Past, Present and Legacy
The Manor's History
From 1871 to 1896 Kelmscott Manor was Morris's summer home. DG Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelite artist, was a co-tenant (1871-'74). The architecture, history, landscape, flora and fauna of Kelmscott had a profound effect on Morris and his thinking. The seventeenth-century Manor and estate, originally belonging to the Turner family, embodies the continuing inspirational power of the past with its architecture and artefacts spanning more than four centuries; it is a place of historical creativity and imaginative engagement.
After 1896, Morris's widow, Jane, and his daughter, May, brought to Kelmscott objects from Morris's former homes. Today, the Manor largely reflects May's desire to commemmorate her father's achievements. This Accredited Museum Collection is one of the most significant and distinctive national deposits of late Victorian decorative art.
Ownership by the Society of Antiquaries of London
The Society was the residuary legatee of May Morris's will. May left the property to Oxford University in 1939. In 1962, after Oxford gave up the bequest, the ownership of the Manor devolved upon the Society. At this point, it was helpfully released from some of the legal restrictions that had complicated its ownership by the university.
The Society saved the Manor from dereliction and loss; since then it has carefully conserved and curated this key part of our cultural heritage. It has continued to present the Manor in an exemplary way and has undertaken other important works of preservation and responsible restoration of the Manor and estate. The beautiful garden, for example, was recreated with a grant from the Carnegie Trust in 1965.
After repairs and restorations were made, the Society was able to slowly open the Manor to visitors, increasing access from just a few special visitors on six days a year (1960s) to nearly 20,000 visitors on three days a week, April to October (2013). In 2014, Kelmscott Manor earned the 'Small Visitor Attraction of the Year' award (Cotswolds Tourism), a truly meaningful acknowledgement of the hard work and dedication that has gone into making it the beloved heritage landmark it is today.
Securing the Future of Kelmscott Manor
As much as possible, the Society wants visitors to the Manor to experience and respond to Kelmscott in the same way that William Morris did during his quarter-of-a-century of residency here, preserving the tranquil domestic and rural character of the property and highlighting the artistic, archaeological and natural sources of inspiration for Morris. Therefore, in the future, we will be making capital investments in the buildings and property to undertake major repairs, conservation and development projects (funded by targeted donations and the Friends of Kelmscott Manor membership program).
You can read more about our committment to and future plans for Kelmscott Manor in our Conservation Management Plan (download a PDF of the CMP), completed in 2013 by Fellows of the Society John Maddison and Merlin Waterson.
Visit the Society's 'Museum Policies' page to read more about our collections care policies and Accreditation status.