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Britain’s best places to see: Arts and Crafts houses and collections 7

Simple design, immaculate workmanship and romantic decoration – the ideals embodied by the Arts and Crafts movement, led by William Morris have produced some of the most splendid homes in the country and inspired designs which remain some of the most recognisable and loved to this day

Red House

The exterior of Red House in Bexleyheath, London

The Red House, Bexleyheath © Julian Walker (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A figure very much at the centre of the movement, it’s impossible to talk about the Arts and Crafts without mentioning William Morris and the properties he lived in and imprinted with his eye for beauty and head for functionality. The only example which he commissioned, created and lived in, Red House in Bexleyheath is packed full of original Arts and Crafts features, furniture and furnishing, as well as boasting paintings, stained glass and embroidery by Morris’s Pre-Raphaelite friends, including Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Morris purchased the property, then in Kent, as a rural haven for him and his wife Jane, with close links to central London. The house saw many of Arts and Crafts followers and members of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood visit, some for weeks at a time, and it was here that ‘The Firm’ Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. (later Morris & Co.) was conceived and established. Unable to balance life in the countryside with work in central London Morris, his wife and his two daughters lived here for just five years. Morris’s dream house was sold, and he never returned.


William Morris Gallery

William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow

William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow © dvdbramhall (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A splendid Georgian house with pleasingly symmetrical bay windows and an impressive Corinthian-style porch, William Morris lived in this Walthamstow home between the ages of 14 and 22, with his widowed mother and his siblings.

It was here that he penned some of his very first poetry, no doubt inspired by the garden and its moat, which the Morris children would use for boating, fishing and, in the winter, ice skating.

The gallery was opened in 1950, devoted to William Morris and his vision. The galleries celebrate his art and influence, and feature an internationally-renowned collection that includes furniture, textiles, stained glass, ceramics and prints by Morris and his circle of collaborators.


Emery Walker’s House

Inside Emery Walker's House

Emery Walker. Hammersmith & Fulham Council (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The friendship between photographer and printer Emery Walker and William Morris came about when Morris saw Walker reading a book of his on the train back from a lecture they both had attended. The two formed a lasting friendship, grounded in their shared interest in socialism, printing and photography. Walker assisted Morris in setting up his Kelmscott Press and together they were secretary and treasurer of the local Socialist group.

An authentic Arts and Crafts time capsule, Emery Walker’s house is full of the evidence of the pair’s creative partnership. The original Arts and Crafts wallpapers, furniture and textiles mingle with the 17th and 18th century furniture, and furnishings from the Middle East and China, demonstrating the sources of inspiration that the Arts and Crafts practitioners drew on to create their aesthetic. The house also has an extremely rare example of William Morris & Co. lino, one of the very few remaining pieces still in situ.

Kept as it would have been nearly a century ago, the house is a lasting monument to their friendship and evidence of this can be seen everywhere you look. Walker even possessed a lock of William Morris’s hair, cut on the day he died, 3rd October 1896, which he kept in a drawer of Morris mementos, still in the house.


Gordon Russell Design Museum

The exterior of the Gordon Russell Design Museum

Gordon Russell Museum © Steve Cadman (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Opened by Sir Terence Conran in 2008 the Gordon Russell Design Museum is housed in the company’s former Grade-II-listed workshop in Broadway, Worcestershire.

Internationally recognised for his contribution to design and craftsmanship and a leading force within the Arts & Crafts Movement, Sir Gordon Russell (1892-1980) became Director of the Design Council in 1947. He played a major part in the utility furniture campaign and his brother, Dick Russell, designed cabinets for Murphy Radio from the 1930s. Examples of these designs can be seen in the unique collection of furniture, decorative art and archival material on display in the museum.


Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft

Outside Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft

© Michael Garlick (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Nestled in the South Downs just north of Brighton, the little village of Ditchling was once home to a bustling arts and crafts hub, prompted by the arrival of Eric Gill, the printer, sculptor and typeface designer. In 1921 Gill founded The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic with his apprentice Joseph Cribb, the poet and artist Desmond Chute and printer and writer Hilary Pepler.

