Celebrating artistry, honest materials and simple forms, this revolutionary design movement is increasingly still relevant today. Immerse yourself in the works of such luminaries as William Morris at the best places to visit in Britain
A look at the best Arts and Crafts properties, museums and gardens to visit across the UK
In the late 19th century, Britain experienced a design reform. Tired of factory-produced goods and declining standards in decorative arts and craftsmanship following the Industrial Revolution, leading designers and architects sought to recapture and celebrate lost traditional skills.
Yet, the ethos behind the Arts and Crafts movement went beyond mere aesthetics. Early influencer
John Ruskin, who among his many occupations was an art critic and political thinker, argued that industrialisation had impacted negatively on society, to the point that the workforce had turned into ‘servile labour’. He believed that it was healthy for workers to design the things they made, and to make them by hand.
Among those to take note of Ruskin’s philosophy was William Morris, who was inspired to not only design beautiful interiors, wallpapers and textiles, but have a hand in their manufacture, too. So exquisite was his work and so influential the man, Morris drove forward the movement, and today his name is synonymous with Arts and Crafts.
The movement only lasted at its peak for three decades, from around 1880 until the start of World War I, but its influence spread through architecture, interiors, art, decorative objects, jewellery, and even gardens. It made an impact around the globe, too, inspiring similar movements on the continent, the United States and, some years later, Japan.
Today, as we increasingly eschew mass-produced uniform goods in favour of unique artisan pieces, Arts and Crafts design has never been so popular. Whether you enjoy a William Morris print, a stately home or a romantic garden, there is a wealth of remarkable places to visit across the country.
HOUSES TO VISIT
The National Trust is custodian of many of the finest Arts and Crafts properties in England, and there are thousands of handmade treasures waiting to be discovered within their walls, alongside evocative stories of the families who lived in them. The
Trust’s many highlights include the Ernest Gimson designed Stoneywell in Leicestershire, the embodiment of one man’s vision of purity for the movement; the interior of Wightwick Manor in Wolverhampton, with its profusion of Morris wallpapers at every turn and fabulous De Morgan exhibition featuring the work of ceramicist William and his artist wife Evelyn; and Goddards in North Yorkshire, the charming handcrafted house built for the Terry family (of Chocolate Orange fame). However, the most iconic and influential of them all is the Red House, which gave birth to a new era of architectural design.
Perfectly situated in Bexleyheath, Kent, the
Red House was built by William Morris in 1860 as a home for him and his new wife Jane. Morris collaborated with friend and architect Philip Webb, and sought the interior design assistance of artist friends such as Edward Burne-jones. He wanted the house to be ‘medieval in spirit’ (the era he believed to be a great time of artistry, when people took pleasure in their work), with a simplified gothic appearance, and for everything, inside and out, to celebrate art, nature and craftsmanship. The house possesses many Arts and Crafts hallmarks now ubiquitous with the movement’s architecture, such as a high, steeply pitched roof incorporating ‘catslides’ (which extend down below the main eaves height), dominant chimneys, and windows positioned for light rather than formality. Few of the furnishings were bought ready-made, as Morris and Webb designed and made almost everything – and some of these items remain today.
Journey across county borders to discover another Philip Webb triumph, Standen in West Sussex, which was completed in 1894 for the family of a wealthy solicitor. The house was intended to look as though it has always been there, grown out of the landscape. It was a modern home, built with electrics and central heating, while Morris & Co interiors create an inviting feel, making it homelier than many grand properties. Today the house is dressed for a weekend stay in 1925, and its delightful garden has been recently restored.
Venturing outside the National Trust, Blackwell, with its stunning views over Windermere in the
Lake District, is considered a masterpiece of 20th-century design, and its interiors remain remarkably intact. Wealthy industrialist, and later lord mayor of Manchester, Sir Edward Holt commissioned MH Baillie Scott to design the house as a holiday home. Baillie Scott developed his own ➤
take on Arts and Crafts style, influenced by the local vernacular and other luminaries, such as CFA Voysey. From fireplaces decorated with De Morgan tiles, stained glass and carved panelling to mosaic floors, wall hangings, and furniture and objects by many leading Arts and Crafts designers and studios, there is much to absorb.
