Monday, September 28, 2015

Visiting The Kilns (The Home of C.S. Lewis)

On our recent trip to England, one of the things we did as a family was arrange to take a tour at The Kilns, C.S. Lewis's home in Oxford. Being that four of five of our children (catch that?) are named after either C.S. Lewis or his characters, it was a meaningful stop for all of us.

Tours must be arranged in advance of your arrival to England as the Kilns is still a place of residence for scholars in and visiting the community. We were so grateful to be given an appointment to come and see his home when in country.

You can bet that I took pictures to share with my fellow Lewis fans!

The home was originally purchased by Lewis, his brother Warnie, Mrs. Moore and her daughter, Maureen. They all contributed financially to the purchase and they all lived there together.

There is, of course, some speculation as to the nature of Mrs. Moore's relationship to or with Lewis. No one can say with any certainty whether or not there was a romantic attachment of any sort between them. Some speculate that there was, especially based on the fact that Mrs. Moore's bedroom was located right next to Lewis'. What I did not know though was that the door between the bedrooms was kept locked and, eventually, Lewis lost the key.

See the staircase outside the house in the above picture? That's the outside staircase that Lewis had put in to give him his own private entrance and exit to his bedroom. When Mrs. Moore was moved out of the house (in the 1930's) her bedroom became Lewis's study. As Lewis had lost the key, he would go down the staircase outside the house, walk in through the front door, go up the inside staircase and into his study to work. When he married Joy Davidman she became annoyed at his habits of walking outside to go inside when all he had to do was open the door between their bedroom and his study. She asked him why he did it. He explained, "I lost the key." She had a locksmith at the house that same afternoon.

When we entered inside the house for our appointed tour, we were taken into Lewis's library/study along with the other tour guests. Introductions were made and we listened to a great little talk on the life of Lewis from our guide, who is a Lewis's scholar and affectionado. He was quite well up on Lewis and his life, happily explained the history of the house to us, and generally made us to feel welcome.

The view from this window has changed since Lewis's time. The C.S. Lewis foundation owns the land which the house stands on, (more or less), and it is set in what is now a quiet but packed neighborhood of homes. However, the pond that Lewis loved has been preserved and is situated next to The Kilns. You can walk through a Community Nature Reserve around the pond and imagine things as they might used to have been as best you can.

Below is a picture of said pond. This picture taken from a spot near to an old stone bench that Lewis built. He and Tolkien used to come down to the pond, sit on the bench, and talk. (I didn't know that when I was standing next to the bench, hence there is no picture of it. Sigh.)

To get back to the view from the window though, apparently there were a series of little ponds scattered about on the land in Lewis' time. These little ponds are thought to be the inspiration for the pools of water in The Magician's Nephew.

From the library we were taken into the dining room where Joy and Jack (as he was generally called) used to play Scrabble with each other. They were only limited in words as to any dictionary in the entire house, in any language. Apparently they had some very spirited games between them and it can well be imagined that Lewis liked a mind that could challenge his own.

Warnie's typewriter is displayed in the dining room as well. Lewis preferred not to use a type writer but wrote all of his manuscripts out completely by hand. Because - wow.

Next we came into the kitchen which I have to note contained a picture of Lewis's gardener, the inspiration for the character of Puddleglum. The kitchen, like the rest of the house, was a labor of love to restore to its "original look" during the time when Lewis lived there. Apparently the floor had been covered up with tile or linoleum or cement (I forget! Several layers of something!) and Douglas Gresham kept insisting there was red tile beneath. Many men working many hours worked to uncover it and restore the kitchen to proper order.

It should here be noted that none of the furniture in the home is original to Lewis. After his death, Warnie lived at the house until the 1970's. Upon Warnie's death, the house passed to Maureen Moore (who was married by then). Maureen sold the house which became someone else's private residence until some Lewis fans from America began searching for his house, found it, and purchased it. Over a period of time, the home was restored by Americans who would come over and "vacation with a purpose" - taking turns applying their various skills to restore the house. (How 'bout them Americans, eh? Heh.)

Douglas Gresham's bedroom, right off the kitchen:

After visiting half of the downstairs area, we were taken upstairs and straight into Lewis's study. Old and original Narnia manuscripts were found in the attic during the restoration process and so it is believed that he very well could have penned Narnia from this room.

And yes. It did give me chills. Happy ones.

Here is my son walking down the stairs after visiting the study. Note the narrow stairs. It's not a huge surprise to imagine that Lewis ran out of bookshelves to keep his books on when living in this house. There is just never enough room for good books! Wouldn't you all agree?

So what did Lewis do with his excess books? He stacked them all along both sides of this staircase! NOW imagine navigating these stairs!

Lastly, we were taken to see the room where Lewis died. It also served as the music room when Maureen lived in the home.

I suppose I could have felt a little sad standing there and I must confess a smidgen of sadness. However, when you think of the lasting impact this one man had as a result of faith in Christ and a willingness to use his gifts for the glory of God it's hard to feel sad. Mostly I stood in the room feeling celebratory.

Goodbye rooms are hard. But I can't help but think about the 'hello' which is coming.

I wasn't sure what entirely to expect in going to The Kilns but I found it the most memorable and meaningful stop on our trip to England. It was worth every minute we spent there.

Next July I'll host the seventh annual Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge here at Reading to Know. Understanding more of Lewis makes me excited to re-engage with Narnia yet again. These stories continue to speak of God and man to me in ways that no other works of fiction have ever managed to do. I'm so honored to have been able to visit his home and so grateful for the kind and generous people who continue to make tours such as these a possibility! Thank you!

Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge

Later this week I'll "take you" to the grave site where Lewis is buried which is an incredible place in its own right.


*carrie* said...

Five?! Email me. =)

Barbara H. said...

Four of five children - does this mean you are expecting or adopting again? Exciting!

I don't expect to ever go to England, but if I did, this is a place I'd love to see. Have to laugh about going outside to come in because of a forgotten key. Perhaps he wanted it to remain that way with Mrs. Moore in the house, then it got to be habit.

I was just reading in the introduction to The Screwtape Letters (working on a review - hopefully will be up tomorrow) that he wrote with a nib pen dipped in ink because it gave him time to pause and think.

Heather VanTimmeren said...

Congratulations! And thank you for sharing your experiences in England. I love your very literary itinerary, and I look forward to more of your posts about your time there!

Cathy said...

Wow what a great post! I enjoyed every bit of it. So glad I stopped by : )

Lewis has had a huge impact on me as well and it would be such a pleasure to visit his home. Your photos are wonderful and they brought me back to Douglas Gresham book 'Jack's Life' which is a favorite of mine.

Thanks for sharing and I look forward to your next post on Lewis.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

How 'BOUT them Americans?!? :) :)

I love this post.

That is all.

BerlinerinPoet said...

WOW WOW WOW. wow. wow. wooow! This was so great! I'm reading Screwtape Letters now and seeing where he lived is SO awesome!

Sarah said...

Thank you for sharing these wonderful pictures. It was a treat to get to "tour" the house through your eyes.

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