As we opened a new display in June exploring Morris & Co. wallpaper from the perspective of the interiors of 7 Hammersmith Terrace, we discovered we had unwittingly borrowed an exhibit which used to belong to the house.
Emery Walker's House which belonged to the Walker family, who were close friends and neighbours of William Morris’ family, boasts original wallpapers dating back to the early 20th century in nearly every room, making it one of the largest in situ collections of hand blocked Morris & Co. wallpapers in the world.
One of the pieces the we borrowed from a neighbouring institution, the William Morris Society, was a Morris & Co sale book. The idea was to borrowing a couple of catalogues to illustrate what the Walkers might have used, however, when unpacking them, we made a thrilling discovery.
Mallory Horrill, curator of the exhibition, explains, “When we were installing them into the cabinet, we spotted on the front cover of the wallpaper book the initials D.W. We did a handwriting check and realised this actually belonged to Dorothy Walker, so not only did they use a book like this but it actually was her book!“
It’s not known where Dorothy’s book has been or how it ended up back in its former home. The William Morris Society had been gifted it by a family who had bought the catalogue at auction, so although they know the family who previously owned it, they don’t know the full history of its travels from 7 Hammersmith and back again.
“It’s just one of those things. Pure chance. But we are so thrilled!”
The catalogue provides an insight into marketing and design practice of the period. Customers could take this slim, black and white booklet home for reference, to help them decide on the pattern design, rather than the colours. The large colour catalogues, that are still used to this day, would purely be used at the store.
The Walker family were inveterate collectors so their home reveals how a Victorian family chose to decorate their home. “It’s very rare to have a study of how a family made the decisions we make today on home decorating,” says Mallory. “We have a real mixture in our collection. We have boxes and boxes of these torn little end pieces but also full and half rolls of wallpaper, so, because your average family wouldn’t have had these at the time, we are assuming that because the Walkers were so well placed in the Arts and Crafts Movement and were friends with the Morris family, that they had this special privilege.”
“My favourite piece in the exhibition is a case of Apple wallpaper. Because it is in a room decorated in blue Apple wallpaper and we have all three colourways represented, the red and the green beside the blue. We are fortunate to have the original block, one of only three, used in the printing of Apple. This has been borrowed from Sanderson, who still occasionally use the blocks for making wallpapers for historic homes.”
The Walkers’ Walls: A Study of Morris & Co. Wallpapers is included in the 1.5 hour guided tours of the entire house and riverside garden from June to November 26th 2022. Visitor numbers are limited, due to the fragile, historic interiors, so pre-booking is essential.