“It’s my thing,” I said, frowning.
“I know it’s your thing,” said R. “But you don’t have to do your thing absolutely every day. You could post architecture every now and then.”
“To give everyone a break, you mean?”
I looked at him with disfavour: clearly he had lost his mind. If I wasn’t going to do my thing, why had a second camera and a macro lens travelled to Kelmscott with us, and why were we now searching the garden for invertebrates? I didn’t both asking the question aloud though, in case he had an opinion on the matter – I haven’t been married for twenty nine years without learning a trick or two.
As it turned out, the one lens I really needed was the one I’d decided not to bring. Because Life’s Like That. There’s a sweet little cut from the River Thames running through the garden at Kemscott, which has a reed bed housing what I think were young reed warblers, as well as dragons, damsels and demoiselles; but it’s quite wide, and to have captured the wildlife properly I’d have needed the 100-400. So instead of reed warblers or a dragon, what you have here are a few of the human wildlife that were about this morning – though only because I didn’t manage to grab a shot of the frontage of the house with no-one in it.
We’d never been to Kelmscott Manor before, but I doubt that this will be our last visit. It’s an absolutely charming place, and if you’re a fan of the Arts & Crafts movement it’s somewhere you really should try to visit, having been the home of William Morris’ family for over sixty years.
Morris and the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti originally rented the house together in the early 1870s as a summer retreat, during the time when Rossetti was having an affair with Morris’ wife Jane; but after a couple of years Morris threw Rossetti out of his business and his home – though Rossetti left some of his furniture behind at Kelmscott when he went. Jane Morris then took up with the poet Wilfrid Blunt, who was, if anything, an even more charmless individual than Rossetti, and carried on an affair with him until a couple of years before Morris’ death in 1896; after he died she appears to have become fonder of her husband than she was when he was alive, and the pair are buried together beneath a simple but elegant stone in the church yard at Kelmscott. Shortly before her own death in 1914 she bought Kelmscott Manor, to secure it as a home for her daughters Jenny and May, though it was only May who lived there: Jenny had developed epilepsy in her teens, and though she wasn’t institutionalised as many sufferers were at that time, she needed constant nursing care and lived separately from her sister.
When May Morris died in 1938 she left the house to the University of Oxford, though sadly many of her possessions were auctioned off; she’d stipulated in the bequest that the house and its contents should be preserved and kept open to the public, but the University was unwilling to fulfil this condition, and in 1962 they passed the property to The Society of Antiquaries of London, which still owns and manages it. Although it’s quite sparsely furnished, it does contain some very nice Arts & Crafts pieces (many of them designed by Philip Webb); and some lovely art, including Burne Jones drawings, and some portraits of Jane and her daughters by Rossetti.
The web site for Kelmscott Manor gives you all the information you need about its limited opening times and how to find it. The car park is at the opposite end of the village to the house, which gives you the opportunity to stroll through a pretty Cotswold village, and to admire the memorial cottages that Jane and May had built in memory of William Morris after his death (the garden wall of one of which was decorated with a border terrier this morning – according to his owner he knew it was Wednesday, and that if he stood on the wall he could expect a lot of fuss from visitors). The Plough Inn does a very decent lunch, and if you need to walk that off you can access the Thames Path from right opposite the Manor. On your way back to the car park you might like to veer into the church yard, where they’ve handily mowed a path to get you to the grave of William and Jane Morris so that you can pay your respects; my one caveat is that the church gate is in an absolutely parlous state, and you probably don’t want to be the person on whom it collapses.
Oh, and there are butterflies – the whole village was busy with them today, but my favourite was a very fresh and flighty Red Admiral that happened to come down on the edge of an old slate roof as we were walking past.