Friday, 27 September 2013

❉ William Morris's home ❉ Kelmscott Manor ❉ Gloucestershire ❉

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The frontispiece of the Kelmscott Press Edition of 'News from Nowhere' was based on a drawing by Charles Gere. William Morris designed the type and ornamental borders.
When we sat beside the River Thames recently, enjoying our picnic lunch and contemplating William Morris's home in the meadows beyond the trees, we never envisaged that we would be back here quite so soon. A good friend and her husband, who are volunteers at the Manor, kindly gave us a pair of complimentary tickets - thank you very much M & C.
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Unlike Wightwick Manor which is packed full of Arts and Crafts treasurers, Kelmscott, in comparison, is verging on being 'minimalist'. The walls are white or cream, the flooring is stone flagged or wooden with just an occasional rug scattered over them. Some of the rooms have WM wallpaper but most do not.
To keep the village of Kelmscott free of traffic, visitors park their cars in a nearby field, and then take a pleasant 10 minute walk to the house. 
Passing walls made from old stone slabs.
It was a misty September morning when we arrived, but soon turned into a warm sunny day.
In front of the 17th century Plough Inn stands the remains of a medieval cross stump. Probably a meeting place before the 12th century church was built.
William Morris Memorial Hall
The William Morris Memorial Hall was built with funds raised by his daughter May. She asked Ernest Gimson - a Cotswolds Arts & Crafts designer/architect, and influenced by WM,  to design the building, but Ernest died before building work commenced. The building was taken on by another Cotswold Arts & Crafts architect, Norman Jewson, who had been a pupil of Gimson's at Sapperton. Sapperton is just across the valley from our home.
Many of the establishment flocked to Kelmscott for the opening of the hall in 1934, including the Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald. The hall was officially opened by George Bernard Shaw, reflecting Morris's Socialist connections.
Just before reaching Kelmscott Manor, you pass a pair of Wm Morris memorial cottages commissioned by Jane following his death. The stone carving was done by George Jack from a drawing by Morris's great friend, and architect, Philip Webb, who also designed the cottages.
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The Blue Silk Dress - William Morris commissioned Dante Gabriel Rossetti to paint Jane. It is considered his most reknown portrait, and perhaps conveys elements of his own feelings towards her. The Latin couplet at the top of the painting reads - Famed by her poet husband and surpassing fame for her beauty. Now let her win lasting fame by my painting.
We were fortunate to see this painting as it is regularly out on loan.
On one of the Manor walls are several Albrecht Dürer engravings. The German painter, engraver, printmaker, from Nuremberg who was greatly admired by WM.
William Morris writing to Charles Faulkner 1871
"I have been looking about for a house for the wife and kids, and whither do you guess my eye is turned  now? Kelmscott, a little village about two miles above Radcot Bridge - a heaven on earth; an old stone Elizabethan house... and such a garden! Close down on the river, a boat house and all things handy. I am going there again on Saturday with Rossetti and my wife: Rossetti because he thinks of sharing it with us if the thing looks likely..."
Morris initially took a 2 year lease on the property, which he extended to 20 years, but following his death, Jane had an opportunity to purchase the manor. When Jane died it became home to their daughter May. She left it to Oxford University with various restrictive stipulations and the house fell into disrepair. In 1962 it finally became the property of the Society of Antiquaries of London, who have painstakingly restored it.
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In the house is a large collection of WM's Iznik pottery from Turkey and Syria which he loved. The designs of this pottery greatly influenced his friend and potter, William De Morgan.
There are quite a few of WM's embroidery hangings on the walls including the very first piece he did when he was just 23 years old.
Inspiration for Strawberry Thief design came to WM when he was watching thrushes stealing fruit in this garden. 
I wondered whether the profusion of willow trees growing along the Thames tributary through his garden had played any influence on his design for Willow.
The interior of the Manor remains hidden from my camera, but I hope that I have created a feeling for the outside space and garden, including a portrayal of the surrounding area in which the Manor is located. 
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In a simple tomb, designed by Philip Webb, the design reflecting several medieval tombs within the churchyard at Kelmscott, lies William, his wife Jane, and their two daughters.
SOCIALIST ❉ WRITER ❉ DESIGNER ❉ CRAFTSMAN 
❉ ENVIRONMENTALIST 

61 comments:

  1. What a fabulous and fascinating post Rosemary. I learn so much visiting you! x

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    1. Thank you Suzy - pleased that you enjoyed the post.

