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Eleanor

Cotswolds Kelmscott Manor, Gloucestershire

William Morris is regarded by many as one of the most influential designers of the late C19th and was motivated by the desire to provide affordable ‘art for all’. A prominent member of the Arts and Craft Movement, Morris is best known for his wallpaper and fabric designs which are still recognisable today.

Kelmscott Manor was the much loved Country home of the Morris family and was the inspiration of many of his designs. For lovers of Morris, this is an essential visit as the house still contains many of his possessions as well as displays of many of his textile designs.

It is an attractive pale stone building in a lovely setting surrounded by open countryside in the the Upper Thames Valley, on the edge of the Cotswolds. The house was built around 1660 for Thomas Turner, a wealthy yeoman farmer. It is surrounded by a small garden and outbuildings. It stayed in the family for generations before being leased by William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It became Morris’s ‘heaven on earth’ and his country retreat for the rest of his life. After his death, the house was bequeathed to Oxford University and later to the Society of Antiquaries.

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It is a fascinating building with furniture from the Turners as well as an important collection of possessions and works by Morris and his friends. The internal decor is much as it was left by Morris as well as displays of many of his textile designs. It makes a fascinating visit.

Staff are excellent - friendly and welcoming but not pushy. Visits are by free flow with staff in every room. They are knowledgeable and have a reference book to help answer the more obscure questions. Unfortunately photography was not allowed in the house when we visited, but I have tried to find links to pictures on the net for the different rooms.

The gardens have been carefully recreated to something Morris would recognise. Standard roses line the path to the front door. On either side are lawns, flower bed, topiary yew hedge and a small summerhouse in a corner.

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At the back of the house is a mulberry tree and a small orchard with daffodils, grape hyacinths, primroses, cowslips and snakes head fritillaries growing among the grass. Lawns are lined with flower beds with cottage gardens flowers - honesty, pink and yellow primroses, forget-me-knots and hyacinths in flower. They will be followed with bearded irises, Bergenia, geraniums, foxgloves, Sedum spectabile and peonies...

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The tour begins in the SCREENS PASSAGE. As its name suggests, this is a narrow passage lined with wood panelled screen which separated the family accommodation from the kitchen quarters. There were doors at either end. The tour continues into the family rooms and the GREAT HALL This was the original dining room with stone slab floor. The Morrises used it as a sitting room but it later reverted to a dining room. The oak table and chairs belonged to the Turner family. The rush seated ‘Sussex’ chairs were designed by Morris’s friend Philip Webb. His daughter made the mats on the table.

Through the door is the NORTH or GARDEN HALL which has rooms opening off on either side. It contains a lovely high back settle with embossed leather, which was designed for Jane and William Morris when they were first married. The design was very popular and similar settles were sold for over 50 years. The daisy hangings were embroidered by William and Jane.

On the right is the WHITE or PANELLED ROOM with high ceilings and large windows. This was the Turner’s parlour. The fireplace has blue and white patterned tiles and has a large stone mantle with carved fruit garlands and a crest in the centre. It is a comfortable room with a small piano and easy chairs. The japanned corner cupboards are C18th and belonged to Rossetti. On the wall is his large oil painting of Jane Morris.

Off this room is a small CLOSET. This is now a china closet with a display of blue and white patterned china. The black and gold furniture was designed by Philip Webb to complement the japanned cupboards in the white room.

To the right is the GREEN ROOM which was originally the inner parlour but was used as a sitting room by Morris. He mixed the green paint specially to be ‘restful to the eyes’. Jane chose the swan and artichoke tiles for the fireplace. The C17th oak chair beside the fireplace was Jennie, the eldest daughter’s favourite chair.

The MAIN STAIRCASE leads up between the Green Room and North hall. It is a splendid wood staircase with big solid bannisters and bare wood reads. There is a wall clock and a series prints of Lisbon before the great earthquake of 1755.

Above the Green Room is JANE MORRIS’S BEDROOM.This is a cosy room with floorboards, plaster beam ceiling and fireplace. In pride of place is a four poster bed. The hangings and wallpaper are a remarkably modern green leaf design. The small jewel case dating from about 1860 belonged to Jane. It was decorated by Rossetti and his wife Elizabeth. The central panel depicts lovers.

Beyond the staircase is WILLIAM MORRIS’S BEDROOM, again with a four poster bed. This originally belonged to the Turners and was made from recycled newel posts, panels, beams... Morris loved it. The hangings and cover were embroidered by his wife and daughter May. The workmanship is exquisite. The wallpaper is an attractive floral design with bluebells, lilies and carnations. Durer prints, collected by Morris while he was at Oxford, hang on the walls.

Beyond is the TAPESTRY ROOM which was used by Rossetti as a studio. When he left Kelmscott, it became a sitting room. William and May also used it as a working space. The long oak table was designed specially for them by Philip Webb. It was never polished so it could be used for working. The late C17th Portuguese desk has small drawers inlaid with paler olive wood and ivory. The fireplace has blue and yellow or grey patterned tiles. Beside it are a pair of Persian brass peacocks which were used for putting incense or perfumes.

Very narrow OFFSET STAIRS lead up to the ATTICS, still with their cruck beam roofs. Hanging on a wall is ‘If I Can’, Morris’s first embroidery, designed and worked when he was 23. The two GARRET ROOMS were the servant’s quarters. The furniture is painted dark green and is a very functional design by Maddox Brown, described as the ‘Countrified design’. It didn’t take off.

Stairs lead back to the OLD KITCHEN with huge open fireplace and a big working table. It contains examples of Morris’s German stoneware pottery (gres de Flandres) as well as examples of wood carving from the Society of Antiquities collection.

This is a delightful house and well worth visiting even if you aren’t ‘into’ the William Morris connection. It is off the usual tourist beat so is fairly quiet. It makes an enjoyable afternoon out and there is a good tea room. Visitors do need to be aware that parking is close to the church, which is a ten minute walk from the house.

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