Saturday, 6 July 2019

Kelmscott Manor and Buscot

Kelmscott Manor

I have long been fascinated by William Morris and today we made a long-overdue visit to Kelmscott Manor near Lechlade, a house dating from about 1600 which was leased by Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti as a country retreat in 1871. The lease continued long after Morris's death (in 1896) and the house was eventually bought by his widow, Jane, in 1913. Morris's daughter May lived there until her death in 1938. The property was bought by the Society of Antiquaries in 1962 (I don't know what happened in between). It is open to visitors only on Wednesday and Saturday - and closes for restoration work on 31 August 2019.

The car park is some way away from the house, but it means that you start with a pleasant and interesting walk through the village. You first pass the Morris Memorial Hall (1934) commissioned by May Morris, Morris's elder daughter and designed by the Arts & crafts architect Ernest Gimson, but completed fourteen years after his death.

You pass the inviting Plough Inn to pass Memorial Cottages, commissioned by Jane Morris in memory of her husband.

In the centre of the facade is a lovely carved stone panel of Morris, possibly sitting in the garden of the Red House, by George Jack.

After passing a second set of cottages, commissioned by May Morris, but less interesting and harder to see, you reach the complex of buildings around Kelmscott Manor. A very helpful Room Guide, given to all visitors, helps you find your way round. I was surprised by how many interesting items there were to see, starting with the famous hooded settle designed by Phil Webb for the Red House, which Webb also designed for Morris and Jane when they married in 1859.

In the next room, the White Room, were lovely portraits by Rossetti of Jenny and May Morris aged 10 and 9 respectively.

Upstairs William Morris's bedroom had a bedspread designed by May Morris in about 1910 and made by Jane and Augusta de Morgan (sister of William de Morgan, the great tile maker).

After a very enjoyable tour we continued with the second part of our plan: to walk along the Thames to Buscot. This was our first look at the river, rather wider than we expected so near to its source. We were delighted to see a heron fly from one bank to the other.

We followed the riverside path to pass the first of several war time pill boxes.

At a small marina we saw a swan with no less than eight cygnets.

After a couple of miles or so we reached Buscot Lock, spotting as we approached our first Painted Lady of the year (at least in England - we saw extraordinary numbers of them on our recent holiday in Greece).

After crossing the bridge and lock we took a right turn to Buscot Church, following a sign which greatly overstated the distance: it claimed to be half a mile, but seemed to less than half that. The church dates from the 13th century with 15th century additions and 18th century alterations; it was then restored in 1854.

During the 19th century beautiful stained glass designed by Philip Webb for Morris and Co was installed behind in the chancel and elsewhere. This is the Good Shepherd.

Returning to Buscot weir we mistook our way slightly and ended up in Buscot village, which did at least enable us to see its delightful Village Hall of 1897. Behind it is what once was a well and now houses a water fountain.

We walked along the busy A417 for a short way and turned left on to a path which led across several large fields to bring us back to the Thames at the small marina mentioned above.

We completed our walk by visiting the St George's church on the edge Kelmscott where we saw the gravestone of Morris and his family, Jane, Jenny and May.

Conditions: warm, but rather grey.

Distance: about six miles all told.

Rating: four and a half stars. A delightful outing and an ambition fulfilled.

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