The guild, a Roman Catholic artist community, was focused on communal living and self-sufficiency, and they built homes, a chapel and workshops for its members. It had carpenters, engravers, weavers, printers, metalworkers and more, embracing the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement – functional beautiful design made by hand.

The museum was first opened in 1985, by two sisters who had grown up in the village and mixed with many of the artists’ children. Its growing permanent collection celebrates the guild’s legacy.


The Wilson

The Arts and Crafts gallery at The Wilson, Cheltenham

Cheltenham museum – Arts and Crafts Collection © damian entwistle (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Home to Cheltenham’s Arts and Crafts collection – an internationally important Designated collection – The Wilson offers an insight into one of the most influential movements in British history. The Cotswolds were an important centre for the Arts and Crafts movement, a beautiful and so far unspoilt part of the rural idyll that was fast disappearing under the cloud of industry.

The museum began collecting work by Arts and Crafts artists in the 1930s, and today Cheltenham’s Arts and Crafts galleries showcase work by some of the most prominent figures working across the movement. Artists represented in the collection include the furniture designer Ernest Gimson, builders and furniture makers Sidney and Ernest Barnsley, husband and wife Alfred and Louise Powell, who dabbled in everything from architecture and calligraphy to pottery painting, and designer and architect CR Ashbee.

The Wilson is also home to the major private press library of Emery Walker, and furniture by William Morris and Gordon Russell.


Mackintosh House at the Hunterian

The Mackintosh House © University of Glasgow – The Hunterian

This fascinating display is an assemblage of the original Glaswegian home of the famed architect, designer and artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife, the artist Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. The Victorian end-of-terrace house was sadly demolished in the early 1960s, but the original fixtures and contents were painstakingly reassembled in the 80s as part of the Hunterian Art Gallery, just 100 meters away from where the original Mackintosh house once stood.

The Mackintoshes gained notoriety in the Glasgow School of Art, along with Margaret’s sister Frances Macdonald and Frances’ husband Herbert MacNair. The Four were instrumental in the development of the Glasgow Style – a movement closely linked to Arts and Crafts.

Although the original Mackintosh house was not designed by Charles himself, the interior was filled with bespoke furniture, fixtures and artworks in the Mackintoshes’ signature style, which paired clean lines and right-angles with floral elements, such as the unmistakable Glasgow rose motif.


Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House

inside the white drawing room at Blackwell

The White Drawing Room at Blackwell, The Arts and Crafts House. Courtesy Lakeland Arts

This large historic house, overlooking Lake Windermere, was built as a holiday home for Sir Edward Holt – a Manchester brewery owner and philanthropist – and his family. It was created by architect Baillie Scott who designed the house to encourage you to explore, and draw you over to the west side for breathtaking vistas over England’s Lake District.

Inspired by the Arts and Crafts ethos of handmade, unique and skilful design, Scott incorporated a wide variety of crafts into the building, many of which remain today. Blackwell boasts beautiful tiling, stained glass, metalwork, plasterwork, carved stone, carved wood and hessian wall-hangings.

The White Drawing Room is a real showstopper, exuding a beautiful simplicity which feels thoroughly modern, and worlds away from the archetypal dark and gloomy Victorian home.


Wightwick Manor

Inside Wightwick Manor

Wightwick Manor © David Forder (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Donated to the National Trust in 1937 by local Liberal MP Sir Geoffrey Mander, the timber-framed Wightwick Manor had been left to him by his father, Theodrore. Though at the time the house was only 50 years old – and rather out of fashion – it was such a complete example of the Aesthetic Movement that it was worthy of being preserved.

Following an inspiring lecture by Oscar Wilde on ‘the House Beautiful’, Theodore and his wife Flora decorated the entire house with splendid Victorian art and design, including wallpaper, fabric and furnishings bought from the William Morris & Co. catalogue and shop.

This love letter to Victorian art continued when Geoffrey Mander became live-in curator, adding a remarkable collection of Pre-Raphaelite art from the likes of Rossetti and Burne-Jones, as well as additional William Morris furniture and sketches.


