The Grade I-listed 16th and 17th century house in the village of Kelmscott, Oxfordshire, was described by Morris as ‘heaven on Earth’.
The work was funded with a £4.3m grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and £1.3m was raised (so far) from the still on-going Kelmscott Manor: Past Present & Future Campaign, which continues to raise additional funds.
Martin Levy, chairman of the Kelmscott Manor Campaign, said: “It is thanks to generous support, including at an early stage from members of the art trade, that funding was raised to enable the restoration of Kelmscott Manor. William Morris’ ‘heaven on Earth’ is reopening with its historic integrity carefully conserved.”
Alongside structural repairs, a new learning and activity studio has been built on the footprint of a pre-existing thatched byre. Visitor facilities have also been upgraded and improved, including exhibition and research spaces created from rooms previously not open to the public; and significant furniture and artworks conserved.
Interior rooms of the manor have been laid out to provide the visitor with a more “authentic impression” of how they would have been in the Morris family’s day.
Dr Kathy Haslam, curator at Kelmscott Manor, explains: “Every new placement of furniture and objects, together with each new paint colour or choice of wallpaper has been informed by visual or written sources consulted during extensive research. As a result the house feels more home-like. In addition, our new interpretation enables us to explore more people, themes and narratives than before.”
Although Morris loved the house he did not spend as much time there as his wife and children. He first leased the property with friend and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82) in the early 1870s.
However, Morris’ wife Jane and Rossetti had embarked on an affair and according to biographers, the house in the country allowed the couple “time together with a veneer of respectability” outside London.
Rossetti left in 1874 and the house remained the Morris family’s (William, Jane and their two artist daughters, Jenny and May) much-loved country retreat.
Jane eventually bought the property in 1913, shortly before her death, and May moved there permanently in 1923. On May’s death in 1938 it was left to Oxford University. In 1962 the university gave up the bequest and ownership passed to the Society of Antiquaries of London.
The manor will reopen to the public on April 1 and fundraising is ongoing via www.sal.org.uk/kelmscott-manor/