Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Uses of Red House

In the 150th year of its existence Morris’s Red House is certainly thriving under the National Trust’s careful ministrations. It was busy enough with visitors when I called by in mid-April, so one wonders how it will cope with the increased number that more clement summer months will bring. The gardens look good, the volunteers are enthusiastic and well-informed, the building itself is, in Rossetti’s fine phrase, ‘more a poem than a house’; so, as far as the future of Red House is concerned, we might borrow T.S. Eliot’s formulation at the end of Four Quartets: ‘all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’.

What is to be the function of Red House in future years? We gain a clue, perhaps, from the programme of events the National Trust has organised there for 2010: an Easter celebration ‘for the whole family’ with Mr Scarecrow and egg and spoon races, an Arts and Crafts fair in July, Apple Day in October (with Mr Scarecrow again), and Christmas Carols in December.

All these events sound very enjoyable, and that is certainly entirely appropriate to their location. For many of the great images of Red House from the Morris circle biographies are indeed of fun and conviviality: Morris coming up from the cellars with bottles of wine under both arms, apple fights and occasional black eyes, practical jokes all round, or the more sedate pleasures of pipes and the bowling green.

Yet in addition to all this I’d like to see the National Trust try some Red House events with a bit more intellectual backbone to them. What about a ‘Chaucer study-day’, given that some of the decoration of the building is Chaucer-inspired (and that it lies close to the old pilgrims’ route to Canterbury)? Or a ‘Victorian Arthurianism’ symposium, for similar decorative reasons? Or a celebration of Morris’s poetry, since he was working on his unfinished cycle of Troy poems during the Red House years? We don’t necessarily need Mr Scarecrow around to enjoy ourselves among the Towers of Topsy (Rossetti again). For learning, as News from Nowhere with its holistic approach to these matters makes abundantly clear, can be a great pleasure too.

No comments: