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William Morris In The East End

September 13, 2017
by the gentle author

If you spotted someone hauling an old wooden Spitalfields Market orange crate around the East End last week, that was me undertaking a pilgrimage to some of the places William Morris spoke in the hope he might return for one last oration

William Morris spoke at Speakers’ Corner in Victoria Park on 26th July & 11th October 1885, 8th August 1886, 27th March & 21st May 1888

The presence of William Morris in the East End is almost forgotten today. Yet he took the District Line from his home in Hammersmith regularly to speak here through the last years of his life, despite persistent ill-health. Ultimately disappointed that the production of his own designs had catered only to the rich, Morris dedicated himself increasingly to politics and in 1884 he became editor of The Commonweal, newspaper of the Socialist League, using the coach house at Kelsmcott House in Hammersmith as its headquarters.

As an activist, Morris spoke at the funeral of Alfred Linnell, who was killed by police during a free speech rally in Trafalgar Sq in 1887, on behalf of the Match Girls’ Strike in 1888 and in the Dock Strike of 1889. His final appearance in the East End was on Mile End Waste on 1st November 1890, on which occasion he spoke at a protest against the brutal treatment of Jewish people in Russia.

When William Morris died of tuberculosis in 1896, his doctor said, ‘he died a victim to his enthusiasm for spreading the principles of Socialism.’ Morris deserves to be remembered for his commitment to the people of the East End in those years of political turmoil as for the first time unions struggled to assert the right to seek justice for their workers.

8th April 1884, St Jude’s Church, Commercial St – Morris gave a speech at the opening of the annual art exhibition on behalf of Vicar Samuel Barnett who subsequently founded Toynbee Hall and the Whitechapel Gallery.

During 1885, volunteers distributed William Morris’ What Socialists Want outside the Salmon & Ball in Bethnal Green

1st September 1885, 103 Mile End Rd

20th September 1885, Dod St, Limehouse – When police launched a violent attack on speakers of the Socialist League who defended the right to free speech at this traditional spot for open air meetings, William Morris spoke on their behalf in court on 22nd September in Stepney.

10th November 1886 & 3rd July 1887, Broadway, London Fields

November 20th 1887, Bow Cemetery – Morris spoke at the burial of Alfred Linnell, a clerk who was killed by police during a free speech rally in Trafalgar Sq. ‘Our friend who lies here has had a hard life and met with a hard death, and if our society had been constituted differently his life might have been a delightful one. We are engaged in a most holy war, trying to prevent our rulers making this great town of London into nothing more than a prison.’

9th April 1889, Toynbee Hall, Commercial St – Morris gave a magic lantern show on the subject of ‘Gothic Architecture’

1st November 1890, Mile End Waste – Morris spoke in protest against the persecution of Jews in Russia

William Morris in the East End

3rd January & 27th April 1884, Tee-To-Tum Coffee House, 166 Bethnal Green Rd

8th April 1884, St Jude’s Church, Commercial St

29th October 1884, Dod St, Limehouse

9th November 1884, 13 Redman’s Row

11th January & 12th April 1885, Hoxton Academy Schools

29th March 24th May 1885, Stepney Socialist League,  110 White Horse St

26th July & 11th October 1885, Victoria Park

8th August 1885, Socialist League Stratford

16th August 1885, Exchange Coffee House, Pitfield St, Hoxton

1st September 1885, Swaby’s Coffee House, 103 Mile End Rd

22nd September 1885, Thames Police court, Stepney (Before Magistrate Sanders)

24th January 1886, Hackney Branch Rooms, 21 Audrey St, Hackney Rd

2nd February 1886, International Working Men’s Educational Club, 40 Berners St

5th June 1886, Socialist League Stratford

11th July 1886, Hoxton Branch of the Socialist League, 2 Crondel St

24th August 1886, Socialist League Mile End Branch, 108 Bridge St

13th October 1886, Congregational Schools, Swanscombe St, Barking Rd

10th November 1886, Broadway, London Fields

6th March 1887, Hoxton Branch of the Socialist League, 2 Crondel St

13th March & 12th June 1887, Hackney Branch Rooms, 21 Audrey St, Hackney Rd

27th March 1887, Borough of Hackney Club, Haggerston

27th March, 21st May, 23rd July, 21st August & 11th September, 1887 Victoria Park

24th April 1887, Morley Coffee Tavern Lecture Hall, Mare St

3rd July 1887, Broadway, London Fields

21st August 1887, Globe Coffee House, High St, Hoxton

25th September 1887, Hoxton Church

27th September 1887, Mile End Waste

18th December 1887, Bow Cemetery, Southern Grove

17th April 1888, Mile End Socialist Hall, 95 Boston St

17th April 1888, Working Men’s Radical Club, 108 Bridge St, Burdett Rd

16th June 1888, International Club, 23 Princes Sq, Cable St

17th June 1888, Victoria Park

30th June 1888, Epping Forest Picnic

22nd September 1888,  International Working Men’s Education Club, 40 Berners St

9th April 1889, Toynbee Hall, Commercial St

27th June 1889, New Labour Club, 5 Victoria Park Sq, Bethnal Green

8th June 1889, International Working Men’s Education Club, 40 Berners St

1st November 1890, Mile End Waste

This feature draws upon the research of Rosemary Taylor as published in her article in The Journal of William Morris Studies. Click here to join the William Morris Society

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18 Responses leave one →
  1. Catherine permalink
    September 13, 2017

    Thank you so much for this post, Gentle Author–he is one of my personal heroes, and his political work is far too often overlooked. He brought the same energy, passion and imagination to his efforts for socialism as he did to the many artistic endeavors of his multifaceted career.

