✮✮✮ English Life with WILLIAM MORRIS ✮✮✮

Hi Girls!  How is everyone today?  Thought that I would open up the suitcases and let you all out to run wild on another day in our English Life . . . and take you to meet …

I don’t know about you, but before we went to England, what I knew about William Morris wouldn’t fill a thimble.  I could sum it up with one word:  Wallpaper.  If I really reached, maybe I would say “fabric.”  I’d heard his name forever, but I really knew nothing about him.

Of course, he wrote one of my favorite quotes which I included in my second book; I’d always been curious about who he really was.  His quote perfectly summed up my own philosophy of decorating too.  (I would add a couple more words after the word “beautiful;”  they would be “. . . or better yet, both” since I discovered it’s as easy to buy a cute can-opener as an ugly one.)  So, I knew William Morris was involved in the Home Arts.

When we were in Bibury, one of our English friends said, “Oh you have to go to William Morris’s house!  It’s open to the public!”  OK!  Why not!  That’s why we’re here, to be spontaneous and to learn something!  So, once again, over the bridge we went, looking for his house called Kelmscott Manor.  We knew it wasn’t a long drive as the crow flies, but it was apparently so far out in the middle of nowhere, it was the only place we looked for in England that didn’t show up on our GPS!

Past the pretty stone cottages and wonderful gardens we went,

Past the little lambs, into the countryside, not really knowing what we will find when we get there; will the house be big or small; will it feel lived in; will it have a tea room; will there be a garden; will it have a gift shop; will the original furniture be inside; can we take pictures?  And P.S. Who was William Morris anyway???  Out to “the middle of nowhere” we went.


“What I love,” (the unfinished thought in this video) is that this is a two-lane road with a periodic large tree in it; traffic is allowed in both directions, trucks too, bicyclists, and walkers, anything is allowed out here, you can even park by the side of the road!  It curves and you can’t see what’s coming, isn’t that just wild?  Don’t you just love it???  We need Music!

This “Old House by the Thames” is Kelmscott Manor; William Morris used this drawing by C.M. Gere for the frontispiece of his book, aptly and wonderfully named “News from Nowhere.”   The gift shop (they have a good one!) had dishtowels made with this art!  (You may have noticed mine, now hanging from my stove . . .)

And here’s the real thing, Kelmscott Manor as it was the day we were there.  This fabled old house has often been the subject of artists, but in real life, it’s not just a flat picture with no life, nooooo; we arrived on a cool, bright, sunny day; it was very quiet (due to it being in the middle of nowhere), the only noise was from nature, bees and insects buzzing, birds singing; there was a slight breeze moving the flowers in the garden, the scents of lavender and roses…

When William Morris first saw this “farmhouse” he fell passionately in love.  He’d once seen it in a dream, so it was literally his dream-house and a place of deep inspiration for him.  He bought the house from a family that had owned it for 300 years; so it came to him already filled with love.

We got there a little early so there was plenty of time to walk through the garden.

There’s Joe on the path in the wild garden . . . we went into the house, but, I’m sorry to report, they did not allow us to take photos.  But we sure learned a lot . . .  here’s the meat of it, in a nutshell; I will try to be short and sweet. I don’t want you to be bored, but I hope if it interests me, it might interest you too, and I promise I’ll be quick as I can.

William Morris (brilliant poet, designer, artist, and needleworker)  was the father of the Arts and Crafts Movement that started in England in 1860 and continued through the 1930’s.  (All these colored letters are links; if you’d like to know more, you can go back later and click on them.)

Before going to Kelmscott Manor, I was completely uneducated about the Arts and Crafts Movement.  I connected it almost exclusively to Frank Lloyd Wright, whose much-lauded design style, although interesting, was never my cup of tea the way it is for other people; I like it, but I couldn’t live in it . . . too modern, too dark for me; so because I thought his style was the Movement, I lost interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement!  See where a little ignorance can take you!?  I thought Art’s and Crafts was only a look, a style, which I understood also encompassed Art Nouveau, but it never inspired me to run out and redecorate my house. However, on this trip, I learned that Arts and Crafts was much more than a style or a look, something I began to understand while visiting Charleston, and even more, when I got to Kelmscott Manor.

