Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Wallpaper and revolution

I am trying  my best to resist gracefully slipping into middle age. But my parents, with good intentions knowing my taste for history, recently gave myself and Mrs Journeyman a present of National Trust membership: I felt that I had finally become a card-carrying member of the tea-shop frequenting, garden viewing, beige wearing ranks of geriatric Middle England.

One of the first uses of our membership was visiting William Morris' Red House in Bexley Heath over the bank holiday weekend. The visit was a perfect example of the 'twee-ification' of history rendered by the National Trust to suit the bland palette of its constituency and demographic.

The house is of course very nice to look at. As are the well-tended gardens and the cafe in the coach house where 'light refreshments' are served. The terribly posh and earnest guide talked with passion about the architecture, the  hand-printed arts-and-craft wallpaper, and the neo-medieval frescos Morris had painted in the house. But managed at the same time to say virtually nothing about who Morris was or what he was about.

Nothing at all about his status as one of the unsung homegrown pioneers of English Socialism. Or the fact that the wallpaper and the frescos were an intrinsic part of a personal evolution that led to his disillusion with capitalism and adoption of revolutionary socialism. Or his sadness and frustration at the irony that the products of his design and manufacturing business could only be afforded by the middle classes .

I can guess how he would feel about the reproductions being sold in the gift shop. If nothing else I was inspired to dig out my copy of EP Thompson's biography of Morris.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Who's this Mrs Journeyman? I think we should be told!