One of the last great houses built to Arts and Crafts principles, Rodmarton Manor in Cirencester was created by Ernest Barnsley and the Cotswold Group of Craftsmen for the Biddulph family, who still own the property. The house was intended to provide employment and keep alive craft traditions in the area. Architect CR Ashbee described it as ‘The English Arts and Crafts movement at its best’, and today the manor and glorious gardens are open to the public on selected days. This September, the house is hosting the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen for a new contemporary craft and design festival, Crafts Alive. (See page 18 for details.)
While you can’t beat the immersive experience of exploring a historic property, for a deeper insight into the Arts and Crafts movement it pays to visit one of the excellent museums showcasing a wealth of handcrafted treasures. The William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, London, offers the best of both worlds, allowing visitors to stroll through the rooms of Morris’ stately family home, from the ages of 14 to 22, and discover the story of his evolution – from a bored privileged student with no formal arts training to the father of Arts and Crafts. Many of his works are on display, including a full range of Morris & Co designs, while the house itself is a fine example of Georgian design, set amid parkland.
Elsewhere in London, the V&A museum has many exquisite pieces in its collections, from
Morris himself to the contemporaries he inspired including CFA Voysey and William De Morgan, and even Morris’ own idol, John Ruskin.
To go beyond Morris and appreciate the wider influences of the movement he began, head to the Cotswolds, which became an important centre for Arts and Crafts as designers such as Ernest Gimson and CR Ashbee relocated there in the early 1900s, attracted to its idyllic landscape, rich tradition of craft and accessibility to London, Birmingham and Oxford. The Wilson in Cheltenham holds its own Arts and Crafts museum featuring many internationally significant works. As well as showcasing the colourful designs and craft skills
of the makers, the collection conveys the social message of the movement with its emphasis on creative manual work.
Tie in a visit to a museum with a stroll around independent shops, galleries and tearooms, in the picturesque market town of Chipping Camden. Its Court Barn Museum celebrates famous and lesser known designers from the Arts and Crafts movement through to the present day. Beautiful Broadway, just a 10-minute drive away, offers a similar experience at the Gordon Russell Design
Museum, located in the original workshop of the renowned 20th-century furniture designer. Russell came under the influence of the community of craftspeople who had recently moved to the area, but he believed that good design should be available to all, and sought to explore the possibilities machines offered in mass-producing quality pieces. The museum tells the fascinating story of his life and business, tracing designs over the decades that followed.
Designed at the same time, Arts and Crafts houses and gardens were usually married together in appearance and followed the same principles of using natural materials and craftsmanship. There wasn’t an exact style for gardens, but they tended to be romantic, mixing manor house formality with charming cottage garden planting, and roses in abundance. There were often more structural elements, too, such as neat lawns, box hedging and topiary.
The most influential gardener and horticulturist working to an Arts and Crafts ethos was Gertrude Jekyll, famed for her colourful, painterly approach to planting and hardy floral borders, as well as her collaborations with Edwin Lutyens, one of the movement’s leading architects and designers. Today, the garden of Jekyll’s own home, the Lutyens-designed Munstead Wood in Godalming, Surrey, is open by appointment, and there are a number of her gardens open on selected days through the RHS Open Gardens scheme.
One of the greatest Arts and Crafts gardens is Hidcote near Chipping Campden, created by American horticulturist Lawrence Johnston and now in the care of the National Trust. It features a series of linked ‘rooms’ with no obvious ordered route, while secret gardens and hidden-away seating areas await at every turn. Beds burst with country garden favourites, wild meadows and woodlands create a romantic feel, and formal hedging, circles and topiary add structure. Often referred to as a garden for all seasons, throughout the year there’s a floral spectacle to drink in, from summer roses to winter snowdrops.
Clockwise from top: The Drawing Room at Standen, featuring a grand fireplace and Arts and Crafts prints; the main hall at Blackwell, decorated with carved panelling and stunning peacock frieze, looking into the dining room with its delft-tiled fireplace; Goddards was designed byWalter Brierley for Noel Goddard Terry, of the chocolate-making firm; stained glass at Blackwell featuring a rowan motif; William De Morgan Daisy tile at Blackwell
Clockwise from top left: TheOld Garden at Hidcote, one of the finest Arts and Crafts examples; textile embroidered panel, silk thread on linen, by Morris’ daughter May, for Morris & Co, early 1890s, on display at The Wilson; the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, printed by the Kelmscott Press, 1896, on display at The Wilson; bronze bust of Morris on display at the William Morris Gallery, in his old family home