This very specific style of nature-inspired design, which I’m sure you recognize here in these examples of William Morris embroidery, wallpaper and rugs, was called Arts and Crafts, but there was a philosophy behind the Movement, which enlarged my understanding, and was more interesting to me than the style itself.

Inspired by the changes stemming from the Industrial Revolution, William Morris wanted to preserve and reawaken interest in traditional craftsmanship he perceived was being lost. The Industrial Revolution had begun somewhere around 1750; by 1860; people were leaving the farms in droves, weavers were walking away from their home businesses and weaving looms, no longer selling their homemade cloth at fairs; blacksmiths were closing their shops and going to the factories; the need for design and production of mechanical parts for early machines was drawing craftsmen from other trades; newer, easier, faster, ways of making things were being developed.  William Morris felt that the pendulum had swung too far away, particularly in his world of textiles, from quality and craftsmanship. He felt something important was being lost in all this mass production, that craftsmen and women themselves were being undervalued, and tried to shine a light on it with the Arts and Crafts Movement he inspired.

He, along with his like-minded artist friends, founded a factory dedicated to the design and manufacture of everything homemade (rugs, wallhangings, fabric, embroideries, etc); which, by then (1861), instead of being an everyday thing that people did as a matter of course (and survival), had become “art.” With his help, suddenly, the handmade look had a value it never had before.  He had his own style, made wallpaper and so forth, and that style got the name Arts and Crafts, but really, the way I see it, ANYTHING handmade is arts and crafts.  What the Movement was about was people and their handmade things, things with heart. Nothing has ever quelled the urge in people to create unique, one of a kind, homemade things — even the Days of the Week dishtowels my great grandma embroidered, in my mind, were arts and crafts!  It’s still the way we personalize our homes — making them our own by decorating with things we’ve made ourselves or our kids have made; and we add to them by finding unique one-of-a-kind items in antique stores or flea markets.  We can our homegrown vegetables, make our own jam; yes we could buy these things, but that’s no fun . . . we weave, sew, quilt, build furniture, create gardens, arrange displays of things in our homes, make gifts, handwrite letters, make aprons and potholders, knit sweaters, design scrapbooks; the list goes on forever, because these are the things that make us happiest in our hearts.  And that’s why we are all artists in our own way.  I think William Morris would like this . . .

William Morris was much more than a designer, he was a person who loved people; if you’re interested, I’ve put lots of links in this post that give you more information.  He also founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877 and we are so glad he did.  Homemade England is an amazing place.

This is a portrait of William Morris.

This is a drawing he did for his first wallpaper called “Trellis.”  Kelmscott Manor was filled with personal belongings, embroideries and tapestries done by him and his family, his daughter May in particular, his design studio, the story of his life.

I loved everything about this place, the garden, the house, and especially the history!   And there was a tea room, and a tea lawn, which is where I am in this photo, having tea in my brand new William Morris scarf I had just purchased in the gift shop!  See?  It’s my colors!  (If I hadn’t had my colors done, I probably never would have picked this scarf; there were so many pretty ones to choose from!)

I also bought this umbrella in the gift shop, in my colors too 🙂 ; it folds down to the tiniest umbrella I’ve ever seen, weighing absolutely nothing, it was perfect for travel.

But no umbrellas were needed this day!  When we realized, over our tea, that when we read the words “House on the Thames,” it was because the house was on the River Thames!  Duh!  So, we walked around to the back of it to look for the river . . .

 And followed the signs out to . . .

. . . this amazing river walk we accidentally found. . .

… through wildflowers and tall grass, next to wild swans belonging to Her Majesty, the Queen. (I want that little house over there . . .)

Narrow river boats were parked near the banks; if you knew these people you could get in one and go all the way to London!  Wouldn’t that be fun?

Some of them were all dressed up for the Jubilee …. just like every square inch of the rest of the country!

Beautiful day, we took a long walk, and then back into town we went . . .

 Along the country pathways . . .

. . .to St. George’s Church that William Morris help to restore, with “minimal intervention” (his preservation passion); it’s where he and his family are buried.

The ancient country church . . . with Norman arcades, and 13th century wall paintings…

And this organ that made me wish so much it was Sunday

Can you imagine what people in here must have looked like in 1390?  Probably just like us, but everything on them was handmade.