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  2. Wonderful post and I've learned so much more about WM. Have always been amazed by his designs transferred to wallpaper and fabrics - from the complicated exotics such as Strawberry Thief to the delicate designs like Willow - all which I love. The Iznik pottery is beautiful, can imagine him being inspired by that also.

    Thankfully the beautiful house and splendid gardens have been saved and are now well cared for - can imagine this was a fabulous day out in the countryside and a perfect day weatherwise. I've never seen walls built of standing stone slabs like that, awesome! Love the view from beneath the grape arbor, also the little Summerhouse. Lovely, lovely gardens.

    Glad you enjoyed it all and thanks for bringing it back to show us through your great pics Rosemary.
    Have a great weekend.
    Hugs - Mary

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    1. Thank you Mary for your very kind comments - I think that you would probably enjoy a visit there yourself - may be when you return back for a holiday sometime.
      I have seen the old stone slab walls in other parts of the Cotswold but not in such a large quantity.

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  3. How wonderful to see the country house of William Morris, Rosemary. Strawberry Thief is a design I particularly love, and we can see how the garden was an inspiration to him. Love that Rossetti painting, one I am not familiar with; how brilliantly painted is that blue dress - amazing! The tomb is surprisingly simple, isn't it. Great post!

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    1. I agree Patricia, the blue silk dress is exquisitely painted by Rossetti. The painting belongs with the house, but as I mentioned it does spend quite a lot of time travelling the world - may be it will visit Australia sometime in the future!
      The tomb is very simple, but I think that fits in William Morris's ethos.

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  4. Love it, love it, love it! Your photos are great and your post very interesting as always. Love it!

    Marina

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    1. Such a very kind comment Marina which I appreciate - thank you.

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  5. Dear Rosemary, This is such a wonderful treat for me. I have always admired William Morris and his designs. Although I have several design books by William Morris, I didn't know much about his life and style of living. Thank you for telling his story with such beautiful photographs. Your feature (first) photograph is especially pleasing. ox, Gina

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    1. Dear Gina - the first photo is made up of fruits from WM's garden and the central picture a field on the edge of Kelmscott. So pleased that you enjoyed finding out a little more about WM.

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  6. Dear Rosemary,

    I have long been an admirer of William Morris, as I've mentioned before. Some years ago, I worked through a grant at a hot metal printing press, and had the opportunity to organize an exhibition on William Morris. I was in contact with Arthur Sanderson & Sons, Ltd., who were most cooperative. I still have one of their catalogs, which I value for a very particular reason — it shows Morris wallpaper samples as they would look covering an entire wall, thus giving one a clearer vision of the repeats.

    I can understand why Morris would not have featured much wallpaper in his own house. Besides it being a matter of bringing work home with him, I'm sure his favorite wallpaper was always the next design!

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    1. Dear Mark - although Kelmscott is on my doorstep I haven't been to the house for about 20 years. When I last visited very few rooms were open, but now all of the rooms have been restored and can be visited.
      I can imagine that WM would probably have thought that an Elizabethan house was not necessarily suited to his wallpapers, they lend themselves much more to the Victorian house. Jane's bedroom features willow on all of the walls and her fourposter bed is also done in willow, but being a delicate pattern it is not overwhelming.
      We arrived very early, before anyone else, and I could imagine bumping into WM as we wandered around the garden.

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  7. That is beautiful, all of it. I always like your photos.
    At least Jane hasn't got that real red hair :) My sons 'had' red hair or different shades, but now as adults gone darker.

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    1. Jane never had red hair it was all in the imaginations of the 'Brotherhood'. She had thick glossy black hair, but even on this painting Rossetti couldn't resist just a small hint of red.

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  8. My dearest Rosemary ,what a great post !You had a lovely and interesting walk and you gave the feeling that this house was a lovely place to live a multi talented personality !! Thank you that I learned today for this English textile designer ,writer and socialist men .

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    1. Dear Olympia - we had a lovely day for this visit. I went to the manor many, many years ago, so it was lovely to familiarise myself with it again.

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  9. What a lovely countryhouse! Thank you for showing this all to us, Rosemary. Happy weekend!

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    1. I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing Kelmscott Manor Satu - thank you.