  2. Jim McDermott permalink
    September 13, 2017

    He was a man who squeezed several life-times into one. Had he stayed in Hammersmith and not given a damn about the working classes he might have been spared TB.

  3. September 13, 2017

    Your article is very interesting and the wooden crate a great touch! Valerie

  4. Greg Tingey permalink
    September 13, 2017

    Painted up on a house-end in Wood St, Walthamstow, is the following Morris Quote:
    ““I do not want art for a few; any more than education for a few; or freedom for a few… ”

    Something that one LBWF councillor, & a member of the Labour Party, who tried to get the Waltham Forest museums, including The Water House” to close, should have rubbed into his nose.
    ( Loakes, of course )

  5. Venice permalink
    September 13, 2017

    Thank you, the more I find out about William Morris the better he gets.

  6. Joanna permalink
    September 13, 2017

    Thank you so much, what a poignant and revealing post. Sad to see the bones of Toynbee Hall, but great to find in your August 18, 2014 post that the work still goes on.

  7. September 13, 2017

    A most imaginative and worthy mission, hauling a soap-box to the sites of stirring orations by Britain’s finest artist-cum-socialist. A few years ago I visited the William Morris Museum, in his childhood home in Walthamstow, for the first time – and was bowled over by the beauty of his designs and creations: fabrics, wallpapers, carved furniture, stained glass, elaborately printed books.

    The museum itself is superbly organised, and never resorts to hectoring notices such as ‘Do Not Touch’. It treats adults as adults and assumes children are respectful. Later that year it was awarded the honour – and financial reward – of UK Museum of the Year.

  8. September 13, 2017

    Yet again so interesting and informative ,I love william Morris designs but didn’t know he made so many speaches. On a different note I would love to know why so much care has been made to the front elevation of Toynbee Hall.

  9. September 13, 2017

    I was taken aback by your ‘Toynbee Hall’ photo, then learned from the hall’s website that ‘The demolition of our historic building commenced on the 24th July, and is due to be completed in September.’ How/why did that happen?

  10. Brian permalink
    September 13, 2017

    “I pondered on these things, and how people fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fight for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name.”

    William Morris: The Dream of John Ball 1888

  11. September 13, 2017

    Fascinating insight into the great man and the places we associate with him. The omnipresent box almost turns the photo sequence into an odd example of conceptual art.

  12. September 13, 2017

    The painted quote, mentioned above, blew my doors off. ” Art, education, freedom” — and it touched my heart, somehow, that Morris mentioned art first. A big man, with a big heart, inflamed with big ideas. And a huge legacy.
    Thanks for always starting my day with optimism.
    (The Morris museum sounds like it would be worth the trip from anywhere! )

  13. David Bishop permalink
    September 13, 2017

    Great post. Both interesting and creative (use of the orange box). Thank you.

  14. Jacqueline Tillyer permalink
    September 13, 2017

    Thank you for this great insight into the great man William Morris.

    William to the Morris has been part of my life ever since I was born opposite Water House, Forest Road Walthamstow E.17, through to visits to the original museum shared with the Dentistry Service then as a haunt to gather inspiration to construct my then echoing style of Jane Morris, as a young hippy.
    Again and again Morris emerges into my life and if he is ever mentioned I proudly declare he came from Walthmastow, which is not strictly true as the Morris family had a previous house in Woodford.

    What a powerhouse of a man, we owe him much although many are not even aware of ‘The Wombat’.

    May your vision and memory endure William Morris in the East End and far beyond.

  15. September 14, 2017

    Nice photo series.

  16. gkbowood permalink
    September 14, 2017

    Regarding the photo outside Salmon and Ball, Bethnal Green-:
    Social Commentary (via box) vs Social Media… very telling pictorial essay.

  17. September 20, 2017

    Really fascinating to read some of the details of Mr. Morris’ promotion of his passion for social justice, within London. He was such a fantastically talented and driven polymath, deservedly lauded for his stunningly beautiful textiles, publications, books, stained glass, etc., but less emphasis seems to be placed on a thread that ran through all his work… his passion for egalitarianism, and the benefits to be enjoyed by all under a socialist system. Thank you…

  18. Robert Land permalink
    June 29, 2018

    Thank you for this. William Morris was a great man.

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