LOVERS of art, crafts and all things Victorian declared Walthamstow Town Hall a "crime scene" in protest against funding cuts to the William Morris Gallery.

Dressed in forensic boiler suits, the demonstrators symbolically sealed off the fountain in front of the town hall on Tuesday morning.

The event was staged by the Victorian Society and attended by Morris enthusiasts from around the south-east.

Protesters handed out leaflets accusing the council of "heritage crimes" and "causing the long slow death of the William Morris Gallery".

Organiser Ian Dungavell said: "William Morris was a really influential thinker and the gallery is important - I used to take students from around the world there.

"The council should be developing the gallery and getting more people in. It may be beautiful, but it is not art for the elite. William Morris thought it was art for the people."

Mr Dungavell said that making curator Peter Cormac redundant would mean the loss of one of the world's leading experts on William Morris.

The Art Workers Guild was formed in the 1880s to promote all forms of craftsmanship, and William Morris was one of its early Masters.

Current Master Assheton Gorton said: "The gallery should be extended. The Government has issued a directive to councils to maximise cultural assets in order to regenerate areas. This council is degenerating this area."

Martin Stutchfield, chairman of the Friends of William Morris Gallery, said: "The council is not taking into account the wishes of council taxpayers. It is downgrading a facility of international importance, for such a negligible amount of money.

"Hopefully if we keep protesting, common sense will prevail."

Eleanor Jardine, the great great grand-daughter of Edward Lloyd, who left the William Morris Gallery and Lloyd Park to the people of Walthamstow, travelled from Hertford to be part of the protest.

She told the Guardian her ancestors would be dismayed by the cuts.