Kelmscott Manor – William Morris’s summer retreat
One damp and misty day last April I made a research visit to Kelmscott Manor, the Cotswold summer retreat of poet, craftsman and socialist William Morris. He lived here between 1871 and his death in 1896. A key figure in the Arts and Crafts movement, Morris championed the principle of hand-made production and designed wallpaper, carpets, textiles, books, embroideries and tapestries.
Kelmscott Manor is a limestone building dating from around 1570 but with a seventeenth century wing. Morris rented the riverside property from the Turner family, initially sharing the tenancy with his friend, painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Kelmscott must have been a delightful home for Morris, his wife and daughters. The rooms are light and spacious for a property of this age and it wasn’t hard to imagine the Morris family and artistic friends involved in earnest discussions about art and design as they walked in the gardens or sat around the fire. The unspoilt authenticity of the house and the peaceful garden and surroundings provided constant design inspiration. Rossetti featured Morris’s wife, Jane, in his painting Water Willow with Kelmscott Manor in the background and Morris’s famous textile design Strawberry Thief came into being after he watched a bird stealing strawberries in the garden.
It wasn’t only the larger rooms that interested me. I was fascinated to visit a delightful courtyard containing the old Brewhouse, where there was not only the vat for brewing beer but the washtub, mangle and bread oven. It occurred to me that this was the equivalent of our modern day utility room!
Upstairs in the manor is Morris’s four poster bed. He constructed this from reclaimed panelling and timber and hung it with tapestries of his poetry, embroidered by his daughter, May. In addition, there were plain, single bedrooms in the huge attics with wonderful exposed beams and views over to the river.
Nearby in the garden was a delightful small building of honey-coloured stone with a pointed roof. Inside was a row of three WC’s – I’m not sure if these were for communal use or if you had to wait your turn!
Despite the damp weather, Kelmscott Manor and village made an interesting day out and if, like me, you are interested in art and design, there will be plenty of inspiration. The Morris family are buried in the twelfth century village church and the gravestone was designed by Arts and Crafts architect, Philip Webb.
Kelmscott Manor’s peaceful gardens are a relaxing place to stroll or sit and include an ancient black mulberry tree that still produces copious quantities of fruit every summer. Oh, and there’s a cafe, too, where you can find very good cake!