7th May 2019
On the 10th May 1871, Morris wrote to Edith Marion Story to let her know he was looking for “a little house out of London” for his family to live in and enjoy. By the 16th May, Fairfax Murray wrote in his diary that he, “breakfasted with Mr Morris. Went with him to Faringdon, lunched at Lechlade and drove over to Kelmscott to look at a house and returned in the evening.”
On the 17th May 1871, Morris wrote to his friend Faulkner and – as far as we know from his surviving records – this is the first time he wrote about Kelmscott Manor. He described the home as “a heaven on earth; an old stone Elizabethan house like Water Eaton, and such a garden! close down on the river, a boat house and all things handy.”
He signed the lease with friend Dante Gabriel Rossetti – though left soon after they moved in for Iceland, leaving his wife Jane and Rossetti to decorate and spend the Summer together. They were involved in an affair and so this makes sense as to why he left so soon afterwards.
Morris loved the house because it was a physical representation of everything he stood for. At the time the area was completely undeveloped, a little haven away from London and a true Arts & Crafts style house. He thought that is looked like it had, “grown up out of the soil,” so in harmony was it with it’s surroundings. The entire house just encapsulated completely his entire aesthetic and passions; the house, gardens, streams, meadows and barns all served as a huge source of inspiration for the rest of his life.
After Morris himself passed away, Jane purchased the home and though she never returned after she bought it, their daughter May spent much of her adult life living here. If you visit, you can find the headstones to show the entire family; William, Jane and their two children Jenny and May buried nearby in the churchyard of St George’s Church. That shows what an affiliation he had with Kelmscott that he wished to be buried here, where he felt so at home and inspired.
We love visiting Kelmscott, it’s so clear to see why Morris loved it here. The now Grade One listed Manor house still contains an incredible amount of treasures of Morris’s which includes stunning textiles and wallpaper which we especially love to see. The Society of Antiquities owns the property and has lottery funding to preserve the house, so it’s amazing to visit, remember to check out the gift shop where you can find a collection of our William Morris products!