Kelmscott Manor reopens to the public on 1 April 2022
The idyllic country home of William Morris (1834–96),
the internationally renowned craftsman, designer, author, poet, conservationist and pioneer socialist
Reopens to the public on 1 April 2022
after a major £6 million National Lottery Heritage funded
conservation and refurbishment project,
including the addition of new educational and public recreational spaces
Part of the ongoing
Kelmscott Manor: Past Present & Future Campaign
William Morris’s “heaven on earth” is secured for the benefit of future generations
The doors of Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire the beloved country home of William Morris, the internationally-renowned craftsman, designer, author, poet, conservationist, pioneer socialist, widely regarded as the father of the Arts & Crafts Movement, will finally reopen its doors to the public on Friday 1 April 2022, having been closed since 2019.
During the past 30 months a major conservation and refurbishment programme has been achieved. Practical completion of the capital phase was made possible by a £4.3 million grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and £1.3 million raised to date from the still on-going Kelmscott Manor: Past Present & Future Campaign, which continues to actively raise additional necessary funds. (*Please see notes to editors).
Situated in the charming village of Kelmscott located on the river Thames, near Lechlade, Kelmscott Manor was built around 1600 using mellow Cotswold stone. When William Morris first viewed Kelmscott Manor in 1871 he fell instantly in love with its unpretentious architecture, together with the history and landscape of its gentle rural environment. It encapsulated all his passions – history, nature, archaeology and romantic medievalism.
The Manor was duly rented, initially together with Morris’s friend and business partner the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti as co-tenant, who was then romantically involved with Morris’s wife, Jane. Rossetti, however, left in 1874, much to Morris’s relief. From the outset it became the Morris family’s (William, Jane and their two daughters, Jenny and May) much loved country retreat.
Aside from vital structural repairs to the 17th century manor house and its historic farm outbuildings, a new learning and activity studio has been built on the footprint of a pre-existing thatched byre, recreating the enclosed farmyard; visitor facilities have been upgraded and improved, including new exhibition and research spaces created from rooms previously not open to the public; and significant furniture and artworks conserved.
Moreover by using the wealth of vivid first-hand contemporary accounts and photographs, the interior rooms of the Manor have been redisplayed and reinterpreted to provide the visitor with a more authentic impression of how they would have been in the Morris family’s day.
Wallpaper has been reinstated in several rooms with each design individually printed by hand using the original blocks from the Morris & Co archives. Many of the designs remain popular today namely Fruit which is seen in Jane Morris’s bedroom, Lily in William Morris’s room and Daisy on the landing.
In addition analysis of long hidden paint layers has provided clues to several of Morris’s different colour schemes. These have since been carefully re-mixed and the spaces repainted. For example what was always referred to as The Green Room has now been repainted in its original, dark green (‘Brunswick Green’, the name given to a blend of Prussian blue and chrome yellow). This was a colour, which Morris found ‘restful to the eyes’.
The rich variety of furniture, objects and paintings have also been redistributed in the period spaces, and placed back into positions they would have had during the Morris family’s time.
Dr Kathy Haslam, Curator Kelmscott Manor, explains: “We have not attempted to replicate a particular moment in time in redisplaying the period rooms, but rather to recreate the spaces as they would have been known to members of the Morris family over their 67-year association with the Manor based on evidence available. Every new placement of furniture and objects, together with each new paint colour or choice of wallpaper has been informed by visual or written sources consulted during extensive research. As a result the house feels more home-like. In addition, our new interpretation enables us to explore more people, themes and narratives than before”.
Among the most notable paintings to have been reinstated at Kelmscott Manor is The Blue Silk Dress by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–82). This is perhaps the most iconic portrait of Morris’s wife Jane, painted in 1868 by Rossetti. Jane was one of Rossetti’s favourite models and most important muse and it was at Kelmscott that that one of the most complex three sided love affairs in art history unfolded.
The furniture and objects to be seen at Kelmscott include pieces made or collected by the Morris family or their friends. For instance the painted settle and a robust oak Gothic Revival style round table were designed by the architect Philip Webb for the Morris’s first home Red House. Both items were once at the family’s London home, Kelmscott House in Hammersmith, before being brought to Kelmscott Manor. Several artworks were also originally in the possession of Rossetti and remained at Kelmscott after Rossetti left.
A number of examples of Islamic metalwork are evidence of Morris’s interest and passion for the decorative arts of the Middle East, while several pieces from Iceland are a reminder of the profound influence that the country had on Morris as well as his daughter May.
