community here came to nothing and he left Red House in 1865 with his family. He later moved to Kelmscott House (q.v.) in Hammersmith, where he lived until his death in 1896. Subsequent owners of the house respected Morris's achievement here; from 1890-1903 it was owned by Charles Holme, an influential textile manufacturer who was instrumental in the establishment of the Arts and Crafts magazine, 'Studio', of which he became founding editor. During his tenure, much of the wattle fencing was removed but the garden retained its charm. When he put the property up for sale in 1902, an advertisement in The Studio on 15 May described the 'Quaint Old-English Garden, with grass walks and lawns, containing many productive fruit-trees; Greenhouse and Outhouses. Abundant supply of Water form Well, over which is a picturesque Well-house'.
The owners from 1903-19/20 were the parents of architect Edward Maufe, whose early work was influenced by Art and Craft principles. They acquired land from Aberleigh Lodge, including the Orchard to the west and also the area now the Kitchen Garden. From 1927-35 it was owned by Alfred Horsfall, editor of 'Studio'. During WWII it was occupied by the National Assistance Board but after the war house and garden became much neglected. Two families then purchased the property, Dick and Mary Toms and Ted and Doris Hollamby, colleagues in the LCC Architects' Department, which took on many of Morris's socialist principles in its pioneering post-war public housing schemes. When they moved here in 1952 restoration of the house and garden began. Although the detail of the garden's original planting had not survived, the overall shape remained, and its new owners began to replant the garden in the spirit of Morris, and during this period the brick paths and the rose arch were added. An antique white seat around the base of a fine Judas tree on the north side was acquired by Ted Hollamby from nearby Danson Park (q.v.). The Hollambys were sole owners from 1964 and in the late 1990s the Red House Trust was set up to preserve the house.
Ted died in 1999 and Doris in 2003, and their children then decided to sell the house to the National Trust, who acquired it with support from the William Morris Society and Bexley Council; the Friends of Red House continue to act as guides and volunteers. Projects undertaken in the garden include a Nature Trail created in 2008 in a previously overgrown shrubbery, and there are plans to enhance the garden with wattle fencing and trellis. A traditional method of gardening known as 'Gardening by the Moon' has been introduced, which would have been used in Morris's time, and beehives have been placed in the Orchard.
Oliver Garnett, 'Red House', National Trust, 2003; Red House Garden Booklet, 2009/10; LB Bexley, Red House Lane Conservation Area, Area Appraisal and Management Plan 2008