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William Morris In The East End

August 27, 2018
by the gentle author

Celebrating the ninth birthday of Spitalfields Life with a week of favourite posts from the past year

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

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

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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8 Responses leave one →
  1. August 27, 2018

    Love the travelling box, it’s a perfect foil to the ghost of William Morris.

  2. stephanie permalink
    August 27, 2018

    What a complex and thoughtful man.
    One thing to add the Walthamstow based band Hefner a few years back put Chants for Socialists to music. Sadly it missed out on the World to Win Political Poster exhibition which took place at Morris’s old home in Walthamstow.

    What would William Morris say about our world today?.

  3. Sarah Dod permalink
    August 27, 2018

    The irony of waking up to find this email in our inbox is that yesterday on a family research quest we visited this street. However much to our avail, we can find no further information on how Dod Street got its name. Would you happen to have any information?

    Sarah Dod

  4. Z. Sullivan permalink
    August 27, 2018

    Excellent piece on the great William Morris! Always been a hero of mine for his beautiful art work & textiles,but also his sincere and deep understanding of the evils of capitalism and the exploitation of the ordinary man and woman as a result of a capitalist society. Well done Rosemary (?) for lugging an orange box around! Today, Morris would be out there campaigning for Jeremy Corbyn and be thrilled by the Labour Manifesto. More please!

  5. Sage Vendome England permalink
    August 27, 2018

    Thank you for another memorable journey down memory lanes. I almost shed a tear on seeing the little apple box and all the places William spoke. His socialist spirit lives on in those of us who are still dedicated to the cause of equality and who see that wealth breeds contempt rather than compassion. As a reporter I covered the Eastern European revolutions and met many socialists who simply wanted more freedom but not capitalism, the freedom to travel, to wander and to live a a life without oppression. The US shows us what capitalism can deliver and how in such a system scum rises to the top. I believe William Morris saw that the poor looked after each other and cared for their community and the common man and woman. He saw beauty in every handcrafted useful thing and ugliness in the vulgar vanities produced for those who believe their privilege is a birthright.

  6. mlaiuppa permalink
    August 27, 2018

    I thought that was a soapbox. I was sort of correct.

    I hope after you took your photos you stood on the box and spoke a few words in honor of William Morris.

    His style is iconic and while he may have felt it was just for the wealthy at the time, it has endured and we common folk can now enjoy it on pillows and wall paper and all sorts of goods if we choose. I’ve done a bit of needlepoint myself.

    Was Morris not buried in London? He has no tombstone?

  7. Pedant permalink
    August 27, 2018

    Nice one! especial thanks for the list of dates and sites.
    just to be wholly pedantic: WM died from diabetes and complications, not TB

  8. David Feder permalink
    August 27, 2018

    Another excellent article. Many thanks for your tireless efforts and your excellent and engaging writing.

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