Monday, August 12, 2013

Kelmscott Manor: Heaven on Earth

Of all the grand manor homes I have seen so far in Great Britain,  Kelmscott Manor is my favorite.  It was the home of William Morris, poet, craftsman and socialist, from 1871 until his death in 1896.

Originally called Lower Farm, the house was built around 1600 for Thomas Turner and belonged to the Turners until 1869.  It was then bought by Charles Hobbs who, in 1871, rented it to William Morris and Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  It was, in Morris' words, "as heaven on earth" and became a source of inspiration and pleasure for the rest of his life.

 What I love about Kelmscott is it's simplicity and fine craftsmanship.  It is not a fancy or grand home-- it is uncomplicated and beautifully designed and crafted with simple pleasures like many windows that let in natural light, welcoming fireplaces, a wide open attic that is any child's fantasy play space, and of course, filled with the stunning designs of William Morris and his family. I'm sorry I was not allowed to take photos of the inside of the house.  It is simply beautiful and beautifully simple!

From the Kelmscott website: "Morris loved the house as a work of true craftsmanship, totally unspoilt and unaltered, and in harmony with the village and the surrounding countryside. He considered it so natural in its setting as to be almost organic, it looked to him as if it had "grown up out of the soil"; and with "quaint garrets amongst great timbers of the roof where of old times the tillers and herdsmen slept". Its beautiful gardens, with barns, dovecote, a meadow and stream, provided a constant source of inspiration"

The village of Kelmscott is also a delightful. Not far down the lane from the Morris home are two cottages (semi-detached) designed by Philip Webb (commissioned by William's widow, Jane) in 1902.

Kelmscott is in fact the only true Thames-side village in West Oxfordshire. There is no through route through the village, which makes it a very quiet village. It is a gem of a English country village.

On the side of one of the cottages in the town, overlooking the road, is the famous carved stone plaque designed by George Jack, depicting Morris under a tree in the meadow.

William Morris, his wife Jane and children Jenny and May are buried in the grounds of St George's church, Kelmscott. After visiting Kelmscott, I am an even greater fan of William Morris and his contribution to the Arts and Crafts movement.

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful,
or believe to be beautiful.William Morris 

'For the Bed at Kelmscott'
by William Morris

The wind's on the wold
And the night is a-cold,
And Thames runs chill
Twixt mead and hill,
But kind and dear
Is the old house here,
And my heart is warm
Midst winter's harm.
Rest then and rest,
And think of the best

Twixt summer and spring
When all birds sing 
In the town of the tree,
As ye lie in me
And scarce dare move
Lest earth and its love
Should fade away
Ere the full of the day.
I am old and have seen
Many things that have been,
Both grief and peace,
And wane and increase.

No tale I tell
Of ill or well,
But this I say,
Night treadeth on day,
And for worst and best
Right good is rest.

If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.  ~ William Morris

“...I do not want art for a few; any more than education for a few; or freedom for a few... ”  William Morris

With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on.” 

“We are only the trustees for those who come after us.” 

William Morris

1 comment:

  1. I had never seen the carved stone plaque on the side of one of the cottages in the town. In depicting Morris under a tree in the meadow, George Jack showed that Morris' influence spread wider than the textiles and wall papers inside Kelmscott Manor.

    Thanks for the link