3:00 p.m. March 28, 2022
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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