More than a house, Red House was the epicentre of love and tragedy for the Pre-Raphaelites. Designed for William Morris by the architect Philip Webb, it is a revolutionary building in the history of English architecture. And as a salon and almost a commune for Morris and his friends, it was the place that would inspire art, poetry and friendship.
It would also be central to the lives of the group of artists and writers clustered around the Morrises: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his wife and model Lizzie Siddal, Edward Burne-Jones and Ford Madox Brown. The influence of Red House on the Arts & Crafts movement was seminal. The challenge of furnishing the house led to Morris and friends founding what became the groundbreaking design firm of Morris & Co.
When practicalities forced Morris to sell his beloved Red House after only five years, Morris vowed never to return as the sight of the house was 'more than he could bear'. 'It is a most noble work in every way, and more a poem than a house, but an admirable place to live in too.'
In January 2003, an anonymous eleventh-hour benefactor purchased the highly sought after and historical property for the National Trust on the understanding that public access to the house was continued. Previously privately owned, Red House is considered as one of the most important landmarks in modern architecture as it is the only building actually commissioned by Morris.
William Morris (March 24, 1834 - October 3, 1896) was an English artist, writer, socialist and activist. He was one of the principal founders of the British Arts and Crafts movement, best known as a designer of wallpaper and patterned fabrics, a writer of poetry and fiction and a pioneer of the socialist movement in Britain.
His family was wealthy, and he went to school at Marlborough College, but left in 1851 after a student rebellion there. He then went to Oxford University (Exeter College) after studying for his matriculation to the university. He became influenced by John Ruskin there, and met his life-long friends and collaborators, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown and Philip Webb there as well. He also met his wife, Jane Burden, a working-class woman whose pale skin, languid figure, and wavy, abundant dark hair were considered by Morris and his friends the epitome of beauty.
These friends formed an artistic movement, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They eschewed the tawdry industrial manufacture of decorative arts and architecture and favoured a return to hand-craftsmanship, raising artisans to the status of artists. He espoused the philosophy that art should be affordable, hand-made, and that there should be no hierarchy of artistic mediums.
Morris had two daughters, Jane (called Jenny) and Mary (called May).
Jan Marsh is a biographer specialising in artists and writers. She has researched and written extensively on the pre-Raphaelite circle, and also been guest curator for exhibitions. She is a trustee of the William Morris gallery, Walthamstow; a fellow of the Royal Historical Society; and Visiting Professor at the Graduate Research Centre, University of Sussex. She held a Leverhulme Fellowship at the National Portrait Gallery, 2002-03. Her latest projects include a black Victorians exhibition featuring people og African ancestory in the nineteenth century.
The National Trust was founded in 1895 by three Victorian philanthropists - Miss Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley. Concerned about the impact of uncontrolled development and industrialisation, they set up the Trust to act as a guardian for the nation in the acquisition and protection of threatened coastline, countryside and buildings.
More than a century later, it now cares for over 248,000 hectares (612,000 acres) of beautiful countryside in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, plus more than 700 miles of coastline and more than 200 buildings and gardens of outstanding interest and importance.
To find out more about the National Trust click The National Trust Web site