Open during the warmer weather on Wednesdays and Saturdays is this undeniably lovely limestone manor house, which sits snug to the Thames and has known many famous tenants in its long lifetime. Built in the 16th century by a wealthy farmer, and three hundred years later the writer, designer and socialist William Morris fell in love with it. He wrote to a friend that he thought the manor “a heaven on earth”.
In Morris’ socialist writings, he often contrasted farming as ‘useful work’ against the ‘useless toil’ of the factories. In his futuristic novel News from Nowhere the house plays a central role as the home of a community where men and women live in harmony with one another and with nature, and in this way it became a sort of embodiment of the ‘ideal home’.
The Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti shared both the Manor’s lease and Mrs Jane Morris with William in the 1870s. Rossetti produced many works of art during his time at Kelmscott, starring the buildings themselves as well as Jane and her two daughters, many of which are still extant at the Manor. William Morris deliberately took himself back to London between 1872 – 1874 to allow the relationship between his beautiful wife and the passionate artist to run its course (très modern!).
Today the Manor is owned by the Society of Antiquities and is set up as if it were in the Morris family’s day, complete with a plethora of textiles designed and produced by the family (you can buy replicas in the gift shop!). So pack a picnic to eat by the Thames and head off to visit the place that birthed the arts and crafts movement.