East Grinstead

The exterior of Standen House

Standen © Derek Winterburn (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Designed by Philip Webb, a key figure in Arts and Crafts architecture and close friend of William Morris, Standen is a charming example of the Arts and Crafts ideology. Constructed using local materials, simple design and with the very best workmanship, the house is a picture-perfect Arts and Crafts family home.

The country retreat of the Beale family, Standen was built between 1891 and 1894. In line with the Arts and Crafts spirit, the garden was designed to be just as important as the home and was seen as an extension of the building.

The house boasts an abundance of Arts and Crafts interiors, and is, of course, decorated throughout with Morris & Co. wallpapers and textiles. A much-loved family home, the house today is dressed as it would have been on a weekend in 1925, so that visitors feel as if they themselves are one of the Beales’ guests.


Coleton Fishacre

Inside the library at Coleton Fishacre

Coleton Fishacre Library © Matthew Hartley (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Coleton Fishacre was built in 1926 as the country retreat of the hotel and theatre mogul Rupert D’Oyly Carte and his wife Lady Dorothy D’Oyly Carte. Rupert D’Oyly Carte was responsible for some of London’s most famous hotels, including the Savoy Hotel, the Berkley Hotel and Claridges, and the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, which staged the Gilbert and Sullivan operas for over a century.

Fond of the outdoors, the couple spotted this seaside location while sailing and chose to build their holiday home here. Their love for the outdoors is reflected both in the spectacular 24 acre garden, radiant with tropical plants and flowers and in the intricate Arts and Crafts furnishings.

Designed by the architect Oswald Milnes, the house invokes the Arts and Crafts ideology of simple design and exceptional workmanship and is permeated with 1920s Art Deco touches that embody the elegance and opulence of the Jazz Age.



The library at Cragside

The library – “Shaw’s greatest domestic interior” © Christopher Down (CC BY 4.0)

Originally built as a modest villa, Cragside expanded into the stately mansion we see today as its Victorian inventor owner’s wealth grew and grew. Lord Armstrong was a prolific inventor, scientist, industrialist and the founder of an armaments firm, and Cragside became one of the most technologically advanced homes of the Victorian era.

The house’s substantial extensions were designed by great British architect Richard Norman Shaw, and decorated with fine examples of Arts and Crafts interiors. Boasting some of the finest surviving Victorian interiors in the country, around the house many examples of work by Lord Armstrong’s Victorian contemporaries can be spotted. It’s peppered with pieces by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Philip Webb and Burne-Jones pieces and features wallpapers, stained glass and tiles by William Morris.

Cragside was the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity and thanks to its innovating owner it also boasts many other ingenious features – including a dumb waiter, lifts, and even a powered rotisserie – many of which are still working today.


7 comments on “Britain’s best places to see: Arts and Crafts houses and collections

  1. Rosemary Woodland on

    Whilst this article is very interesting, I was very disappointed that it did not include Stoneywell, a cottage owned by the National Trust in Leicestershire. This was designed and built by Arts and Crafts architect/designer Ernest Gimson for his brother as a holiday cottage away from the city of Leicester during the summer. It contains good examples of Arts and Crafts furniture, some designed by Gimson. I would thoroughly recommend a visit here!

    • Richard Moss on

      Thank you Rosemary, we do intend to take counsel from our readers and revise and expand this list going forward – I think you make a good case for Stoneywell. Richard (editor)

    • Jane Fraser on

      Not sure about specific Arts and Crafts houses, and it depends where in the country you live, but I think your best bet would be to join an Arts Society, many of which organise coach trips to places of interest. For example, the friends of Birmingham Museums and Art Galleries.

      • Kelvi Stockwell on

        This was indeed a very interesting article, but although I realise that it was not meant to be exhaustive I do think that you could have included Mackintosh’s Hill House.
        PS Dear James Hancock. If you make your way to Glasgow all of Mackintosh’s oeuvres are accessible by public transport and/or Shanks’ Pony. Including Hill House in Helensburgh. Allow a long weekend to see all of His works.


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