Morris birthday protest picnic a huge success

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Picnickers outside the William Morris Gallery   (EL1266-80) Picnickers outside the William Morris Gallery (EL1266-80)

IT WAS an unseasonably cold day for William Morris' birthday but hundreds of people still turned up to protest at threats to his legacy.

The anniversary on Saturday gave local artists and members of the campaign against the budget cuts to the William Morris Gallery in Lloyd Park, Walthamstow and Vestry House Museum in Vestry Road, Walthamstow, the perfect excuse to throw a protest picnic.

While the weather did not play ball, musicians played their instruments, and artists created work especially aimed at celebrating the artist's life and criticising the council's decision to cut £56,000 from its budget from next month.

The William Morris Gallery was festooned with artwork, poetry, placards and banners, while people read the words of Morris and their own poems from a small stage.

Ros Kane led the assembly in singing Leon Rosselson's song News from Nowhere and a group of traditional musicians came from the local folk club.

One banner announced that the gallery, based in Morris's former home, Water House, would be up for let from April.

"Going cheap to interested parties. Contact Waltham Forest Council," it said.

One of the organisers, Ron Huddle, said: "It was a really lovely day. It was a celebration and an art event but it was also very angry.

"It seems all these things that make life possible are under threat. There's this perception that because we've got Google that somehow we don't need books or art."

A huge birthday card, signed by everyone at the event and by people in Walthamstow Market the week before, was handed to curator, Peter Cormack.

"People wrote in Sanskrit and Arabic, they wrote poems and the children drew smiley faces, people were really creative," Mr Huddle said.

Walthamstow-based photographer, Katherine Green, who set up and runs the www.keepourmuseumsopen.org website said she thought 300 people turned up.

"It was absolutely freezing but it went really well. It was a tremendous coming together of people in protest and celebration and the gallery was packed.

"We also had messages of support from Tony Benn, historian Phillip Katz, leading Morris authorities Fiona McCarthy, Gillian Naylor and Linda Parry as well as the US William Morris Society."

For more information about the campaign to save the gallery see www.keepourmuseumsopen.org.uk.

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