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William Morris In The East End

May 11, 2024
by the gentle author



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

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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7 Responses leave one →
  1. Heather Potter permalink
    May 11, 2024

    My Grandfather James Windsor 1883-1956 used to speak at Speakers Corner, my Auntie Louisa Windsor would be the Look Out and would tell my Grandad when there were police about.
    His Brother My Great Uncle Walter Windsor 1884-1945 born in Hunslett Street used to have his meetings in The Salmon & Bull.
    He became Labour MP for Bethnal Green from 1922 – to 1929.
    Heather Potter

  2. Greg T permalink
    May 11, 2024

    Slightly off-topic …
    The William Morris Gallery, in Walthamstow, is hosting an exhibition of Japanese “Arts-&-Crafts” movement ( “Mingei” ) at the moment.
    I finally walked down the road again, yesterday – it is really well worth the visit.
    And … there is a direct connection – Frank Brangwyn went to Japan & interacted with the locals, as did Bernard Leach, the potter.
    If you have a chance – GO!

  3. Richard Armiger permalink
    May 11, 2024

    Walthamstow’s William Morris Gallery, is a little know gem, between Spitalfields and Watham Abbey

  4. Stephanie Pemberton permalink
    May 11, 2024

    Dod Street, Limehouse, 20th Sept 1885 – Eleanor Marx attended the SDF rally to protest against prosecutions against free speech. Both she and Morris were targeted and beaten up by the police along with others. She spoke for the defence in court the next day. The police charged at both her and Morris in court again and gave them both another thumping. In court (Eleanor Marx, Rachel Holmes biography). Eleanor, intellectual, orator, unionist, feminist, internationalist offers a rich seam of London Life, inc the East End. Object of a tour in her own right.

  5. May 11, 2024

    On my list of favorite quotations:

    “At the end of life, one only has what one has given.” (Anonymous proverb)

    Just THINK of the endless ways William Morris has enriched the world. His influence is
    endless, both in the social movements he believed in — and the arts. A singular man of
    incalculable abilities and talents. I am in awe.

  6. Gee Farrow permalink
    May 11, 2024

    A true man of the people – thanks for remembering him in this capacity. Agree with previous comments that the William Morris Gallery is a gem worth visiting.

  7. Catherine permalink
    May 11, 2024

    Morris’s political work is too often overlooked, so I was happy to read this post. I imagine his travels in Iceland helped him to envision a better sort of government than that of England. (It took me a minute to cotton onto the peripatetic speaker’s box!)

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