Wombats, wine and wooing: The Red House in Bexleyheath is no stranger to secrets. Reporter HELOISE WOOD lifts the lid on William Morris’ former home.

 “They were a mischievous bunch”, the house and gardens manager Robynn Finney tells me as we walk through the artist’s custom-built home.

The founding father of the arts and crafts movement, William Morris, created The Red House with his architect friend Phillip Webb, and lived there his wife between 1860 and 1865.

He would walk for an hour from Red House Lane to Abbey Wood station every day to get the train to central London.

Described by fellow artist Edward Burne-Jones as the “the beautifullest place on earth”, the building is a testament to Morris’s talent and vision.

In August last year a wall painting was revealed in one of the bedrooms and now experts are stripping back the layers of history and whitewash to reveal many more hidden masterpieces.

Morris painted these elaborate with the help of his Pre-Raphaelite friends – perhaps aided by alcohol and youthful enthusiasm as he was only 26 when he moved in.

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Robynn says: “Morris met Rosetti when they were students at Oxford and they came across Morris’ future wife, Jane Burden, in a theatre there – she started modelling for them and then Morris fell in love with her.

“He designed the house with his friend Phillip Webb, the architect, while they were holidaying in France and they were influenced by a lot of the gothic cathedrals.

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 “They were young, idealistic, and wanted to challenge the conventions of the time, much like the younger generations today. They’d get drunk at the weekend and paint all over the walls.

 “We have plans for things they wanted to do with the house which they never got round to.

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Robynn even shows me an example of Pre Raphaelite graffiti – a smiley face amongst the pattern on the ceiling, hidden by a beam, and then points to a ladder next to the bookshelves.

She says: “That’s where Charles Faulkner (Morris’s business partner) pelted with apples from the apple tree when they entered the room. They were a mischievous bunch.

“Morris used to paint on his motto ‘If I can’ and then Rosetti used to go round painting ‘If I can’t’ to annoy him.

“I think they did stay friends throughout their lives in a way although much later Rosetti had an affair with Morris’s wife, and so the friendship obviously changed.”

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Robynn alerts me to a furry wombat toy is now looking down at us from a ceiling beam high above our heads, an animal I noticed in one of the uncovered murals.

She said: “The wombat motif running through the house is inspired by Rosetti’s beloved pet. He was devastated when the wombat died.

 “Now we run #WombatFriday on Twitter, showing the wombat in different places and people go mad for it and we have Friday Wombat chocolate cake at the house.”

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Robynn tells me how conservators and surveyors realised what lay beneath the whitewashed walls.

She says: “They stripped away these panels away because they’d noticed a tiny gap between the book shelves and the wall where the pattern continued so they realised what was underneath.

 “Some of the paintings are better conserved than others – some have had Perspex and pollyfiller over them, as well as book cases.”

 “After five years here, Morris realised they’d have to move to London to the workshop in Bloomsbury as the business got busier.

 “In a way, it was the end of the dream.”

Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/red-house or call 020 8304 9878.