Walthamstow in north-east London is definitely not in the Top Ten London tourist sights, nor would it be likely to figure in the Top Fifty, or even the Top One hundred. So, why bother to go there?
We went with a view to seeing the William Morris Gallery, which is a short bus (route 123) ride from Blackhorse Road Underground Station.
The first thing that caught our attention when disembarking from the bus was an enormous portrait of William Morris painted on the side of a residential house;
Although the William Morris Gallery ('WMG') was easily visble, something else caught my attention - an unexceptional looking building painted with red and white vertical stripes. Above its main entrance, I spotted a gilded object with an effigy of the Hindu god Ganesh:
We had come across the Sri Karpaya Vinayagar Temple, a place where Tamil-speaking Hindus worship. On approaching the temple, we heard chanting. After removing our footwear we entered the temple via a side door. What we saw was quite wonderful. It was if we had walked straight out of dreary Walthamstow and straight into southern India, or onto a film-set, only it was for real, not staged:
This fairly non-descript building is truly amazing inside. All the elements of a typical Hindu temple complex are assembled within a large hall. Whereas in India, these would be open to the elements, very sensibly this community in Walthamstow has put everything indoors.
There was a poojah (a Hindu worshipping session) in progress. A musician was playing on a wind instrument:
No one seemed to mind us watching the complicated pooja that was being performed. One man invited us to stay until the end of the Gayatri Mantra so that we could partake of prasad (blessed offerings of, usually, fruit or some sweet concoction). He told us to wait 5 minutes, but after 15 minutes the mantra was still being chanted with great enthusiasm.
All of the ladies were wearing beautiful, colourful Indian garb, mostly saris. All of them had sprigs of jasmine flowers in their hair.
Visiting this place was wonderful. We had not expected to find such a lovely place during our visit to Walthamstow
Our original aim had been to visit WMG. Our visit to the temple was a welcome distraction.
The WMG is housed in Lloyd House, where William Morris spent a few years of his life. Morris was a leading exponent in the British Arts and Craft Movement, which flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Morris and his collaborators wanted to escape from industrialism and to revive traditional crafts. He succeeded, and his influence continues to have its often deleterious, somewhat conservative, effect on British design today.
The WMG is a must for anyone even vaguely interested the British Arts and Crafts Movement. The so-called Gallery contains a number of exhibion rooms that reveal to the viewer the range of products that came from the Morris 'camp' These include examples of books printed by the Kelmscott Press, founded by Morris:
Morris associated with the pre-Raphaelites. A couple of paintings by Burne-Jones hang in one room, and there are some colourful stained glass windows, also by a pre-Rapahelite artist:
There are many fine examples of printed designs and furniture to be seen:
Morris was an exponent of Socialism. Prof David Cody wrote:
"During the 1870s Morris, who had previously made a strenuous effort to avoid political entanglements of any sort, made a commitment to increasingly radical political activities which would dominate the rest of his life. It was not so much that he abandoned his previous artistic activities and commitements, but that he extended them: in a real sense his plunge into Socialism was a new attempt to resolve, or at least to provide a framework which would permit the eventual resolution, of the enormous disparities — disparities which he found he could no longer ignore — which he had always perceived as existing between things as they were and as they should be. He put it very simply: "nothing can argue me out of this feeling," he wrote, "which I say plainly is a matter of religion to me: the contrasts of rich and poor are unendurable and ought not to be endured by either rich or poor." (Quoted from: http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/morris/wmsocialm.html)
At least one exhibit recalls Morris's commitment to "The Cause":
The WMG offers a fascinating insight into Morris's life as well as the artistic movement in which he was involved. The WMG contains a number of paintings and other images by Morris's pupil, the artist Frank Brangwyn.
Visiting museums uses energy, makes one hungry and thirsty.The WMG has its own café, which is housed in a tastefully designed extension of the old house. Good food and a variety of beverages including alcoholic, are available. There are inddor and outdoor tables.
The gardens of the house containing the WMG now form part of a public park, Lloyd Park. Great views of the park may be obtained from the café just described as well as from some of the windows in WMG:
A series of lawns and flower beds lead to the moat, which must be crossed by one of two bridges to reach the wooded island it encloses. The moat has a population of waterfowl, who despite notices forbidding it, are well-fed by the visitors to the park.
Beyond the park there is a large play area for children. this is alongside the "Delice" Café, which I did not enter. It offers a wide range of food and drinks.
Further into the par, we encounter wide open spaces, ideal for walking the dog or kicking around a ball.
This manageable park is on level ground in the heart of dismal Walthamstow. It is a lovely surprise to come across it!
Lastly, I spotted an unusual carving of an elephant high up on the outer wall of Lloyd House:
I am not sure why it was placed there.
I hope that this short piece has demonstrated to you some of the wonders of Walthamstow