Red House, Bexleyheath, 1860

Philip Webb and William Morris collaborated to build the Red House at Bexleyheath, 'a complex fusion of Morris’s romantic utopianism and Webb’s practical common sense'

Martin Charles / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Martin Charles / RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Next year, 2015, marks the centenary of the death of Philip Webb, the father of Arts and Crafts architecture in Britain. Webb’s most famous building was his first – the Red House in Bexleyheath, built for William Morris, and completed in 1860. In fact, Webb and Morris designed the house together, having become friends while working under the architect George Edmund Street in 1856.

The Red House has been described as ‘a complex fusion of Morris’s romantic utopianism and Webb’s practical common sense’. Morris’s fellow Pre-Raphaelite Edward Burne-Jones was a regular visitor, describing the house as ‘the beautifullest place on earth’, and a forgotten mural by him and other artist was recently uncovered in a bedroom.

The house was heavily influenced by Morris’s favoured medievalism, and was constructed with an emphasis on craftsmanship and artisanal skills. It was a shared appreciation of the workmanship of the past and concern over the Victorian idea of restoration – which often meant stripping away all evidence of a building’s history – that in 1877 prompted Morris and Webb to found the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, today Britain’s oldest preservation body.