This window has looked out upon the changing seasons for over 600 years.

Many of the gravestone carvings had been blown away by the wind . . . this was the oldest I could find.

We paid our respects at the grave of William Morris and his wife Jane.  But the one I loved was this . . .

. . . little sweet stone for their daughter Jane Alice (Jenny) Morris that was buried in the lawn near her parents under a weeping yew tree.  With moss growing in the initials.

Then it was time to go, we walked back toward the house, where we parked the car, through the little village . . .

With one last peek at the Kelmscott Manor . . .

 A well-remembered house, very loved in the past, and you can feel that it still is.  On our way “home” we stopped in the little town of Lechlade to go antiquing . . .

What we really wished we could tuck into our bags was this little building!  Look at the beautiful stone-shingled roof!  So cute!

OK girls, this was our history lesson for today.  I do hope you liked it and it wasn’t too dry!  And now, the thing I have a love-hate relationship with, announcing the winner of the giveaway!  I love it, because it’s fun to give something away; I hate it because I wish there was one for everyone!!  YOUR COMMENTS!!!  Please, don’t you just love you??  I do!!!  I loved hearing where everyone was from too, helps to make us more real to each other, don’t you think?  When I can picture you in a desert, on the California Central Coast, or on top of a mountain; in Texas, Washington, Florida, or Iowa, or, in my imagination, heading into springtime in Australia and Brazil, or you girlfriends in England and Germany; or my neighbors here in New England . . . it just makes it all more fun. Connectomundo.  New word. 🙂

OK, with no further adeiu, Vanna?  Step up here please, dear . . . . (oh you should see her girls, dressed like a prom queen today, sheer, pale-pink, dotted-Swiss) … Her hand is down, her arm buried in paper slips up to her shoulder — now, withdrawing — she has one!  Pulling it out now, aaaannnd …. yes?  Oui!  The name is

OH, it’s a NEW ZEALANDER!!  How fun, this is our first person from another country!  Her name is LEANNE!!  And she doesn’t have Autumn yet!  Are you out there Leanne?  If so, look in your email box, you have a message from me!!!


Thank you all for entering, and for being so great!  We’ll just have to keep doing this until everyone wins something!  Might take a while, but it’s only a matter of time, and we’ve got lots of that. Happy Day Girlfriends! xoxo Susan

Oops, I forgot, P.S.  Kitchen’s still not done, can’t really put things back yet, but more than half of it is painted, and there’s a little bit of the new color!  Thought you’d like to see it . . . I’ll do a “before and after” as soon as there actually is an “after!” Jack is going to miss that ladder!  He’s up there all the time now!  Happy Weekend Girls!  And Boys!

This entry was posted in Blog and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

525 Responses to ✮✮✮ English Life with WILLIAM MORRIS ✮✮✮

  1. Suzanne says:

    Hi, I’m Suzanne, from Newport Beach, California. I love the quaintness and charm of your phenomenal and simple cottage lifestyle. You are a bright and sunny light, role model, inspirational guide, and mentor to so many!

    From that darling little bird that floats by and “tweet tweets” to your scrumptious cheesecake and England countryside meanderings, your blog inspires me to be a Cottage Lady.

    Today, I am starting (sewing) a Laura Ashley dress from one of her vintage patterns. You know the one… the lovely square neck with the big puffy sleeves and sort of fun, baggy waist you can cinch up with the belt… or not (I love the baggy myself!) and then topped off with a petticoat underneath. Straight from the early 80’s. I have some fun glittery flats with a big black bow that I think will be perfect.

    Cottage girls, we are! Three cheers for us!!! Hip Hip Hooray~ Hip Hip Hooray ~Hip Hip Hooray!!!!

  2. judi says:

    On the run again. LOVED your scarf and umbrella! Congrats to the winner of the wonderful Autumn book. (I’m still looking locally.) Fabulous info on William Morris (yah, Jack, I remember the little bellboy calling for Phillip:).

    I say give Joe 3′ behind him and 2′ on each side of the windows AND PUT EVERYTHING ELSE BACK:))))) XXXOOO’S

  3. I was thinking of you as I pulled out my Heart of the Home cookbook and made your Best Biscuits recipe for the first time, hoping you will have your kitchen back soon. I can understand why Joe is taking his time to make it perfect. After all he has ALL OF US to contend with if it isn’t!

