Lost garden ‘snug’ recreated at William Morris’ London Arts & Crafts home

This summer the National Trust has reinstated a lost Arts & Crafts ‘Garden Snug’ at Red House in south east London, the only house commissioned and lived in by William Morris, and once the centre of the Pre-Raphaelite circle.

The new garden in Bexleyheath was inspired by the original garden notes of Red House architect Philip Webb and draws on an ordnance survey map from when Morris and his family were residents between 1860-1865.

The map shows the outdoor spaces separated into different ‘rooms’, with each understood to have had its own function and atmosphere. Photographs of the garden from the 1890s also guided the project, which marks the start of a longer-term ambition to bring back lost design elements and recapture the feel of William Morris’s original garden.

Elly Bagnall, House and Collections Manager said: ‘The overwhelming desire was to bring back a much-loved element of Morris’ time here at Red House. We know that he and his family were drawn to Bexleyheath because of the ancient Kentish orchards and abundance of nature locally. You can see this clearly in the work he and his Pre-Raphaelite circle of friends produced here at Red House, and how this went on to influence the Morris & Co designs we still know and love today.’  

The 100m2 new garden is enclosed with traditional hazel and hawthorn and the planting within references iconic Morris & Co designs like Trellis, Daisy and Fruit which Morris produced looking out over the garden more than 150 years ago. At the centre of the ‘snug’ is a Prunus serrula (Tibetan cherry), complemented by traditional cottage plants like Shasta daisies, columbines, honeysuckle, irises, peonies, jasmine and mock orange.

The new snug complements the orchard, rose arch and bowling lawn bordered by acanthus, climbing roses, daisies and lilies – the same classic English planting that features so regularly in iconic Morris & Co designs. 

In keeping with the spirit of the Arts & Crafts movement, which aimed to revive traditional craftsmanship skills, the Trust worked with talented craftspeople to create hard landscaping features for the garden.  

Around the space visitors will find specially commissioned wooden seats from Scottish craftsman Angus Ross, which have distinctive two-metre high arches designed to echo the house’s medieval-inspired architecture. The chairs sit harmoniously alongside the hand-woven wattle created by local craftsman and under-woodsman John Waller. In time, this will be entwined with climbing roses.

Head Gardener Robert Smith said: ‘We wanted to create something that people would love and that Morris would have been proud of. By using talented craftspeople from the local area and further afield we’ve been able to ensure we can uphold the Arts & Crafts spirit within this new space.’

Elly continued: ‘We would like to thank everyone who’s been involved with the project, from the artisans and craftsmen to our own teams.

‘We’d also like to offer special recognition to those who have made this work possible, by contributing through legacies and donations. The generous support from these individuals and the Friends of Red House have enabled us to carry out the work and create a new space for people to enjoy.

‘We’ll now be turning our attention to reinstating other lost aspects of the garden, starting by increasing the cottage planting around the garden that Morris himself would have remembered.’