Save The William Morris Gallery

By Londonist Last edited 128 months ago
Save The William Morris Gallery

What do you do if you’ve got a gallery full of works by William Morris, one of Britain’s most famous artists, and you’re a cash-strapped borough council?

(a) Publicise the gallery and get loads of tourists spending their money there.

(b) Hitch a ride on green awareness — Morris was an early environmentalist and the collection is housed in his former home, in magnificent grounds, all of which the borough owns.

(c) Suggest giving away most of the priceless collection (to someone who’s hoping to open an Arts & Crafts museum outside the borough, if they can get the money together) and hiring out the gallery for functions. The collection can go into storage somewhere — hope it doesn’t get ruined or stolen!

Full marks if you guessed (c). Labour-led Waltham Forest council want to close the William Morris Gallery in favour of a Central London Arts and Crafts museum. Ironic, considering the socialist's motto “Fellowship is life and lack of fellowship is death” is engraved on the town hall walls.

The plan to give away most of the collection is only on the drawing board at present, and they're also thinking of turning it into an art centre. Or as one councillor said at a public meeting last week, "a place where kids can throw paint about" — that'll be on the Burne-Jones windows then? Or the Georgian woodwork? And yes, an art centre is a great idea, but the council reneged on a plan to build one in the town centre several years ago, having already demolished a shopping centre to make way for it; that remains a vast and weed-infested vacant plot.

Come and visit this mind-opening gallery while you’ve still got the chance: it’s on Forest Road E17. Better still, join the campaign to save it. The councillors, headed by Clyde Loakes, hate being under the spotlight, so do drop them a line.

By Mehitabel

Image taken from Starphuk's Flickr photostream.

Last Updated 24 October 2007


The Morris gallery's budget was cut earlier this year, but the council kept promising they weren't going to close it. Now I suppose they'll try to say that getting rid of the contents doesn't count as closing the gallery!


The council's plan is taking a wrecking ball to the Gallery, if the collection departs to Lambeth, and the internationally respected Keeper made redundant. The council did promise that his job was safe. Now they say they have not sacked him. Just made him redundant.
When a councillor says "XXX is safe in our hands", COUNT THE SPOONS!


It still disappoints me when Labour councils treat their cultural assets like this - though I've long since stopped being surprised by it.


Twelve Questions by a concerned resident:

(1) Waltham Forest Council ignores the advice of Prince Charles' "Prince’s Foundation" that the William Morris Gallery should be included in the development plans of the High Street Market because William Morris is an essential part of the local heritage in Walthamstow. But the council ignores this advice.

(2) Waltham Forest Council ignores over 10,800 signatures of local residents and international art experts who support the William Morris Gallery and the Vestry House Museum.

(3) Waltham Forest Council does NOTHING to properly and professionally promote and advertise the William Morris Gallery in Waltham Forest to local residents, or to international tourists:
there are no posters, there are no flyers at Walthamstow Central Tube and Rail station.
There are no good guidance systems leading people to the Gallery
for instance a painted line from Walthamstow Central tube + bus station (used by about 55,000 people daily!) to the William Morris Gallery

(4) Waltham Forest Council prints it’s own Waltham Forest Magazine which is distributed to all households of Waltham Forest
But the council does NOT promote the William Morris Gallery in its own magazine to local residents!

(5) Waltham Forest Council ignores various very cost-effective suggestions from local residents (most recently Katherine Green) and experts how to promote and advertise the William Morris Gallery and local museums.
downloads available on

(6) Waltham Forest Council ignores an offer by the Friends of the William Morris Gallery of over 50,000 Pounds to keep the gallery open for another year in order to get some time to sort out alternative funding etc.

(7) Waltham Forest Council does NOT place any flags or vinyl hangings on the fence in front of the William Morris Gallery which could advertise it on the busy Forest Road to advertise its presence.

(8)Waltham Forest Council is cutting funds to the William Morris Gallery and ignores the lottery bids made by the Friends of the William Morris Gallery etc. Thus this council actively endangers the lottery bids in support for the William Morris Gallery.

(9) Waltham Forest Council renovates the Central library but there is no proper area dedicated to William Morris(Walthamstow's most famous son!) which reflects Morris’s world -wide importance as an artist, thinker and designer and as a pioneer of the green movement!
why ?

(10) Waltham Forest Council gets rid of the expert Keeper of the Museum who has safeguarded the treasures of the Gallery for 30 years!
The present keeper, who will lose his job in December, knows everything there is to know about the treasures inside the gallery: he knows them like the back of his hand.
There is no other expert staff available.
Why get rid of him?

(11) This council considers a plan to move 70 per cent of the William Morris Gallery’s collection south of the River into a (yet) non - existent arts and crafts museum.
The building for the planned arts and crafts museum hasn’t even been bought yet!The plans are vague. They might even endanger the collection. Despite all that the council considers this suggestion.

(12) Any Arts and Crafts Museum should be in Walthamstow, because Morris was one of the MOST influential figures of that movement.
Why does the council not try to get the ARTS and CRAFTS museum in WF?
Twelve Questions.
No answers.
Is all THAT really a coincidence?

Is it ignorance?
If so, that would mean that Waltham Forest Council has not read the THOUSANDS of letters of local residents, art experts and art lovers explaining to them the relevance and importance of William Morris - for promoting the local heritage with global relevance, for promoting local businesses to the benefit of a poor East London Borough, and for attracting Olympic tourism to the borough - to the benefit of all residents.

Is it lack of money?
Charities have offered 56,000 pounds to the council; volunteers are willing to give their time. The Council ignores this.
But on the other hand there is a lot of money in Waltham Forest Council for expensive Consultants as well as Council leader’s, and Councillors’ expenses.

What will be left in the present William Morris Gallery if there is no art collection in the building?
Only an empty - but very delightful and VERY valuable - 18th century building - with lots of lands surrounding it.

It is a crime what is happening in Waltham Forest: it is a crime against local English heritage.
It is a crime against art and culture.

Waltham Forest is one of the five olympic cultural boroughs.
But this council closes its museums, it closes local libraries, it destroys its art scene, and most recently it tries to get rid of our most previous treasure - the William Morris Gallery.

This council ignores the outcry reflected in 10,000 signatures in support of the William Morris Gallery:
This is a crime against the spirit of democracy.


I was very concerned when present at the recent meeting called by The Friends of The William Morris Gallery at Greenleaf Baptist Church, to hear plans for the future of The William Morris Gallery.

To hand 70% of The William Morris and Brangwyn Collections over to an outside body, is insane. These collections belong to the people of Waltham Forest & not to its council. The Friends of The William Morris Gallery & other grants bought many of the items. Much was donated to it, as in the case of the Brangwyn Trust, given IN TRUST!!

Further concerns arise from the fact that the new gallery doesn't as yet exist, except in the mind of somebody who has already sold items in the De Morgan Collection, in order to fund her dream.

Those items were sold some time ago & having flooded the market did not reach their expected purchase price, but were not withdrawn from sale. This is bad business practice. Those items can never be repurchased. They are lost forever. What guarantees do they have that the same will not happen with Gallery's Collection, or is that something that does not concern them?

It would be make sense for The William Morris Gallery to accept the remaining art works from the foundation since they are compatible.

Peter Cormack & his team are very knowledgeable concerning these works. Peter Cormack is the best curator by far, since he is dedicated to The William Morris Gallery, is internationally acclaimed & has 30 years of dedicated loyal, service behind him. He also has the backing & support of all of his colleagues & innumerable supporters, both locally & worldwide. Do they really know what they are doing?

I understand that the foundation are willing to commit £1 000 000 to the care of The William Morris Gallery's Collection. This money could be accepted by Waltham Forest Council & used together with other monies raised, either now or in retrospect, for the care of the incoming collection.

In this way they might well seek to reinstate the foundering lottery grant.

Unlike the building that is being proposed The William Morris Gallery has a direct connection with Morris.

Walthamstow has good rail connections, which has always been a reason for its popularity, unlike Lambeth, the other side of the river & not easily available to the people of Walthamstow, who are being deprived of such a valuable & wonderful collection.

Their views are not being sought on this & when this was requested at the meeting they were denied that privilege.

The council have discussed using the Gallery as a wedding venue & appear to be pushing for one large wedding venue-The Assembly Rooms, already used as such, certainly for receptions. I understand that they want The Vestry House Museum & The William Morris Gallery as smaller venues. This will gain them little revenue & this will mean that there is nothing in Walthamstow to travel in for. Weddings also tend to take place in the few hours that they state they will continue to open the doors of the museums with their reduced collections.

