Morris and Friends at Kelmscott Manor

William Morris and DG Rossetti originally held a joint lease for Kelmscott Manor. Morris took his family there and the Morris women returned to the Manor even while Morris himself did not. The Manor, a life-long source of inspiration to William Morris, was also an inspirational setting of a love affair between Jane Morris and Rossetti, the birth of May Morris's artistic skill, and many artistic works of art by Morris's and Rossetti's Pre-Raphaelite companions and Morris & Co. colleagues. Kelmscott Manor once inspired the leading Victorian artists and artisans, and today showcases their works and the works of their contemporaries. The loving and lasting mark that these historic figures left on the Manor is felt by thousands of visitors each year.

Kelmscott Manor's Cast of Characters

William Morris

(1834-1896) – William Morris was a hugely influential craftsman, designer, writer, environmentalist, socialist and much more. He is commonly referred to as the Father of the Arts & Crafts Movement and in his early years was associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. William Morris first saw Kelmscott Manor in 1871, and was enchanted by ‘the loveliest haunt of ancient peace’. He initially took out a joint lease with DG Rossetti but, unlike Rossetti, Morris passionately loved all aspects of Kelmscott and the Manor remained his favourite family retreat until his death in 1896. The house, its gardens and the surrounding landscape were particular sources of inspiration for Morris’s artistic, literary and political works, and notably feature in his Socialist novel News from Nowhere.

Jane (Burden) Morris

(1839-1914) – Jane (Burden) Morris was a model and muse to Pre-Raphaelite artists DG Rossetti and William Morris. After modelling for William Morris, she married him on 26 April 1859. During the early days of their marriage, when they lived at Red House, Bexleyheath, they embroidered a group of daisy-patterned wall-hangings, which were later discovered lining a dog-basket at the Manor in the 1960s! Jane purchased Kelmscott Manor just before her death in 1914, safeguarding it for her daughters.

Jane “Jenny” Morris

(1861-1935) – Jenny Morris was the elder daughter of Jane (Burden) Morris and William Morris. She and her sister, May, spent their summers at Kelmscott Manor, helped their father with his work, and often modelled for DG Rossetti. The onset of epilepsy when Jenny was a teenager prevented her from living an independent life as an adult, but earlier in her life she had begun her own magazine, The Scribbler, and produced 17 issues for distribution among family and friends. William Morris sent many affectionate letters to Jenny so that she was kept informed of his various activities.

Mary “May” Morris

(1862-1938) – May Morris was the younger daughter of Jane (Burden) Morris and William Morris. She loved spending summers with her family at Kelmscott Manor and became a favourite model for DG Rossetti. Later, she was also actively involved with her father’s political, social and artistic works; she became the director of the Morris & Co. embroidery department in 1885 and edited her father’s Collected Works (24 volumes, published between 1910 and 1915). A talented artist-craftworker herself, she co-founded the Women’s Guild of Arts in 1907. After her mother’s death, she furnished Kelmscott Manor with pieces from the family’s other residences and lived there with her companion, Mary Lobb, until her own death in 1938.

Mary Frances Vivian Lobb

(d. 1939) – Miss Lobb drove tractor on a farm near Kelmscott Manor before coming to live there. May originally hired Miss Lobb as a live-in gardner, but eventually she became May’s long-term companion, staying at Kelmscott Manor until May’s death in 1938 (despite village gossip regarding their close relationship).

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

(1828-1882) – DG Rossetti, artist and author, co-founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. With William Morris he was co-tenant of Kelmscott Manor between 1871 and 1874, spending time with the Morris family even while Morris himself was absent. All the Morris women modeled for Rossetti at Kelmscott Manor, where he alternately used the Tapestry Room and the White Room as studios. Rossetti’s impact on the Manor can still be felt throughout the house, where his own satinwood desk and paint-box are on display.

Edward Burne-Jones

(1833-1898) – Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris were lifelong friends and collaborators. They first met at Oxford University and were subsequently business partners in Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company. Burne-Jones was a frequent visitor to Kelmscott Manor, which today displays some of his work. One of Morris’s and Burne-Jones’s most famous collaborative projects, printed at Morris’s Kelmscott Press, was The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, a book that took four years for the two men (and their engraver, William Hooper) to complete and which features illustrations engraved from 87 of Burne-Jones’s drawings.

Ford Madox Brown

(1821-1893) ­– The painter Ford Madox Brown was one of Morris’s friends and business partners, designing furniture and stained glass for Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. (later Morris & Co.). He stayed at Kelmscott Manor in June 1873, visiting DG Rossetti and finishing the painting Cromwell on his Farm. Today, the Manor houses three important pieces of furniture designed by him: a bed, desk, towel rail and chair. The pieces—simple and beautiful in design—are displayed to advantage in the Manor’s attic rooms.

Philip Webb

(1831-1915) – Philip Webb was a close friend and business partner of William Morris, having tutored Morris, at the very beginning of his career, in architectural studies. He was the architect of Red House, William and Jane Morris’s first home, and also created designs for furniture, textiles, metalwork and stained glass for Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. (later Morris & Co.). Webb also designed two memorials to William Morris: the memorial headstone at St George’s church in Kelmscott village and a pair of cottages near the Manor, commissioned by William’s wife, Jane. Inside the Manor are many important pieces of furniture designed by Webb and owned by the Morris family.