With all eyes on east London as the Olympics begin on Friday (July 27), the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, less than 30 minutes away from the athletics stadium, is reopening after a £10 million facelift. The gallery, which is housed in the influential designer’s Grade II *-listed family home, was opened in 1950 by Clement Attlee, but lack of space meant that its remarkable collections were never shown off to best effect. However, thanks to funding from Waltham Forest Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund and other donors, it has been completely refurbished, allowing visitors to experience the property as Morris himself would have done in the 19th century. There are three new galleries, a library, and an extension -inspired by a Georgian orangery-housing a tearoom.
It’s hoped that a new generation will be moved to find out more about Morris’s contributions to the nation as father of the Arts-and-Crafts Movement, supporter of the pre-Raphaelites, craftsman and political activist, as well as his continuing relevance today. Almost 600 objects will be on display, many for the first time. There is a heartfelt letter Morris wrote to his mother as a student-addressing her fears that he lacked ambition and was turning his back on a career in the Church-his first wallpaper design and the satchel in which he carried his papers.
The gallery will host temporary exhibitions, the first of which is Grayson Perry’s ‘Walthamstow Tapestry’ (until September 23). The Turner Prize winner has long been an admirer of Morris: ‘I love ornate patterns, and this is where he excels. His work has a joyous sense of design that provides visual delight, and is immediately accessible to everyone.’
The William Morris Gallery reopens on August 2 (020-8496 4390; www.wmgallery.org.uk).
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