Some 17th century furniture, from the previous owners, was already in the house when Morris first rented the property and remains in the house to this day, including the bed in which William Morris slept.
Wherever possible during the recent refurbishment programme every effort has been taken to maintain and safeguard the unique character and essence of the Manor, the original farm buildings and their natural environment. All the work has been sympathetically undertaken using the finest appropriate materials and with an eye to detail. There has been no over-enthusiastic restoration of these historic buildings – a practice, which Morris abhorred and led to his founding the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877.
Kelmscott played a huge part in Morris’s 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 wide-ranging subjects, not just interior-design but also craft-based work, building conservation, social democracy and environmental issues.
Many of his most popular designs such as Strawberry Thief were directly inspired by the garden at Kelmscott, whilst his seminal literary work News from Nowhere, published in 1890, includes beautiful, perceptive descriptions of the house and its surroundings. The Kelmscott Press edition (1893), features the most famous illustration of the Manor as its frontispiece.
Even after Morris’s death in 1896, his widow Jane and his daughters May continued to rent the Manor House, which was subsequently purchased together with its 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.
On May’s death in 1938 Kelmscott Manor was left to Oxford University. In 1962 Oxford University gave up the bequest and ownership passed to the Society of Antiquaries of London, which undertook specialist repairs on the building to save it from collapse, before opening it to visitors for the first time. Since then many thousands of people from all over the world have annually flocked to Kelmscott Manor, fascinated by the enduring legacy of William Morris.
Fifty-six years on, the recently completed, far more extensive refurbishment programme is evidence of the Society’s continued commitment to maintaining the fabric of Kelmscott’s historic buildings and collections, whilst keeping alive the conservation ethos pioneered by Morris.
John Lewis, General Secretary of the Society of Antiquaries of London, said: “William Morris’s love of history and the physical remains of the past profoundly influenced his creativity. Our revitalised Kelmscott will explore and share the history of the estate and house through the core disciplines of the Society and through the eyes of William Morris as an Antiquary and Fellow of our Society.
“The recent major refurbishment project and the on-going Kelmscott Manor: Past Present & Future Campaign has ensured that William Morris’s beloved “heaven on earth” is preserved for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations.”
Notes to Editors:
Kelmscott Manor reopens to the public on Friday 1 April 2022
Monday and Tuesday:
School parties only with prior arrangement
Coach Parties with prior arrangement
Thursday, Friday and Saturday – 10.30am to 5.00pm. Last entry to Manor house 4pm.
General public – pre-booking on line is advisable – bookings are now being taken.
Sunday – closed
Adults: £12 (Standard) £13.20 (GiftAid)
Concessions (Students and children 5 – 16) £7 (Standard) £7.70 (GiftAid)
Family (2 adults & 2 Children) £29 (Standard) £31.90 (GiftAid)
Ticket price includes access to Manor house, meadows and formal gardens.
Toilets, Licensed Tearoom, Gift Shop.
The Manor house has step free access to the ground floor rooms only, all other buildings have step free access. Accessible toilet available.
A new designated parking area has been instigated keeping vehicles away from the Manor House Estate and ensuring the protection of the historic buildings and natural environment of the village of Kelmscott.
A new guidebook written by the celebrated architectural and art historian Jeremy Musson will be available in the Shop and online. The new book will expand the history of the site and include the wider Morris family, featuring Jane, May and Jenny, as well as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the servants.
Tel: 01367 252486
*Kelmscott Manor: Past Present & Future Campaign:
A combined total of £5.6 million has been raised so far (£4.3 million grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and £1.3 million raised to date from the on-going Kelmscott Manor: Past Present & Future Campaign). The Campaign, however, continues to actively seek Companions of Kelmscott Manor (£500) and Benefactors (£5000) and contributions of any amount to help deliver new activities for visitors and learning opportunities for schools.
The Society of Antiquaries of London:
The Society of Antiquaries of London is a UK registered charity and is Britain’s oldest learned society concerned with the study of the material culture of the past. Founded in 1707, its Royal Charter of 1751 defines the Society’s aim as ‘the encouragement, advancement and furtherance of the study and knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other countries’. The Society supports the Fellowship today in conservation and research, communicating knowledge of the past to the widest possible audience. The Society occupies historic purpose-built apartments in Burlington House, Piccadilly. www.sal.org.uk
The National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund uses money raised by players of the National Lottery to inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future.
For further information and images please contact:
Amanda Stücklin Tel: 07789 007780 E: Amanda@stucklin.com