Indeed, there will be little to live in Walthamstow for, except the rail link. All of the people who now move in & bring in their money to council coffers, can find very many better wedding venues. Wedding venues are hardly a reason for tourism or residing in a borough!! This of course, will hit not just the museum shops; it will also hit all of those small businesses that are springing up & the larger shopping centres. It will certainly hit the continued development of Walthamstow as a place of culture & the arts.

When I have seen the Trails set up by the Museums, those wonderful buildings of Walthamstow's past history have been pulled down or are offices, often looking neglected & certainly inaccessible. The William Morris Gallery is the only one that is left for public access.

There will be little if any income generated from loaning out artefacts. What museum is going to feel confident in lending theirs to Waltham Forest, without curators such as Peter Cormack & his team who know how to care for those of other museums etc?

These artefacts are irreplaceable & are of international importance for posterity. The eyes of the world will be ready to lay any failure at the door of Waltham Forest Council.

They are very wrong if they think that all of this will go away when December comes & Peter Cormack is dismissed. The world is aware & is waiting. Waltham Forest Council is not a body, it is made up of individuals who have all decided to go ahead with this madness & it is as individuals that they will be judged.

Turn back now, members of Waltham Forest Council, whilst you still have such a wonderful gallery to save.


I make something of a hobby out of visiting small London museums, galleries and sites of historical significance. The fact that I'd never even heard about this one speaks volumes about the people responsible for promoting it.


What a shame the local Labour council doesn't view this as an asset. Are they mad?

They must be going for a short sighted, short term gain - rather than a longer term vision.

If this were well managed, they'd be able to generate valuable income for local people.

Shame on you Waltham Forest!

shirley pountney

The Waltham Forest Council may have to extend Peter Cormack's redundancy notice and appeal to him to stay for some further months. The catalogue of the arefacts in the Museum, which number over 9000, has not been published, either in printed form or digitally on line, and these works cannot be handed over without clear documentation and valuation. The new members of staff will be unable to identify objects, drawings, paintings and other arefacts from their inexperience when they are individually valued, as, of course, they must be before they are 'loaned' to any other Museum and Gallery. What is more the cataloguing will have to be done with a professional cataloguer employed.

The value of these objects runs individually into thousands of pounds and the total collection into many millions. If they are not properly accounted for, how many of the 9000 will be left, I wonder, when they come to hand over the collection?

mister tumnus

This whole business makes my blood boil.

It's almost impossible to overstate William Morris' significance, importance and huge contribution to culture and art, not just here in the UK & London but globally. His influence runs deep through so many areas - not just the wallpaper designs for which everyone remembers him, but his profilic and staggering imput into design in general, art, socialism and politics, storytelling, housing, philosophy, printmaking, furniture etc etc, the list goes on. Far from being outmoded, 'elitest' and 'middle-class' ( as Waltham Forest council sees it), Morris' outlook and philosophies have never been so relevant.

That the borough of his birth and childhood sees him and the treasures that are Water House (WMG), its contents and curators as, at worst, a nuisance, and, at best, chattels to sell off in order to marginally offset their gross squandering of public money, is both hugely depressing and profoundly infuriating.

The long and short of it is, we should do whatever we can to keep the Gallery and Museum here as the rich local cultural resources they are. Anyone living in E17 will know it's not a wealthy borough, let's not make that paucity cultural as well as financial!

The campaign needs heightened publicity and more events. If people knew about this scandal, and scandal it is, they'd be up in arms about it I'm sure.

Antiscrap and the other groups are doing such brilliant work in resisting this pervasive cultural erosion, but more and more awareness and support are needed. Art shows, events, (william) morris dancing, talks, posters, media coverage, stickers, sit-ins, letter campaigns, etc etc - all will help

All Power to The Imagination

Otherwise Waltham Forest will have to ditch its/ Morris' motto of 'Fellowship is Life' and replace it with 'Waltham Forest council: Can't See The Wood For The Trees'

Paul Bommer


The WF councillors obviously don't have a clue what an enormous potential asset they have at their hands in the William Morris Gallery and its collection - and what an enormous asset they had in its curator Peter Cormack whom they saw fit to make redundant.

And as for handing the collection over to another museum that doesn't even exist yet - life is stranger than fiction, as they say...


Visit the William Morris Gallery.

Cancel any appointments, if need be take the day off work.

The collection is laid out so you go from room to room and discover all the things William did, with beautiful examples of fabric, wallpaper, tiles, furniture, stained glass windows, books, poems and literature written to support the struggle of working people.

