19 April 2017

The Kilns


The Kilns, Headington

This is the house that C.S .Lewis lived in for more than 30 years with his brother, Warnie. Other people lived here, too, from Mrs. Moore and her daughter Maureen, then his wife Joy when he got married in the 1950's. He also tended to take people in who needed a place to stay, especially during WWII. Our guide, Aidan, told us of many examples of Lewis's humility and caring nature for others.

Visiting The Kilns has always been on my dream list. It requires booking a tour ahead of time, so it takes a little bit of planning. We caught the #9 bus from High Street, which took us into Headington, which is a busy city with lots of traffic going through the centre of town to a main roundabout. The bus took us into a quiet neighborhood, and we got off. Across the street was Lewis Close. The house was just down this street, which dead-ends at the nature reserve that used to be part of Lewis's property, and was an inspiration ground for many aspects of Narnia. The lovely walk circles a lake. It is a peaceful spot with trees, a path, birds chirping, and many little nooks of nature around a lake of calm.

Our guide greeted us at the front door and brought us into the common room, where the big desk sits in front of the window, shelves filled with all the books Lewis would have had, old black and white photos adorned the walls of Lewis and friends, and a Narnia map hung above the fireplace. It felt surreal to be standing there, in Lewis's house. Lewis wrote all the Narnia books here, plus countless other books that I've read. I walked around the common room, waiting for the other guests to arrive. I looked at the books on the shelves. I sat in the chair closest to the shelf and desk, just soaking in the fact that C.S. Lewis had lived there. Meaningful literary history and connections adds to my sense of wonder and awe.

Our guide was the 94.5 year old Aidan, who lived five minutes away, and was so wonderful in his storytelling. He began to tell us all stories of Lewis and the house as we all sat in the common room. He took us around the whole house, telling us stories in each room. We saw the original 150 year old sign now hanging on the wall originally from The Eagle and Child Pub (AKA The Bird and Baby) that Walter Hooper (Lewis's secretary/editor who is still alive today, and who we have to thank for making sure most of the books we know stayed in print) managed to get when they were doing some renovations at the pub. We passed a wardrobe by the stairs (should I have stepped inside?) which was not his original wardrobe (the original one built by Lewis's grandfather is in Wheaton, IL). We stood in the kitchen and heard stories about how much tea Lewis drank. Literally, pot after pot of tea. We went upstairs and saw the rooms up there, including Lewis's bedroom, which was the smallest room with just a twin bed. When he could have had any room in the house, he picked the smallest room to be sure that others would be more comfortable (he even had a black iron staircase built outside his room and a door directly into the room, so he didn't have to go through Mrs. Moore's room, which was adjacent).

To be in a place with meaning and history is enjoyable on its own, but with a really great guide, it makes it such a memorable experience. After the full house tour, Aidan walked us out to the C.S. Lewis Nature Reserve so we could hear more stories, and see the bomb shelter that Lewis's gardener, Paxford, built back during WWII.

I also managed to buy a book at the house, as there were some for sale. Mine was a copy of Aidan's (I assume he was clearing out some books, as his signature is in the cover) on the 'Great War' between C.S. Lewis and his good friend Owen Barfield. With the book, I got a little bookplate that says the book was purchased at The Kilns. 

What a day it was! We also enjoyed talking with some fellow Americans who were in the group. Two of the men walked with us back to the bus stop and we talked for twenty minutes before the bus arrived to take us all back to Oxford.

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