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  10. What a nice house, but that women with the red hair, is the same as youre older post... in this picture she looked pretty. (better)
    Have a nice weekend Rosemary.

    Greetings,
    Inge, my choice

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    1. You are right Inge - it is Jane Morris again - this time looking more like she did. The other painting was a mismatch having two artists working on it with many intervening years between the two painting dates.

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  11. I was tempted to ask after your last post whether you had been to Kelmscott. It is a beautiful house and village. I can quite understand how he got inspiration from living there.

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    1. Dear Jessica - I think that it must be at least 20 years since I last visited Kelmscott, so as you can probably imagine it has altered, but for better. I seem to remember that it was only partially open previously, but now the whole house is open, and has been done very well.

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  12. Rosemary, Thank you for such a lovely post the house and garden and village look so beautiful. It was so interesting finding out all about it.
    Sarah x

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    1. Dear Sarah - we were very fortunate to be given tickets by our friends which we really enjoyed. Having visited such a long time ago, I was pleased to see how much more of the house is now open, and also how beautifully it has been done.
      It is an interesting visit to make.

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  13. Another wonderful and enlightening post Rosemary. Apart from the great photos and interesting commentary I was fascinated by the excerpt from the letter mentioning "wife and kids" and wonder how long the term "kids" for children has been in use. I had imagined it to be 20th century.

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    1. You are right Susan - the wording struck me as being rather incongruous too. I took a photo of the wording whilst at Kelmscott and copied it onto the post.
      Glad that you enjoyed the post.

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  14. I'm learning so much more about William Morris from your wonderful posts, Rosemary. That stretch of the Thames looks beautiful with views across the meadows. I love all the stone buildings, too - especially the Manor. A lovely old village, traffic-free - sounds like my kind of place!

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    1. Keeping visitors cars out of the village is very important. Although the house is only open twice a week, and will be shut from the end of October, it is not a show village but a place were people live and work and get on with their lives.

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  15. We loved our visit to Kelmscott Manor this year - your lovely photos bring it all back to me. We wondered if the walls inside were so white and minimalist in Morris's day.

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    1. We did question that ourselves, but thinking back to a visit we made, albeit many years ago, to the Red House, the walls there are also mainly white. May be when you have designed something yourself, you don't necessarily want it hanging all around you!!!

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  16. stunning shots....love the plate and those lichen slabs!!

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    1. Dear Sharon - the lichen covered stone slab walls were, I believe, quite unusual, but looked attractive. Thank you for your kind comment and visit.

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  17. Beautiful! I love that photo of the mist on the field.

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    1. I was actually rather disappointed that the day commenced misty for my photos, but in fact a bit of mist has add an atmospheric touch to them. Thank you - pleased that you enjoyed the post.

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  18. Such stunning photos of an idyllic place , everything I love about England , and so interesting to get a peek into william Morris's life.Have a nice sunday.

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    1. Thank you Jane - it is a pity I could not show the inside of the Manor, but pleased that you enjoyed seeing Kelmscott.

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  19. Many thanks for another glorious post, Rosemary. I haven't visited Kelmscott, but the manor is just the kind of domestic architecture I love, so it's now on my list. I have however seen and handled a couple of Kelmscott Press books in my time.

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    1. Only a facsimile Kelmscott Press book for me Perpetua.
      It is many years since I first visited - I think about 20 - it now greatly improved.
      It is a good idea to get there early so that you can wander around the gardens first of all, and have them all to yourself.

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  20. I am a fan of William Morris, so thank you for this post, rosemary. Today I was wearing William Morris blouse by chance. Living in such a lovely countryside, he must have gotten inspiration from the nature all around as your fabulous photos show.

    Morning mist in autumn assures sunny daytime in my part of the world. I like the aerial factors like rain or mist in your photography.

    Yoko

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    1. Dear Yoko - at the moment we are enjoying a lovely warm autumn - soft gentle weather with a little mist at the beginning of the day - long may it continue.
      There were several Japanese tourists at Kelmscott on the day I visited - they seemed to be enjoying WM's home.

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  21. Hello Rosemary, I can see how William Morris would have been inspired with a house and garden like that. I wonder what kinds of restrictions were placed on Oxford that they were able not to use it at all. Perhaps it caused a situation of benign neglect, preventing them from making major changes.

