In 1871 William Morris, the internationally-renowned craftsman, designer, author, poet, conservationist, pioneer socialist and widely-regarded as the father of the Arts & Crafts Movement visited Kelmscott Manor and immediately fell in love with it.
Described by Morris as ‘Heaven on earth’, Kelmscott Manor became his home and summer retreat near the source of the River Thames at Lechlade. Originally built as a farmstead dating from around 1600, Morris felt its unpretentious architecture and peaceful rural setting were an idyllic place to stay and, with his friend and business partner the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, they rented it from the estate. Rosetti left after a few years having become romantically involved with Jane (Morris’ wife) and from then on the house remained with the family until 1938 when it was bequeathed to Oxford University.
Over the last couple of years the house and buildings have been subject to a conservation and refurbishment programme. The house has been faithfully restored to include many different wallpapers and paints, printed fabrics and some furniture. Each room has a simple look but it has an amazing feel that, whilst now a bit fresh from renovation, will settle and provide a great insight into how Morris decorated and created his spaces and style. Each room has received subtle detail which enables the elements on display to be presented in an honest and pleasing manner, something that was integral to Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement.
As we moved around the house delightful details emerged like the finial at the top of the newel post on the staircase for instance, hand crafted and wonderfully honest in its presentation so you can feel the hands that created it. All the years of patina have been left intact and just touching it takes you back to much older times.
Upstairs there are some very simple pieces of furniture in the bedrooms as well as antiques. Tapestries adorn the walls and you can imagine on an icy winter’s day feeling snug and warm as the walls blanket and wrap you up and keep the cold out. The house has also benefitted from many new floors, downstairs it is local Oxfordshire stone whilst upstairs the floorboards are elm, very traditional and simply oiled as they would have originally been. In one of the attic rooms we see some very old elm shutters, left as they were, which gives a wonderfully period and correct feel. The house has been sympathetically restored in a beautifully simple manor, nothing is over the top and, in the words of Morris, there is nothing used that is not needed!
Outside, the grounds are ornate but natural, there is a large bed of poppies and cornflowers which won’t flower for long but as it did when we visited it captures that wonderful moment in early summer as the colours burst out and create the most wonderful palette against the adjoining building of stone and oak cladding, against the blue sky. To the side and front of the house are more formal gardens but again the planting is simple and natural, nothing is over manicured and plants are left to grow naturally until the autumn arrives.
Throughout the house and outbuildings lie little gems, like the rustic sink and lead pipe in the brewhouse or the tongue and groove panelling in the stable – so simple and clearly fashioned out of the pieces of wood that were available to minimise waste. In turn this creates odd angles and lines but tells an honest story of the carpenter who made it.
There is so much to see at Kelmscott – well worth a visit as the atmosphere is amazingly peaceful. The pass of water on the edge of the garden, filled by rainwater and overflow from the River Thames leaves you relaxed and grounded next to grass meadows and abundant orchards.