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The National Trust: Curious Connections

30 August 2013 | Mary Howell

The National Trust has conjured up a fun way to connect the history and culture of South East London. Everyone's invited... especially redheads!

What do you get if you cross Chaucer with a redhead? A Pre-Raphaelite Pilgrimage!

Ok, so that wasn’t the groan inducing pun you were expecting. But, cleverly, that’s exactly what the National Trust have managed to do.

In a bid to get people involved with London’s past, The National Trust’s London Project has taken on the role of historical loom. Weaving our city’s history together they’ve found the link between two of their South East properties; The George Inn, located next to the site of the Tabard Inn where the Canterbury Tales pilgrimage began, and the Red House, the arts and craft home of national treasure, Chaucer enthusiast and advocate of Pre-Raphaelite ideals, William Morris.

Starting at The George, this pilgrimage invites you to tread the same route that inspired both Chaucer and the Pre-Raphaelites and launches The Great British Walking programme in London. Through a collaboration with Curiocity Magazine, a beautifully illustrated fold out map, this event aims to connect people and places across time and distance whilst honouring all things Pre-Raphaelite.

As Morris’ home is so appropriately named, the organisers are having some fun by taking the iconic flame-haired Pre-Raphaelite woman as a style inspiration. Aiming to end the walk with as many red heads in Red House as possible, all persons wielding auburn locks, whether that be natural or not, are offered a concessionary ticket!

Writer, walker, Chaucer aficionado and Curiocity’s co-editor Henry Eliot will lead the expedition. Sure to be a jovial wind though 13 miles of the most picturesque green spaces South London has to offer, the route includes architectural marvel The Old Navy College and ancient forest Oxleas Wood.

Stopping at four separate destinations, participants will be able to create their own Morris inspired artworks and hear live versions of the Canterbury tales. A pilgrim’s party brimming with merriment, locally brewed ales, roasted meats, live folk music, traditional games and guest speakers will await travellers at their destination. Lively celebrations that I daresay Morris himself would’ve enjoyed.

Pilgrims will also be granted a downloadable audio guide and souvenir edition of Curiocity Magazine, packed with trivia and quirky stories, it will chart the hearty taverns and historic absurdities that line their journey. Everyone is welcome to join, whether travelling by foot, bicycle or public transport.

We caught up with Henry Eliot to find out more…

London Calling: What is it about History that makes you so passionate?

Henry Eliot: I'm passionate about bringing history and literature alive. I'm particularly excited about putting history and literature into physical landscapes, so it's been a delight collaborating with the National Trust, whose raison d'être is to introduce people to special places. This project has been particularly enjoyable because William Morris is such an inspiring human being: he was a practical, visionary polymath, a genuine renaissance man who gave new birth to extinct art forms and discovered ancient stories.

LC: Where can you pick up Curiocity? 

HE: You can pick up Curiocity in several shops across London, including Foyles, Stanfords, the Wellcome Collection and the British Library. You can also buy it online.

LC: Will the Pre-Raphaelite Pilgrimage edition of Curiocity be available to those unable to make the walk on the 7th September?

HE: Yes it will! Issue E of Curiocity, Escaping London, will be available as normal: it's themed around pilgrimage, with lots of different urban pilgrimages to try and it unfolds to reveal the Pre-Raphaelite Pilgrimage route map. The accompanying audioguide will also be available for those unable to get to the walk on the 7th, so you can make your own pilgrimage in your own time.

LC: We’ve mentioned the royal navy college and Oxleas wood, but what is the most interesting element of the walk that you’re really excited about showing people?

HE: I'm most excited about introducing people to Charlton House, a stunning example of Jacobean architecture with a beautifully preserved exterior. Not only is it an under-visited beauty spot, it was also where the 'Horn Fair' historically finished, a riotous anti-pilgrimage from Rotherhithe that culminated in a debauched celebration in the grounds of Charlton. Daniel Defoe described it as a "collected rabble of mad people". Our walk follows much of the same route and will hopefully be just as fun... And of course I'm excited about showing off Red House itself, a spectacular jewel in the heart of the southeastern suburbs.

LC: The fancy dress theme is a really fun idea. Who thought it up and will you be donning a red wig?

HE: Fancy dress was the National Trust's idea. It should be fun! I probably won't be wearing a wig myself but my beard is a bit red... Does that count? 

LC: What’s going to get people who don’t know much about Chaucer, Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites involved?

HE: For me the main appeal of the event is discovering new areas of London while walking as part of a large group. It's a fantastic experience that's rare today. You'll also get your hands on making artworks, listening to stories and hearing contemporary folk music, including the wonderful Jim Moray. And if you don't know much about Chaucer, Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites, it's a fun and memorable way to discover more!

 

You can book your tickets to the walk and party on September 7th here!

This is an excursion that commemorates literary figures, artistic movements, landmark buildings and the novel way in which they all slot together. And finally …

What do the pilgrims and Pre-Raphaelites have in common? They both move forward whilst looking backward!

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