1834-1896 - William Morris
This classic Elizabethan manor house in the Cotswolds was the country home of William Morris. Though better known as an artist and designer - Morris was one of the most influential figures in the Arts and Crafts Movement - he was also a novelist and poet of considerable ability. Kelmscott Manor was built from the local stone, an oolitic limestone, probably around 1570. The twin-gabled block of rooms on the right was added about a century later. The house itself is of great architectural interest, and retains much of its original timberwork and the impressive stone fireplaces. Its interiors are embellished by many examples of work by Morris and his contemporaries. A man of many parts, Morris was an early pioneer in the preservation of historic buildings threatened with 'improvement' or demolition. What special qualities of life would William Morris feel such a house represented?
When Morris died in 1896, his doctor described the cause of death as 'simply being William Morris and having done more work than most ten men'. He was a designer of massive influence; father of the Arts and Crafts Movement; a pioneer of British socialism; founder of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. He championed individuality and despised mass production. He was also a writer of Utopian novels much influenced by medieval romance and a poet of sufficient reputation to have been sounded out by the Prime Minister's office on the possibilities of his succeeding Tennyson as Poet Laureate (he respectfully declined). In 1871 he took as a second home Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire. He never actually owned the house, but leased it from the family whose property it had been since it was built. With its near-perfect encapsulation of the bygone England he so admired, and whose surviving relics he was determined to preserve, it was the antithesis of the values of Victorian industrialism. Morris claimed to have dreamed about Kelmscott long before he actually saw it: 'a heaven on earth; an old stone Elizabethan house, and such a garden!' Not long before he died he wrote of its charming setting: 'Through its south window you catch a glimpse of the Thames clover meadows and the pretty little elm-crowned hill over Berkshire'. He made a woodcut of the house for the frontispiece of the Kelmscott Press edition of his best known novel, News from Nowhere. In this idyllic tale, it becomes the focus of the paradise created by the socialist revolution: 'My hand raised the latch of a door in the wall, and we stood presently on a stone path which led up to the old house... The blackbirds were singing their loudest, the doves were cooing on the roof-edge, the rooks in the high elm trees beyond were garrulous among the young leaves, and the swifts wheeled whining about the gables. Yes, friend', he wrote, 'this is what I came out for to see.'
|1818-1848 - Emily Bronte|