Kelmscott Manor reopens for 2022: the home of William Morris

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Published:
3:00 p.m. March 28, 2022



Update:
01:44 PM March 29, 2022

William Morris’ idyllic country home reopens to the public

The gates of Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire, the beloved country home of William Morris (1834-1896), will finally reopen to the public on Friday April 1, 2022, after having been closed since 2019.

The internationally acclaimed craftsman, designer, author, poet, conservationist and pioneering socialist – widely considered the father of the Arts & Crafts movement – believed that Kelmscott was ‘heaven on earth’, and we would agree. .

Over the past 30 months, a major program of conservation and renovation has been carried out. Practical completion of the investment phase was made possible by a £4.3m grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and £1.3m raised to date through the campaign still ongoing. Kelmscott Manor: Past, Present and Future Campaignwhich continues to actively raise the additional funds needed.

Situated in the charming village of Kelmscott on the River Thames near Lechlade, Kelmscott Manor was built around 1600 using soft Cotswold stone. When William Morris first saw Kelmscott Manor in 1871, he immediately fell in love with its unassuming architecture, as well as the history and scenery of its peaceful rural surroundings. It summed up all his passions – history, nature, archeology and romantic medievalism.


North Granary at Kelmscott Mansion. William Morris wrote in his Gossip about an Old House on the Upper Thames about the attics: “The largest space is open, and it is a fine place for the children to play, and has charming views to the east, west and north: but much of it is too curious to be described.’
– Credit: © Society of Antiquaries of London (Kelmscott Manor) – Chris Challis Photographer

The mansion was duly leased, initially with Morris’ friend and business partner, Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti as a roommate, who later had a romantic relationship with Morris’ wife, Jane. Rossetti, however, left in 1874, much to Morris’ relief. From the start, it became the most beloved country retreat of the Morris family (William, Jane and their two daughters, Jenny and May).

Along with vital structural repairs to the 17th century mansion and its historic farmhouse outbuildings, a new learning and activity studio has been built on the footprint of a pre-existing thatched roof byre, recreating the farmyard closed; visitor facilities have been upgraded and improved, including new exhibition and research spaces created from rooms previously not open to the public; and important surviving furnishings and works of art.


William Morris' bedroom with Lily wallpaper

William Morris’ bedroom with Lily wallpaper. The bed was already in the house when Morris first rented the property
– Credit: © Society of Antiquaries of London (Kelmscott Manor) – Chris Challis Photographer

The wallpaper has been reinstated in several pieces, with each design individually hand printed using the original blocks from the Morris & Co archives. Many designs remain popular today, viz. Fruit seen in Jane Morris’ bedroom, Lily in William Morris’ bedroom, and Daisy on the landing.

Additionally, analysis of long-hidden paint layers provided clues to several of Morris’s various color schemes. These have since been carefully remixed and the spaces repainted. For example, what was always called The Green Room has now been repainted in its original dark green (‘Green Brunswick’, name given to a mixture of Prussian blue and chrome yellow). It was a color that Morris found “restful on the eyes.”


Jane Morris' bedroom at Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds

Jane Morris’ bedroom with Daisy wallpaper. The bed was reupholstered with hangings and a valance using a reproduction of the ‘Single Stem’ textile, an 1829 floral design reprinted for Morris in 1868 when he first considered going into production textile. The bed itself was made around 1830 and was the bed in which William Morris was born at Elm House, Walthamstow on March 24, 1834. May Morris noted that the bed was “given to him by his mother on his arrival at Kelmscott “.
– Credit: © Society of Antiquaries of London (Kelmscott Manor) – Chris Challis Photographer

Kelmscott played a huge role in Morris’ life. It provided him with endless creative inspiration and had a profound influence on his thinking and designs. It was at Kelmscott that Morris formulated his views on a wide variety of subjects, not only interior design, but also craftsmanship, building conservation, social democracy and environmental issues.

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Many of his most popular designs, such as strawberry thief, were directly inspired by Kelmscott’s garden, while his seminal literary work News from nowhere, published in 1890, includes beautiful insightful descriptions of the house and its surroundings. The Kelmscott Press edition (1893) features the mansion’s most famous illustration as a frontispiece.


Frontispiece to William Morris's News from Nowhere

The most famous illustration of Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire, appears on the frontispiece of Morris’ seminal literary work, News from Nowhere.
– Credit: © Society of Antiquaries of London (Kelmscott Manor)

Even after Morris’s death in 1896, his widow Jane and daughters May and Jane Alice continued to rent the mansion, which was later purchased with her estate and additional land by Jane in 1913, shortly before her death in 1914. May Morris moved to Kelmscott permanently in 1923, and for the rest of her life devoted much of her time to the village and the manor.

When May died in 1938, Kelmscott Manor was left to Oxford University. In 1962 the University of Oxford renounced the bequest and ownership was transferred to the Society of Antiquaries of London, who undertook specialist repairs to the building to save it from collapse, before opening it to first-time visitors. Since then, several thousand people from all over the world have flocked to Kelmscott Manor each year, fascinated by the enduring legacy of William Morris.

Kelmscott Mansion, Lechlade GL7 3HJ, kelmscottmanor.org.uk


The Tapestry Room of Kelmscott Manor

The tapestry room. The tapestries – probably of Belgian origin – date from the end of the 17th century and were already in situ when Morris first rented the house. The Spring by Pieter Breughel the Younger hangs above the fireplace (1632). The painting belonged to Rossetti, who called it Tulip Culture; the Morris family called it the tulip garden
– Credit: © Society of Antiquaries of London (Kelmscott Manor) – Chris Challis Photographer

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