You get a real insight into how William worked in different media; at one stage he even had an upmarket home decorating shop on Oxford Street way before it became the vogue.There are also examples of work in progress. It makes my heart soar just thinking about it.

And you are seeing all this in the place where he spent his teenage years. Look out the window onto what is now a park. yes it is an island with a moat. It was a secret island and the moat was full of fish. You are standing where William got inspiration.

The collection also contains examples work form people who William inspired, it's what came to be called the Arts and Crafts Movement.

The Wiliam Morris Gallery with its amazing collection is an international treasure that we can all enjoy.

How sad that we find ourselves with a shoddy local authority who have schemed to give it away. In case you do not know this is the same local authority that closes libraries and replaces them with fish tanks. Yes it is that bizarre.

But we the people of Waltham Forest are not going to let this planned give away take place. The councillors who plot behind closed doors are the laughing stock of everyone, they hide behind their fat cat salaries

We stand on giants shoulders, join us.


Our council create bureaucratic jobs for their cronies while sacking the front line staff to pay for their self-serving. This mad attack on our borough's only cultural asset is only part of a general asset-strip of public amenities, from public halls sold off to library closures.All in a culture of blatant lies told by public servants and elected representatives If you agree with the comments posted here and above, please tell everyone you know what's going on


I love the caption! Hover your cursor over the wonderful photograph of the rear of The William Morris Gallery. Circling Vultures not pictured!!!

I love this view of the former Water House, boyhood home to William Morris. Cllrs Geraldine Reardon & Mimi Konigsberg were very dismissive of it at the meeting of The Friends of The William Morris Gallery on 18th October. Throughout my childhood & now as an adult, it has made the house come alive. It is what Morris himself would have seen as he returned home from playing on his magical island, or from fishing in his lake.

The William Morris Society's Newsletter Summer 2007 is of great interest & I should like to quote from it here.

It states that the Trust Deed records:

"The exhibition shall be a permanent exhibition of the work of men worth remembering for their contribution to beauty and whatever goes to the enrichment of life and the furnishing of its needs, the desire of the donors being that it shall form a memorial to the aims and achievements of William Morris and those who laboured with him, as well as the lifework of those who have carried on the inspiration of that reawakening to the true purposes of art."

It tells us that the Prime Minister, Rt Hon Clement Atlee, MP for West Walthamstow, "believed that Water House would be an abiding source of pleasure."

Cllr Mrs E M Frewin "remembered how close Water House had come to destruction in the war, suffering two near misses by land mine and doodle bug. She declared, "We aim to make Water House a true Morris recapture and perpetuate the spirit and atmosphere of a home where Morris lived."

"Walter Spradbury spoke on behalf of the Trustees of the Brangwyn Bequest. "I need hardly say that this time, to me, is a deeply moving occasion...a candle of vision, lit here today, shines forth with renewed light...Sir Frank Brangwyn purchased a number of works by Morris's friends in the Pre-Raphaelite movement especially for us...In all it is a great co-operative effort, a gift of generous good will...May its purpose and influence grow with the years to an effectiveness that will not only be a memorial to Morris and his friends, but as a force that, by the preservation of such fragments of beauty as escape the assaults of time, brutality, war, ignorance or greed, will sow seeds for the renewal and new harvest of man's efforts to attain truth and beauty, and make the very substance of every day living-for art has a language that speaks to all times and climes, and a spirit that endures."

There is much more, but here is the sprit of The William Morris Gallery, as I have always known it. This is what I fight for. Join us in our fight.

Go to:

It takes a few seconds to sign our petition. It takes a little longer to write to some of the names given on the website. It takes a little longer still to join antiscrap in our fight to save YOUR Gallery & all of its artefacts.

The Gallery belongs to US ALL & TO OUR CHILDREN.

It was mine as a child & it should be our children & grandchildren's right in the future.

Thank you & very many thanks to Linda Miller for writing such an interesting article.


This wonderful gallery simply mustn't be allowed to go. Its a lovely place to while away a few hours - I remember it as a child and still live locally so can pop in from time to time. I have added it to my blog and hope that art lovers, whereever they live, who visit me will spend the time to add their name to the petition. www<dot>hopeeternal<dot>wordpress<dot>com

Incidentally, I remember a small signed Pissarro snow scene at the bottom of the main staircase about 30 years ago but, although I asked about it a while back no one on duty seemed to know of its existence. It wasnt part of a special exhibition. I wonder where that went to - and when!