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    1. Hello Jim - May Morris left Kelmscott and its estate to Oxford University naming the Society of Antiquaries as residuary legatee. The provisions of her will stipulated that the Manor should become a house of rest for artists, men of letters etc. on the one hand and on the other an unchanged memorial to her father. These provisions were seen by the University to be in conflict. It proved difficult to maintain the property with the funds provided in the will and the estate income was inadequate. Moreover the restrictive provisions of the will with regard to Kelmscott's historic furnishings were not found to be consistent with a marketable lease. The estate having thus become a liability, the University issued a summons against the Society of Antiquaries named in the will as residuary legatee.
      In 1962 Mr. Justice Plowman ruled that the ownership of Kelmscott devolved upon the Society of Antiquaries but, accepting the arguments of the Society's barrister, declared the charitable provisions of May's bequest to Oxford University invalid. In this way the estate passed to the S of A free of the restrictions that had complicated its ownership for the University.
      I got this information from a Kelmscott Manor and Estate Consultation document.

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  22. It is difficult to work with green elements but you made a very good serie.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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  23. I enjoyed this post very much and find myself aching to be in a place that I have not yet seen in person. The Cotswolds, in general, has an almost fairytale romance about it and William Morris's famous line about what one should have in one's home comes to mind.

    -Karen

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    1. Dear Karen - thank you for your visit. I fell under the spell of the Cotswolds before we moved here - I love the way that man has added to the countryside and not detracted from it, using the local stone for walls and houses.

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  24. Hello dear Rosemary,
    Late with my comment.
    Its taking me a time to get around to everryone. I seem to be a little slower these days.
    What a wonderful post about WM. His home is stunning.. Kelmscott.. You do indeed describe the cotswolds so well .. when i read about the area, its like being in a fairy tale.
    I love the arbour entrance to the house.
    The painting of Jane.. i am speechless that stunning midnight blue satin.. the whole painting is electrifying.
    It must have been so exciting to be inside his home.. nice gift from your friends.
    What i like about that area ..It seems that lots of the old homes are well preserved. Very wonderful gesture of May to give the home to the antiquary society.
    I love the little saying from Pooh.. at the foot of your blog.
    Thank you for sharing this.. as always i become enthralled with your wonderful posts.
    A very big thank you of appreciation for your kind words on the death of my sweet lady. She is in my front garden now..and i am at peace..and she is too.
    xxx

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    1. Dear Val - I was very sad for you when I learnt about your little dog. I am pleased that you have found a little spot close to you for her to rest.
      We had a lovely day at Kelmscott - started off warm and misty, which looked very peaceful early in the morning, then as the day broke through the sun came out and blue skies emerged.
      Lovely to have you back, you have been missed.

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  25. Dear Rosemary,
    I do love Kelmscott. Thank you for reminding me of how lovely it is. Its a shame one cannot take photos in the interior but that is probably for the best.
    Kirk
    PS
    Have you read William Morris' book?

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    1. Dear Kirk - I have read Fiona MacCarthy's tome on William Morris - is that the book you are referring to?

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  26. Hello dear Rosemary,
    another beautiful house with an interesting story. The nature around it is just so beautiful with all those autumn colours. love the painting and (especially the patterns)

    lots of love

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    1. Dear Demie - what a treat to hear from you, you have made my day. I do hope that everything is going well for you and that you are really enjoying your art course.

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  27. Both house and village look beautiful and well worth a visit. Very interesting post as always.

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    1. Dear Paula - you must visit - however, sadly it is not NT. It is not far from you, just down towards Lechlade and you are nearly there.

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  28. Fascinating post Rosemary. What a charming home for the Morris family. The portrait of Jane is lovely indeed. Olive

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    1. Dear Olive - we enjoyed such a lovely day at WM's house taking a picnic with us to enjoy in the garden. The painting of Jane is rather special, the silk fabric is so exquisitely painted.

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  29. I must fit in a visit to at least one Arts and Crafts house while in England next year. Really don't know which to choose. Of course if it were up to me the trip would be equally divided between houses and gardens but I have to consider my travelling companion.

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    1. Dear Susan - if you let me know where you will be during your visit, perhaps I could give you some suggestions as to which houses and gardens might be the nearest for you to choose from for a visit.

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  30. Wonderful pictures of this place I would like to visit one day. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Thank you for your visit - I do hope that you will the opportunity to visit at some time in the future.

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  31. Hi Rosemary,
    I would love to live there. It looks so pretty.
    From: Bea Cupcake

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