Jack's Life at The Kilns and in Oxford
A Photo Tour of the Places
C.S. Lewis Called Home
SOME SAY C.S. LEWIS FOUND inspiration for
his writing in the wooded acres behind his longtime residence,
The Kilns. Certainly he found creative company at Oxford University
and in the Oxford public houses where he met with his friends
and fellow intellectuals, the Inklings. In any case, The Kilns
and Oxford became the settings for one of Christianity’s
most extraordinary figures to study, write, and create.
A native of Belfast, Ireland, Lewis — or “Jack”
as friends knew him — was only 18 years old when he
first traveled to the ancient city of Oxford, England, in
1916. After leaving the train station, he took a wrong turn
and walked away from Oxford down the Botley Road. Realizing
his mistake, he turned to see Oxford in the distance. “There
… never more beautiful since, was the fabled cluster
of spires and towers,” he later wrote.
Lewis was to live in the Oxford area for the rest of his
life, first as a student at University College and later as
a member of the faculty of Magdalen College, two of the more
than 30 colleges that made up Oxford University at the time.
His education was interrupted by World War I, and when a close
army friend, Paddy Moore, died in France in 1918, Lewis took
on the responsibility of caring for the soldier’s mother
and sister. In 1930, Jack Lewis and his brother, Warnie Lewis,
pooled their money with that of Mrs. Janie King Moore to purchase
The Kilns, a 9-acre property in Headington Quarry, just east
Warnie recorded their first impressions of The Kilns in a
July 7, 1930, diary entry: “Jack and I went out and
saw the place, and I instantly caught the infection. …The
view from the cliff over the dim blue distance is simply glorious.”
The house was built in 1922 on a site that had been used
to make bricks for the local area. Its name came from two
old, funnel-shaped kilns, that were still located on the property.
With the home also came a brick-drying house, tennis court,
woods, and a pond. “The place was lovely and secluded
…,” wrote Lewis’ former pupil George Sayer
in Jack: C.S. Lewis and His Times. “Jack loved to wander
through the woods during every season of the year and always
wrote about the estate idyllically.”
In a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves, Jack wrote: “The
Kilns has been delightful. I know the pond looks dirty, but
one comes out perfectly clean. I wish you could join me as
I board the punt in the before-breakfast solitude …
Walking was one of Lewis’ preferred modes of transportation,
and the 3-mile walk from The Kilns to Oxford took him through
the lamppost-lined streets of old Headington, through the
Fellows Garden, and onto the grounds of Magdalen College along
Addison’s Walk. Since Lewis had rooms at Magdalen, he
spent several days and nights each week in Oxford.
It was while reading and studying in his Magdalen rooms that
Lewis completed a gradual process of converting from atheism
to theism. Later, with the help of friends J.R.R. Tolkien
and Hugo Dyson, he became a Christian. As a new believer,
Lewis began attending Morning Prayer in Magdalen Chapel and
8 a.m. Sunday services at Holy Trinity Church — the
local parish near The Kilns that became his church “home”
for 33 years.
Lewis was a founding member of the Inklings, a group of Oxford
Christians — including Tolkien, Dyson, Owen Barfield,
and Charles Williams — who met in Lewis’ rooms,
or at The Eagle and Child, a local pub on St. Giles Street.
They shared a love of imaginative literature and lively conversation.
“Meetings of the Inklings made him utterly happy,”
Sayer wrote of Lewis.
After Mrs. Moore’s death in 1951, Jack and Warnie lived
quietly at The Kilns. It was during this time that Jack received
a letter from Joy Davidman Gresham, an American poet. She
came to Oxford to meet him, and they became friends. Eventually,
Lewis offered to marry her in a civil wedding so that she
could stay in England. When it was discovered that Joy had
cancer, Jack and Joy were married in an ecclesiastical ceremony
in Wingfield Hospital in Headington.
During a remission of her cancer, Joy came to live with Lewis
at The Kilns for three years, taking notice of its state of
disrepair. She organized a complete renovation of the home
— and in so doing, became the first American to “save”
The Kilns. She died on July 13, 1960.
Lewis lived at The Kilns for another three years and died
there November 22, 1963, the same day John F. Kennedy was
assassinated. Lewis is buried in Holy Trinity’s churchyard.
Today, The Kilns and Oxford are places of pilgrimage for
people from around the world who want to trace the footsteps
of C.S. Lewis. His lasting influence is evident when visitors
— including poets, politicians, scholars, and schoolchildren
— arrive unannounced, seeking a tour of The Kilns, and
recounting the ways in which the Oxford professor changed
— BY Kim Gilnett
— Photos By Dick Makin
Involved with C.S. Lewis study for more than 30 years,
Fine Arts Marketing Associate Kim Gilnett was an early staff
member for the Seattle Pacific University C.S. Lewis Institute,
and helped lead several SPU C.S. Lewis study tours to Oxford.
He is a member of the C.S. Lewis Foundation Board of Trustees,
and from 1993 to 2000 provided leadership for the Foundation’s
restoration of The Kilns. Since 2000, Gilnett has helped to
host the Foundation’s Summer Seminars at The Kilns.
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