The history of Red House garden
The Red House garden design was as important to William Morris as the house, and he believed they should work together in harmony. Through the years, some of the design has been lost but the garden has still blossomed.
A glimpse into the past
Your experience of the garden at Red House today is very different from the garden that William Morris laid out. Just as the design of the house itself was inspired by medieval literature and artworks, so too was the garden. Images such as Lovers in a Garden (Tate Britain) and The Backgammon Players (Fitzwilliam Museum), both by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, give us a glimpse of what the garden may have been like.
Planning the garden at Red House
In 1858 when William Morris began to look for a site to build his country retreat, the situation and surrounding countryside was a matter of the utmost importance. Morris eventually settled on a site in the hamlet of Hog’s Hole, near the village of Upton, with its well-established orchards of apple, cherry and plum trees.
Linking the house and garden
Indeed, the preservation of the orchard and surviving planting was so important that the builders weren’t permitted to remove any trees or bushes without Philip Webb’s express permission. In his plans for the elevations of the house, Webb included notes of the plants and climbers that were to be planted once the house was built, very much linking the house and garden in the manner later expressed by Morris.
‘Large or small, it [the garden] should look both orderly and rich…It should by no means imitate either the wilfulness or the wildness of Nature, but should look like a thing never to be seen except near a house. It should, in fact, look like a part of the house.’
- William Morris, artist and designer
The garden design at Red House
Alongside the Orchard, Morris’s garden included the bowling green and a series of garden ‘rooms’ to the north and east of the house. Webb commissioned local craftsmen to create wattle fencing and trellises for these garden rooms, which were planted with native and traditional flowers, such as white jasmine, honeysuckle and wild roses.
Morris was fascinated by the natural patterns made by plants, and early Morris & Co. designs such as ‘Trellis’ were most likely inspired by his own garden rooms at Red House. For Morris, both the house and the garden were intended to be a place of retreat from the modern world, and the garden rooms were a key feature of this.
Morris’s insistence on designing the house and garden together, in the historian Fiona McCarthy’s opinion, helped to inspire the Arts and Crafts Garden Movement of the 1890s and 1900s.
The garden after William Morris
In 1866, Morris sold Red House to James Heathcote, whose daughter Marian described the orchard and ‘...pleasaunces...’ (pleasure gardens) in her memoir, suggesting that Morris’s garden remained for some time after he and his family left. However, by the time Charles Holme acquired the property in 1899, a number of changes seem to have taken place.
An Ordnance Survey map of 1897 shows that by the time Holme took ownership of Red House, the Coach House had been added to the south of Webb’s stable building, and glasshouses added behind the outbuildings. Holme was a keen orchid collector, and used the glasshouses to store his collection. The survey also seems to show that the intimate garden rooms had been replaced, and the garden opened up, with photographs showing a grass area and love seat, possibly to the north of the house.
Henry and Maud Maufe
The one-acre garden was enlarged by the purchase of more land to the west of the property in the early 20th century, by the then owners Henry and Maud Maufe. This protected Red House somewhat from the rapid urbanisation of the once-rural area, and maintained the sense of seclusion that Morris had sought.
Ted and Doris Hollamby
Between 1920 and 1950 a series of owners took over Red House, but it was Ted Hollamby and his wife Doris, in particular, who rescued the garden from a near-derelict state, replanting it with native plants and preserving the remaining elderly fruit trees.
The garden today
The garden still seeks to evoke that same feeling of retreat from the modern world that appealed to Morris when he first came across Hog’s Hole, but has a variety of modern challenges to contend with in order to achieve this.
The urbanisation of the local area as the railway has spread means that the open views of the countryside are long gone. The garden and house are now enclosed by a variety of shrubs and trees that screen the house from the surrounding suburban environment that has grown up. This, however, succeeds in recreating the sense of seclusion from society that Morris sought.
An elderly apple tree has been preserved, with grafts taken with the aim of re-establishing the orchard that was such a dominant feature within the enclosed garden of the 1860s.
Climate change has also had an impact, with some native plants that Morris would have been familiar with struggling to thrive in the warmer climate that we have today. Therefore, beds are planted in a modern interpretation of the medieval and detailed feel that Morris advocated, creating a planting scheme that would feel familiar to Morris, even if it looks slightly different.
A new feature
In 2021 we reinstated a lost Arts and Crafts ‘Garden Snug’, inspired by the original notes of Red House architect Philip Webb and an Ordnance Survey map from when William Morris and his family lived here at Red House. Creating this more intimate, reflective space recaptures the creative and experimental atmosphere that Morris and his circle established during their time at Red House.
Explore the history of Red House, which was a family home for Arts and Crafts movement founder William Morris and his wife Jane, and also the hub of an artistic community.
The Red House garden is a small oasis on the London-Kent border. With a variety of flowers and plants, reminiscent of William Morris’s time here, the house and garden work in harmony.
Discover the fascinating history of the women who played a central part in the Arts and Crafts movement that stemmed from Red House.
Discover the unexpected inside Red House, the Arts and Crafts former home designed by William Morris. Expert guides will help you explore this fascinating place, but you must pre-book your visit.