May Morris did not begin fund raising in earnestfor the Memorial Hall until 1928.
She was aiming at an opening date in 1934 to coincide with the centenary of her father’s
birth. During the intervening years she worked tirelessly to raise money for the
proposed project described in her Appeal Leaflet of 1928 ‘beautiful in itself and
useful to the place that was so much a part of his life.’ The appeal leaflet targeted
friends, scholars, politicians, and writers including such notables as George Bernard
Shaw, Rudyard Kipling and Ramsay McDonald. It was even circulated in the US where
Harold Pierce who had met May during her lecture tour of 1909 asked for 550 leaflets
to be distributed through the Grolier Club in New York. May was a talented embroidery
designer and was in charge of the embroidery section of Morris & Co at the age of
23. She used her skills to raise money through the proceeds of lecture tours and
by selling numerous embroidered place mats for £1.00.
By February 1933 the minutes of the Kelmscott Parish Meeting noted that with the
exception of approximately £50 left over from village fetes, “Miss May Morris had
herself collected the total sum being now approximately £2500. The original estimate
as per Mr. Gimson’s plan was £4000 but Miss May Morris pointed out that cost of building
was now much lower and she considered the sum in hand would cover the building cost”.
She assured the meeting that there would be sufficient money set aside to endow
the building. One villager suggested that “Almshouses might be built at a less cost
and might be of more benefit to the Village, seeing that the existing Hall sufficed
for the needs of the villagers”. However, it was finally agreed that “the Morris
Memorial Hall would be gratefully welcomed by the Villagers if built, being free
of debt charges and suitably endowed, and that when it was completed the villagers
would be willing to allow the Trustees of the present Wooden Hall, to Sell, Let or
demolish the building as thought most advantageous”. (The wooden hall, first mentioned
in the Parish minutes book in 1922, was sited to the west of the school; it was eventually
sold for £30.00, half of which was donated to May’s appeal fund.)
Building work was begun later that year by a local builder, King of Lechlade, on
land donated by Lord Faringdon. The stone came from Sir Stafford Cripps's quarry
at Filkins. Brick was used for the internal walls and to line the external walls.
The roof was covered in Stonesfield slates, the timber was felled locally and the
ironwork made by John Print of Langford. Jewson’s final design for the Memorial
Hall omitted the long north-south corridor and the planned gable chimney on the
The L shaped building now consisted of a long hall, with a stage at one end having
storage and a boiler room below; it was accessed from the outside by double doors
in one corner. The main entrance was in the shorter arm of the L which housed a games
room with a reading room above. Two toilets were located to the north of the main
building and the yard between them was covered over to provide bicycle storage. Within
the building, the main hall was left open to the roof to expose the whitewashed timbers
and dado rails, that incorporated wooden window seats, protected the lower walls.
The fence adjacent to the road, as Gimson designed it, used a local method
of enclosure consisting of large flat stone slabs set vertically into the ground
with iron restraining posts. The method was commonly used in pig-sty construction
as it prevented the pigs from working the mortar loose as they would in a conventional
The Morris Memorial Hall was officially opened by George Bernhard Shaw on Saturday
20th October 1934 at 3 pm. The organisation of the proceedings was in the hands of
Mr Robert Hobbs, a prominent Kelmscott farmer and the newly elected chairman of the
council of trustees for the hall. The event was of such importance that it received
coverage in both the National and local press. The coaches and buses that were laid
on to connect with trains from London, filled the field behind the hall.
It was so crowded that Prime Minister, Ramsay McDonald, who arrived unexpectedly
to hear Bernard Shaw, had to listen to his speech through an open window. Later,
having managed to find his way onto the stage, MacDonald proclaimed: "This hall is
just the sort of thing that Morris would have liked to have founded. It will not
only be a local place, it will be a centre, a point, for world pilgrimage. I am glad
to be here and feel the spirit of Morris."
Following the ceremony, teas, at 1 shilling each, were served at the Manor to around
300 people with Miss Lobb, May’s companion, in charge of the urns.
The hall today is an unassuming stone building that blends well with its surroundings
and the older stone-built houses in the village. Although some changes have been
made to the use of the rooms, a modern kitchen has replaced the games room, it still
retains its original architectural features. It is indeed a fitting memorial to
William Morris and continues to be used, as his daughter intended, as a focal point
of village life. Sadly, the £1000 bequeathed by May Morris for the long term upkeep
and maintenance of the hall has long since been exhausted and income is now sourced
from fund raising events by the village, hire of the hall itself, donations and grants.