To gain access for an internal viewing of the former home is not that easy despite a notice on the gate that reads ‘View by appointment’. However, my recently updated and very different ebook “C S Lewis in Oxford: A Guide for Visitors” is now available and provides contact details for a direct enquiry. My new website www.CSLewisInOxford.com will also keep you entertained for a good while for sure!
On September 4th 2003 Stan Mattson, Founder and President of the C S Lewis Foundation, Redlands, California in a very rare email to me wrote “Although it is understandably and appropriately of great interest to many, it is neither a museum nor public property”. That remains the case to this day August 2013 and in my opinion is totally unacceptable.
As a 10 year old boy having visited ‘The Kilns’ regularly, and then later with Lewis’s step-sons Douglas and David Gresham during the 1950’s I consider I have first-hand knowledge of the former occupants and the property that continues to interest so many.
For many years I have nurtured a vision of total restoration at the Kilns. I would like to return it to what it was like originally, a typically English country cottage lived in by C S Lewis, brother Warnie and others of course, but in comparative squalor.
Lewis’s former home and the eight houses now built on what was once the Orchard (one house was built in Lewis’ back garden) are in private ownership. The lake and woodland area is today owned by a Wildlife Trust (BBOWT).
An expensive vision to return it to what it was I know, and with current day costs standing at about £8-£10 million it’s not likely to happen anytime soon. However, I have already received many offers of ‘physical’ help from Americans who have said they would be honoured to repay the comfort that C S Lewis has brought to them. “We would be happy to organize working parties as soon as you are ready” I was told. So with your help we really could do something about this so very important property that today has very few visitors, other than that is by the fortunate few and generally by those who are associated with the Foundation!
I would like to rebuild the two brick kilns and the brick drying barn that once stood just a hundred yards or so away from the former Lewis home. Provide a linked walkway bringing the air-raid shelter into view that today is on land owned by The Wildlife Trust.
I would reinstate the original entrance to the property from Kiln Lane rather than Lewis Close as is today.
The Wildlife Trust has owned the freehold of the lake and woodland area since 1969 and informed me that the air-raid shelter is currently a home for bats! They also told me that the lake to the rear of the former home for which they are responsible was “environmentally in good condition”. The reality is that apart from a huge amount of weed left to ferment annually there are no fish of any obvious size, yet during the 1950’s the lake was full of fish such as roach, tench, perch and the odd pike.
Today the lake is full of all sorts of rubbish, but nowhere near as bad as it was before volunteers helped out in clearing it. Red and white algae can still be seen at different times of the year because the water is stagnant, and of course vandalism is rife. This then is the C S Lewis Nature Reserve!
I once asked members of the the Wildlife Trust would they be re-stocking the lake with fish. A lady in the group replied “we don’t want the fish they eat the flies”. She was probably referring to the dragonfly and similar that hover over the disgusting ‘cess-pit’ that they believe is environmentally in good condition!
Surely the C S Lewis, Tolkien and poet Shelly connections with the area are far more important than flies and bats? “We are environmentalists” she replied. Frankly, my opinion is that this area is a disgrace and they should be ashamed of themselves. We need to clean it up as part of the total restoration; it was after all part of Lewis’s garden!
So was The Kilns cold and dirty? Were the books on the shelves really covered with dust and cobwebs, the blackout curtains still in place from the war years? Well yes it was exactly like that until Helen Joy Gresham (nee Davidman) who preferred to be known as ‘Joy’ and who eventually became Mrs Joy Lewis, arrived during 1957.
I believe we should purchase other 'Lewis related' property in the UK such as the former home of Joy Davidman and the Eagle and Child Public House, the Public House recently purchased by St Johns College, Oxford where meetings between the famous ‘Inklings’ took place for example. I asked the Foundation for help with this project during 2004 suggesting we turn it into a shrine to C S Lewis and didn’t even get a response to my email! With your help we could set up a priority purchase list. I believe we should also erect an appropriate Memorial to Mr and Mrs C S Lewis somewhere in the City of Oxford.
The C S Lewis Tours in Oxford that I once offered at www.cslewistours.com are sadly no longer available due to lack of funding. The minibus (the White Stag) that I have used for the last 7 years and funded personally has been retired.
Without doubt this whole concept is a major project and one that may or may not be completed, or yet even started in my lifetime, but it surely has to happen. If you believe in this cause and can offer any assistance, please write to me via email Ron@pestcontrol-supermarket.com or send a donation made to: Payments@pestcontrol-supermarket.com (Please add code CSLIO in the subject line)