Pilgrimage to Kelmscott Manor

It’s been a busy few weeks with lots of culture and funtimes! Firstly, a trip to Kelmscott Manor in the depths of the Cotswolds, home of the great man himself, William Morris. This trip felt a bit like a pilgrimage, to the home of a man I’d only read about in art history books. I was trying to remember my first encounter with Morris but after a bit of internet research I realised that I had totally mis-remembered it! I *thought* that it happened when I was about 11; my class went on a school trip to Uphill Manor in Weston-Super-Mare (a classmate’s family had just bought it – yes, they had just bought a manor). My only recollection of the trip was standing in a room covered in this intensely green and patterned wallpaper. Up until about 15 minutes ago, I thought it was Morris & Co. wallpaper but it turns out it was Pugin!! NOOOOOOO. This is how I’d imagine I’d feel if my parents told me I was adopted.

Anyway, enough about my really bad memory. Kelmscott is a tiny village in Lechlade with a pub and a church; not a shop to be seen! We’d arrived on a slightly overcast (but dry) day, so unfortunately the photographs look a bit dreary. Kelmscott was originally built in around 1600 by a farmer called Thomas Turner (it was called Lower Farm back then). It remained in the family until 1869 when ownership was passed to Charles Hobbs (a cousin) who then put the property up for rent. His most famous tenants? William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The property was their Cotswold retreat, away from the hustle and bustle of London. The Morris family continued to rent the property until 1913 when Jane Morris (William’s widow) was able to purchase it. Today, it is owned and run by the Society of Antiquaries of London who have done a fantastic job of keeping it feeling like a home.

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The interior is laden with, as you’d expect, Morris & Co. wallpaper and textiles, Philip Webb furniture (sold by Morris & Co.), embroideries and tapestries by May Morris and some beautiful portraits by Rossetti, of Morris’s children. There’s even a large Icelandic dragon made from topiary in the garden! The low ceilings on the ground and first floor made the house feel like a home, cosy and intimate. The rooms weren’t particularly large but were beautifully (but not opulently) furnished. The textile and wallpaper patterns echoed the garden and grounds outside that were leafy and lush.

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Can’t beat a bit of Strawberry Thief.

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Examples of original wooden printing blocks, as used by Morris & Co.

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Rossetti, just casual, obvs.

 

For me, the surprise was the attic and the bedrooms up there – the open space was such a contrast to downstairs! And who doesn’t love an exposed beam or 20?! I could imagine the children having fun up there!

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May Morris (William’s youngest daughter) continued living in at Kelmscott after the death of her father, mother and older sister. She was an artist in her own right creating textile works including embroideries and tapestries (there are some stunning examples in the house). Her legacy is not forgotten and she is mentioned throughout the house. There was a touching display about her involvement with the Women’s Institute; she and fellow villager May Elliot Hobbs, helped established the Kelmscott branch of the Women’s Institute back in 1916 (one of the earliest branches – the WI was only set up in 1915). She used the Institute as a platform to voice her concerns which echoed that of her father’s; helping the poor, and raising the voice and profile of women in society.  The display of items from the Kelmscott WI archives demonstrate her commitment to the organisation throughout her life.

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I would highly recommend a day out to Kelmscott and the surrounding villages. I’d only known William Morris as the artist and designer extraordinaire, I had no idea how much of an eco-socialist he was, nor much about his poetry. Seems that there is much more to learn about the polymath that is William Morris!

If you fancy another take on this visit, take a look at Serena Trowbridge’s blogpost!

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