    But I digress….the biscuits were GREAT. I’ve never made them with heavy cream–that must be the secret ingredient. Not having any heavy cream on hand, however, I went to the Web to find a substitute and wanted to share it with others in case they’ve put off making these biscuits for want of cream. All you need is 3/4 cup whole milk mixed with 1/3 cup melted unsalted butter. If you must use salted butter, then decrease the salt in the recipe by a scant 1/4 teaspoon.

  4. Jack says:

    Would the English Diary be something that would be suitable to publish as a part one — and later a part two? Do you have enough to go that route ……enough to make it big and still with enough romantic and artful visitations? Then if you decide to do this again — say like to Scotland, Ireland and Wales; you could make it a collection. Additionally
    Perhaps the Schools across America could start putting them in their libraries to provide
    good data to make book reports about!

    • sbranch says:

      I think I would have enough, in fact, the way I’m going, I’m afraid this will be a tome! I could be mean, I could end the first one just before we get to Beatrix Potter’s House! That would be bad, wouldn’t it! 🙂 Yes, book reports for the Schools of America! 🙂 Love my daddy.

      • Susan, you are right about that being BAD! As for Jack’s comment….perhaps he remembers you standing up in front of your pretend classroom playing teacher to your younger brothers and sisters as I’m sure you must have done. 🙂

        • sbranch says:

          My dad had a tee-shirt made for me … on the front it said, “The Management.” I think that answers your question.

  5. Bee Stevens says:

    I just received a Metropolitan Museum of Art Catalog in the mail and
    there are several things William Morris – ornaments, frames, umbrella,
    bags etc. the web site is: store.metmuseum.org
    Enjoyed the post – lovely pictures. Congrats to Leanne. I know she will
    treasure the Autumn book. I just read mine from cover to cover again.

  6. Pam Fortune says:

    Enjoyed reading and strolling through William Morris country so much so that I have made a
    Mental note on my must do list before I ‘ pop my clogs ‘. As I live in the U.K. I have no excuse. Really enjoy reading your blog and look forward to buying your new book for my
    eldest daughter Fleur who is a great fan of your illustrating expertise, I have written her an
    I.O.U. for her birthday this week that I will buy her your book just as soon as it’s published.
    Keep blogging and thank you.

  7. Amy Pavlovik says:

    Dear Susan,
    I came across your blog some time ago while doing a Google search for pictures of old boxwood shrubs. A picture of your yard came up, and I have enjoyed your blog ever since. The pictures are so lovely, and really make you feel as if you are experiencing another world. I have never traveled in England, although I have spent time in other parts of Europe. Thank you for taking the time to share some of the beautiful things you are able to see and experience, to enrich the lives of others as well.
    Amy in WV

  8. Joan Lesmeister says:

    GFs, yesterday my 3Bs (Bridgeless Bridge Babes – no longer play bridge, do field trips & lunch!) went to the New Clairvaux Monastery in Vina CA. The monks are winemakers & produce walnuts. It was a peek at the life of a monk, devoted to praying & work. For us, it was very spiritual experience, & the wine tasting was good too! We attended a short service in the chapel (not a full mass), & the chanting & singing was divine! The monks faces showed their peaceful existence. Today, I will vow to send out more prayers & you all get some! Thank you Susan for bringing us all together! xoxoxo

  9. Joan Lesmeister says:

    P.S. I neglected to mention, that the pictures of the beautiful stone St. George’s church in this blog, inspired me to comment. The monks are having an 800 year old stone Chapter House from a Cistercian Monastery in Ovila, Spain, rebuilt! An amazing undertaking!

  10. Lisa Nelson-Jones (East Tennessee) says:

    I am SoOoOoO*** excited!!!! I received via our wonderful UPS man, my Susan Branch package 🙂 I am now the proud owner of the new address book, Daisy card set, Nature pen, Nature cards, birdie dishtowels, and the most precious quilted book-plate stickers I have ever seen! Have been looking forward to this purchase for a long time! I am not yet, however, an “official girlfriend”… Am I losing my mind (which is a DISTINCT possibility, mind you), or did I see sometime back that we were supposed to post on our order if we were F.O.S.B. to get our official Susan Branch Member Card? I have put it on the last several orders, and I am now feeling a little embarrassed b/c I think I may have dreamed that whole membership card thing up! If I did, wouldn’t that be a SPECTACULAR thing for us “official” girlfriends to have? My mind has run rampant with the idea… Official “member” drawings, “member” penpals, etc. Anyway, please tell the studio girls (who are so kind), to forgive my weirdness if they have no idea what I keep asking for when I ask for one of these cards if I dreamed it! I feel so….Kick-ing…burd….right now!

