Morris’s Cotswolds ‘heaven on earth’ to get £6m upgrade

Kelmscott Manor, the inspirational Cotswolds retreat of William Morris and his family, has opened for its last season before the start of a £6m project to secure its future.

The manor, which Morris called his “heaven on earth”, will close in September for 18 months to allow the conservation and repair of the 17thcentury farm buildings and Grade I listed manor house. There is also to be a thatched learning space built in the farmyard, and new exhibition spaces to show items from the collections of the Society of Antiquaries, which now owns Kelmscott, as well as loans from national museums and galleries. A wing is to be converted to a research centre.

Kelmscott Manor was Williams Morris’s country home from 1871 until his death in 1896, and he drew great inspiration from the unspoilt authenticity of the house's architecture and craftsmanship. The manor is featured in Morris' famous work News from Nowhere. It also appears in the background of Water Willow, a portrait of Morris’s wife, Jane, painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1871.

In 1938 his daughter May left the house to Oxford University, on the basis the contents were preserved, and the public given access, but it was passed to the Society of Antiquaries in 1962, which is now campaigning to raise the final £500,000 needed.

It was in a dangerously dilapidated state, however, and the society undertook an extensive programme of work to repair and conserve the property. The internal decor today is substantially that of Morris and includes many of his famous textile patterns as well as much of his furniture.

“The aim of the project is to enable visitors to participate personally in a practical demonstration of the Society’s own dynamic engagement with the past” said the society’s president Paul Drury. “This takes as its starting-point the very reasons why Morris himself loved Kelmscott’s unpretentious antiquity and rural tranquillity. History, art, architecture, archaeology and ancient landscapes are academic disciplines at the heart of the society. They and Kelmscott inspired William Morris, and through Kelmscott they will inspire future generations.”

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