An Expedition by Boat from Kelmscott House to Kelmscott Manor

On August 10th, 1880, William De Morgan, William Morris, Jane Morris and companions left Morris' home of Kelmscott House to journey by boat to Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire. A member of the party (possibly William Morris) typed a highly entertaining account of this expedition, noting the towns they passed and places they stopped for the night, the food they ate, and the people they encountered along the way. The De Morgan Foundation holds a transcript of this account in its archive; enjoy this short synopsis!

 

Kelmscott House in Hammersmith was the London home of designer, poet and socialist William Morris. The house sits on the bank of the River Thames and it is from here that the party of nine friends set out by boat to make the six-day journey to Kelmscott Manor, the Cotswold retreat of Morris and family. 

Morris was accompanied by close friends William De Morgan, Cormell Price and Richard C. Grosvenor, his wife and family Jane, Jane Alice and May Morris, Elizabeth MacLeod and their housemaid Eliza. 

Their journey began aboard a boat called The Ark, which was towed by a 'mercantile tin kettle' as far as Twickenham. From here, they followed the Thames, navigating numerous locks, occasionally running aground or colliding with other boats.

The account of the expedition details what provisions they picked up (lots of ginger beer and eggs) and what they ate (William Morris cooked for them on several nights, and it was always a success!). The journey was made all the more interesting by the fact that "some of the males of the party seemed to think that they were entitled to indulge in the most abominable puns for the whole of[...] the journey". 

The party grumbled about some of the people they met along the way, and were stricken with bouts of illness from overeating and bad cockles, but sights such as the Aurora Borealis over Great Marlow and the beautiful hamlet of Godstow in Oxfordshire, as well as a good deal of fishing, kept their spirits high. 

The writer states that "the whole party were frequently caused to groan in spirit by a succession of puns so outrageous that no words could describe them and no intelligent individual do ought else but shudder at the recollection of their number and nature"; but also notes that they were often "exhausted by laughter". 

The weary travellers reached their destination of Kelmscott Manor on August 16th 1880, after a few hours' struggle to tow their boats along the final stretch. Summarising the trip, Jane Alice Morris, William's daughter, stated: "A noteworthy feature of this journey was that everybody perpetually gave orders in a very loud voice, and that nobody ever paid the slightest attention to them." It seems that family holidays haven't changed much since the 1880s!

We've charted the Kelmscott expedition on a map here - click on each location for further details, quotes, or anecdotes from their trip. 

 

Emma Coleman, Museum Officer