Kelmscott Manor review: Arts and Crafts in the Cotswolds

We’ve been determined to discover places in the UK this year that will appeal to empty nesters. So, with lots of options on our doorstep in the Cotswolds, we have started local.

P1020946Kelmscott Manor is best known as the much loved retreat of William Morris, the notable designer and craftsman, often referred to as the father of the Arts and Crafts Movement. It was here that he sought both peace, and inspiration, joined by his colleagues, friends and family.

The place clearly captured Morris’s heart from the moment he saw it in 1871, dubbing it ‘this loveliest haunt of ancient peace’.

While it is smaller and quieter than some historic houses you might visit, this Grade 1 listed seventeenth century house has plenty of sights and treasures worth shouting about. And, we sensed, a few secrets between its walls that are worth a whisper, too.

Nestling in a picture perfect village on the River Thames, the we loved the stunning original textiles, furniture, ceramics, and paintings: collections spanning an impressive 300 years. Some of the items were originally owned in the seventeenth century by the Turner family–the first occupants here.

Morris was a fascinating character. As well as his artwork, he was also a writer, environmentalist, and socialist had alongside him a joint tenant between 1871 and 1874 — his friend and colleague Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelite artist. Some of Rossetti’s own distinctive black and gold pieces are on display and, as you might expect, some of Rossetti’s own paintings can be seen here, too. They form part of the manor’s fine art collection, also featuring work by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Albrecht Durer and, one of Nigel’s favourites, Breughel.

P1020939There are plenty of examples of the beautiful needlework by Morris’s wife, Jane, and their younger daughter, May as you stroll around the house. They, along with Morris’s older daughter, Jane (Jenny), all modelled for Rossetti at various times, in rooms used as studios within the manor. The Morris family was associated with the manor for 67 years in total, with William’s wife Jane buying the property after his death in 1896 .William, Jane and their daughter are all buried in the grounds of St George’s Church nearby.

The whole estate extends to more than 12 acres. The gardens surrounding the Manor are beautifully designed–in fact their original high walls and hedges were regarded by P1020943Morris in the early days as a secret shield from the outside world.  It’s easy to see how the fruits and flowers, plants, trees and pathways here proved to be an inspiration for some of his designs.

Although we didn’t venture along it, you can access the Thames Path from the site if you fancy an extended stroll. The Manor’s tearoom was a calm and pretty place to pause (cake may have been involved…) to ponder over the treasures we’d seen. And while Kelmscott might be an award winning attraction (with an estimated 20,000 visitors counted in 2014…), there is a real sense of the peace and tranquillity that Morris and his family must have felt here, throughout the house and grounds.

2emptynester verdict: It’s a thumbs up from us as a way to spend a gentle couple of hours.

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