Setting the Scene
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Kelmscott House was erected in the 1780s, on the site of an old warehouse about four miles west of central London. It was initially called The Retreat in tribute to its idyllic riverside location. By the time William Morris purchased the building in 1878, London had expanded to a point where it had partially absorbed the district of Hammersmith, but the Thames-side location remained a desirable one. ‘The Retreat’, however, was too passive a word for Morris. He did not consider himself to be fleeing from the modern world so much as aspiring to build a better one which would draw on the best practice of the past. Accordingly, he renamed the house after Kelmscott Manor, his sixteenth-century residence, also located beside the Thames but 65 miles further from London in Kelmscott, Oxfordshire. Refurbished and rebranded, Kelmscott House, Hammersmith became a centre for Morris’s many activities: designing, weaving, writing poems and lectures, campaigning for a greater respect for Britain’s architectural heritage and campaigning in favour of socialism. In 1891, his Kelmscott Press opened a few doors down the street, producing handmade, illuminated editions, including Thomas More’s Utopia and Morris’s own News from Nowhere and The Earthly Paradise.