Wednesday, May 23, 2012

2012 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Society’s ownership of Kelmscott Manor

[Kelmscott Manor, News From Nowhere, William Morris]

2012 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Society’s ownership of Kelmscott Manor

It was owned by a family of yeoman farmers, the Turners, who had lived there for 300 years, creating an ensemble of attractive grey limestone buildings beside a canal from the nearby Thames, dug to transport their produce and materials.

Morris began renting Kelmscott as a summer retreat in 1871. It embodied his utopian ideals, summed up in News From Nowhere. The novel describes a future world (imagined as 1952) in a journey on the Thames from Hammersmith to Kelmscott, where there is equality for men and women, work is a pleasure, and the land is fruitful – in short, a kind of Eden. Published by Morris's Kelmscott Press in Hammersmith, it depicts the house as its frontispiece.

May was nine years old when she first visited Kelmscott Manor, and she at once took to country life.

After Morris's death in 1861, Jane bought the property from the Turners, and when she died, May, a successful designer with an unsuccessful marriage behind her, took up residence in the house. She lived there for the rest of her life with her companion, a down-to-earth local landgirl called Mary Lobb, who thought William Morris 'a dreadful old bore'. Together they made a trip to Icelend, retracing the steps of Morris who had visited there in 1871 when he was translating the Icelandic sagas into English.

May bequeathed the Kelmscott estate to Oxford University to be used 'as a house of rest for artists, men of letters, scholars and men of science', and kept it in the condition her father had left it, with no modern improvements. The property subsequently passed to the Society of Antiquaries, to which Morris himself had belonged and, with the help of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, which he had founded, a major overhaul of the building was undertaken in the 1960s.

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