. . . plus unexpected delights south of the riverOn Saturday we were in need of a plan – we'd been invited to a birthday dinner in south London, it's a long way to go and as the weather was good we thought we ought to make a day of it and find somewhere to explore on the way. A quick glance at possible National Trust properties found The Red House so that's where we went . . .
William Morris was only 26 when he moved into the house his architect friend Philip Webb designed for him and had built in a Kent Orchard, 10 miles from central London. A four bedroom red brick detached family home doesn't seem that unusual but in 1860 this house was the first Arts & Crafts style house, designed to be true to materials and function it influenced architects and design movements throughout the 20th century and to the present day.
The interior was decorated in the medieval style – murals on the wall, embroidered hangings and painted plaster ceilings (the newly cleaned stair well ceiling in Morris's favourite blue and white colour scheme is particularly fine).
There is a small exhibition about Philip Webb including his paints – the ones he used to hand colour his architectural plans, a well as other personal possessions and his designs.
Webb was very fond of drawing birds – his contribution to the decoration included some delightful stained glass in the hallway windows.
William Morris's utopian dream wasn't to last, setting up his new design business 'The Firm' and the realities of commuting to central London and back each day made him restless. Lizzie (Siddal) Rossetti died of a laudanum overdose shortly after her baby was still-born and Georgie Burne-Jones's baby also died; the Burne-Joneses and Rossetti moved to central London. William and Jane (who was already in a close relationship with Rossetti which lasted until his death) decided to sell The Red House in 1865, in five years many of their ambitious interior design schemes were started and then abandoned.
Subsequent owners of The Red House treated it with reverance and respect, some used Morris and Co. wallpapers to decorate the rooms – something Morris himself would never have done, but they look beautiful none-the-less. The house remains mostly unfurnished, gradually layers of white lining paper are being removed to reveal unfinished murals and ceiling patterns. One of the owners had acquired an original Morris woodblock for one of his printed wallpaper patterns.
If like me you're an Arts and Crafts fan, I can thoroughly recommend visiting The Red House – and take a guided tour, it really adds to the experience.
The National Trust web page for The Red House recommends parking a short way away at Danson Park. When we got there we discovered this . . .
a rather splendid Georgian house in a magnificent park with panoramic views across the Weald of Kent! Danson House is a popular wedding venue so the house is closed to visitors on Saturdays, though it has a very nice tea room on the ground floor (we had afternoon tea there). While drinking our tea we read a leaflet about another historic house and park nearby and needing to kill time before the birthday party, we headed off to Hall Place and Gardens . . .
what a lovely surprise it was! Magnificent formal gardens and lovely parkland around a Tudor mansion (again the house itself was closed for a wedding).
There were some stunning flower borders (somehow I failed to photograph them, probably because I was too busy admiring the plants!), mostly the plants are ones that thrive in sunny and dry conditions so need very little maintenance.
The magnificent topiary however must take some clipping! Especially the huge Queen's Beasts which where designed to celebrate the Queen's coronation in 1953.
If you plan to visit The Red House I'd recommend visiting Danson House & Park and Hall Place & Gardens while you're in the area. If you can, go on a weekday so you can see inside the houses, but if not the gardens and parks are magnificent!