Waugh’s Visit to May Morris

The recent discovery of the journals of May Morris, daughter of the more famous William, has inspired an exhibit devoted to her life and works. The journals reportedly reveal that she was responsible for many of the creative designs that were attributed to her father. After her parents’ deaths she moved permanently into their house in the Cotswolds called Kelmscott Manor. In newspaper reports of the journals and exhibit, much attention has been drawn to a visit by Evelyn Waugh and Alastair Graham to Kelmscott Manor. These reports are carried in both The Times and the Daily Mail. This is from the Mail:

Much of [May Morris’s] later years were spent in the company of Mary Lobb, a former World War Land Girl whom the writer Evelyn Waugh dubbed a hermaphrodite. The pair took up camping when May was 60, and fulfilled her lifelong ambition to visit Iceland, for which she packed Horlicks and 11 pounds of bacon. May died aged 76 and her death was followed a few weeks later by her ‘heartbroken’ close friend.

Waugh’s visit took place in October 1927, apparently while he was doing research for his biography of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (published in 1928) who had a strong association with William Morris and the house. Waugh was staying with Alastair at nearby Barford House at the time. The report on his visit that has drawn the attention of the press is from his Diary for 6 October 1927. May Morris seems to have been present during the visit:

…Miss Morris, a singularly forbidding woman–very awkward and disagreeable dressed in a slipshod ramshackle way in hand-woven stuffs. A hermaphrodite lives with her…I had imagined it all so spacious–perhaps it is because it lacks [William] Morris and has that extraordinary woman and her hermaphrodite.

There is a photo of both May Morris and Mary Lobb accompanying the story in The Times. The exhibition May Morris: Art and Life is at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow until 28 January 2018.

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