    • sbranch says:

      I just forwarded your email to Kellee, you definitely did not dream the membership card up, we had that on FOSB a couple of years ago, not to sure we still do, but I am going to find out! Kickkkk-ing burrrd, forever!

      • Lisa Nelson-Jones (East Tennessee) says:

        Thank you so very much, those “store girls” are so darn sweet, this really made my day! Well, sometimes I guess we just gotta be thankful we have a burd to kick! (and, boy, am I glad to know I am not having imaginary “Susan Branch” hysteria in my head…I was getting worried 😉 ) Thank you again, lovely ladies!

  11. Mercina O'Neil says:

    My dear Susan,
    I am still fairly new to your blog and I must say you are introducing me to an entire new world! Thank you! I have several of your cookbooks, etc. and always enjoyed your recipes and artwork, all the wonderful inspiring words of wisdom, and now your blog!

    Also, I had gone with the brown color in your kitchen but can see the blue is perfect! Continue to enjoy life and thank you for including all us girlfriends!

  12. Angie(Tink!) says:

    Hello Sweet Sue Yesterday I Flew to Your Blog & Posted My Comments…& Guess what? I Think Ya Missed Me…. 🙂 Yikes! it was around 12:39 pm or so…I had Two P.S.’s too…. Just want to Make Sure Ya Saw Me…Above…Thanks Sweet Sue…Hugzzzz & always Love xoxo Poof! 😉 Missing You in Twitterville Too! I Know You have Been so Busy with The Kitchen~Project…etc… 🙂 it was September 17th around 12:39 pm ♥*¨`*.✫*¨*.¸¸.♥*¨`*.

    • sbranch says:

      Kitchen, yes, but mostly painting for the book. Really staying focused, requires all my karate moves! 🙂 But I’ll update the blog first thing in the morning!

      • Angie(Tink!) says:

        Good Morning Sunshine (Very Rainy Here!) How Bout Your Weather? Oh My Word! Your “Karate~Moves” You are Beyond Funny Sweet Sue! 🙂 I Love it! 😉 I’ve Got Julie & Julia On as I Type this….Reminds Me Of You! 😉 ♥ Painting for Your English Diary….( a Genius at Work) Yay! Hugzzz Love & ALWAYS a Bit of Magical Pixie~Dust! Kitty~Kisses to All! xoxo Poof!♥*¨`*.✫*¨*.¸¸.♥*¨`* 🙂

  13. Pat Mofjeld says:

    Hi Susan. I wrote a comment on the 17th — “helpful hint” for you and the girlfriends and it is still not moderated. Was it “missed” ? 🙂

  14. April Anderson says:

    Thank you for sharing about William Morris and for all of the lovely English photos!
    P.S. The blue is perfect! 🙂

  15. Georgie says:

    Susan! I welcomed yet another journey to your beloved England… the footpaths, the bridges, the streams, the church, the pathways, the swans, the flowers, the gardens… and that beautiful home!

    I’m running behind with life right now, and your post was a welcomed relief to my spirit.

    Thinking of you and your soon to be completed KITCHEN!!!
    Yardville, NJ

  16. WOW! That was a mouthful…very cool stuff! Sue, that close-up of you is adorable!!! xo

  17. dear susan, your paints look beautiful can you tell me please what brand they are? and where you get them from? thank you

    • sbranch says:

      I get the paintboxes from everywhere, art stores, online, and Michael’s crafts . . . when I see one I like, I get it. I also use watercolor in tubes . . . usually Windsor Newton, but all other brands too, such as Holbien — I’m mostly interested in having lots of colors!

  18. Jackie Walton says:

    Jack has grown into such a handsome young cat! I just love him to pieces!

Comments are closed.