A hammer and a zig-zag*

*the logo woven into the border of William Morris’s “Hammersmith” carpets

“In April 1879, Morris took the house (pictured) on the Upper Mall in Hammersmith that was to be his London home from then on until his death. He rented it from George MacDonald (see post of 24.2.18), the radical preacher, poet and novelist. When the MacDonald family lived there “there was an energetic social life…relations and radical literary friends thronged into the house to watch the Oxford and Cambridge boat race passing…(it) had become an annual fixture in 1856. One MacDonald child remembered being sent to fetch a cab for Tennyson from the high road, half a mile away. Each winter at The Retreat there was an open day for the tenants of Octavia Hill’s model dwellings for the poor…gatherings not just of the poor but of intellectual and artistic do-gooders: the radical historian C. Edmund Maurice; the Rev. Samuel Barnett, who founded Toynbee Hall; Arthur Hughes and his wife; also Georgie and Ned (Burne-Jones). In 1868, Ruskin had attended the first of these receptions, confessing himself shocked by the poverty-stricken appearance of the guests, in particular the men arriving without collars. He had led off the final Sir Roger de Coverley with Octavia Hill…

The best space in the house is the forty-foot-long drawing-room with five windows facing south across the river…As in all Morris’s interiors from Red House onwards there was a sense of reduction to essentials…This was a hospitable but not flirtatious room…

…Earlier in 1878 Morris had been impressed with an exhibition…the carpet merchant Vincent Joseph Robinson…had shipped over a complete room from Damascus…The dining-room at Hammersmith was Morris’s own Damascus room.

Materially speaking the Morrises had entered a new period of comfort…

…Large parties would arrive to watch the Boat Race, as in the MacDonalds’ days. It was not Janey’s favourite event: “there is a dreadful thing called a “Boat Race” in our part of London…”…

…Rudyard Kipling, the young cousin of the Burne-Jones children…as a child, was impressed by “Uncle Topsy”…giving an account in his memoirs of a surprise visit by Morris to the nursery when Kipling was staying with the Burne-Joneses. “…he, gravely as ever, climbed on to our big rocking horse. There, slowly surging back and forth while the poor beast creaked, he told us a tale full of fascinating horrors…”…We may ask how Uncle Topsy, swaying on his rocking horse, awakened Rudyard Kipling’s own love of the macabre.”…

…In a way that has enormous relevance to Morris, Freud was to disinter the meaning of the object, the significance of pattern recollected through our histories. His consulting room in twentieth-century Vienna was crowded with ancient artefacts and textiles, books and objects, photographs and plaques, many given by friends, all holding many memories of people, of places and the mesh of past events. Freud’s patients were conscious of an almost sacred hush in the apartment. The famous couch was piled high with pillows and covered with a precious Shiraz rug.”

Fiona MacCarthy: William Morris (1994) Chapter Twelve: Kelmscott House 1879-81

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