Kelmscott Manor, Gloucestershire
Kelmscott Manor in Gloucestershire is undergoing a major programme of restoration and The Country Houses Foundation are contributing to vital work to repair the roof under whose ancient timbers, in William Morris’ words, “the tillers and herdsmen slept".
There are not many buildings in Britain that have had as strong an impact on British artistic life as Kelmscott Manor. The house and garden were the country retreat of William Morris, designer, socialist, conservationist, writer and leading light of the Arts & Crafts movement. Morris took a joint lease with his friend, the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, in 1871. While Morris was to take inspiration from the house’s rural setting and the flora and fauna of the countryside around, Rossetti’s inspiration came from Morris’ wife, Jane, with whom he was conducting an affair. When Morris travelled to Iceland, he left Rosetti and Jane to organise and decorate the house so that Jane became the inspiration and model for some of Rossetti’s most celebrated paintings.
Morris’ daughter May continued to live at Kelmscott Manor after her father’s death and became a celebrity in her own right. From her mother, she inherited a talent for needlework and was an influential embroiderer and designer, founding the Women’s Guild of Arts in 1907. After her death, Kelmscott Manor was preserved by first Oxford University and now, by the Society of Antiquaries for public enjoyment.
Kelmscott Manor was built about 1570 from local limestone and, with its secluded gardens, is highly evocative of an England that Morris felt was disappearing in the face of industrial progress. It fitted perfectly with his ideas on the importance of traditional craft skills and the influence of nature. The interiors have changed little since Morris’s time and still retain many of his wallpapers, textiles and furniture. Rossetti also contributed his taste to the interiors and there are furnishings designed by many of the key figures of the Arts & Crafts movement. As a vision of a vanishing England and of Victorian style at its most simple, Kelmscott Manor is extraordinary; it is no surprise that Will Gompertz, the BBC’s Arts Editor has just chosen it as one of Historic England’s 100 Irreplaceable Places.