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C. S. Lewis (1898–1963)


Clive Staples Lewis had associations with Headington from June 1921, and it was his permanent home from 1929 until his death in 1963. Even between 1954 and 1963 when he was a Fellow of Magdalene College in Cambridge, he regularly returned by train to Headington for weekends and vacations.

Mrs Jane King Moore (née Askins), known as Minto, who was born in Ireland in 1872, was the mother of a comrade of Lewis who had been killed in the First World War. She was separated from her husband, and in the autumn of 1918 moved to Oxford with her daughter Maureen: her first address there was 28 Warneford Road in Cowley St John parish.

After Lewis was demobilized in December 1918 he visited Mrs Moore frequently, regarding her as his adopted mother; but some scholars have suggested that there was more to the relationship than this, even though she was 26 years his senior. He soon moved in to lodge with her.


Three addresses in All Saints (Highfield) parish, Headington

Mrs Moore and her lodger C. S. Lewis then moved to Headington, where they had three addresses:

Uplands, 54 Windmill Road

(1) “Uplands”, 54 Windmill Road

As Uplands (right) was on the east side of the road, it was in the parish of Highfield.

They lived here for less than a year.

 

(2) Hill View at 76 Windmill Road

On 24 August 1919 Lewis returned from a two-day trip to Dublin to find that Mrs Moore had moved eleven houses down to a flat in 76 Windmill Road (below), so he too had to move to his second Headington home.

76 Windmill Road

Lewis wrote to his brother on 24 August 1919:

Just a line to let you know of my arrival and of this change of the address – the Minto having left Uplands and come here [letter is headed “Hill View, Windmill Road]. Our landlady is a funny old woman, the wife of an Indian engine driver. I sleep on the sofa.”

This was the home of Mr & Mrs Albert Morris. Alfred Morris is listed at Gleanbury Cottage, Windmill Road in Kelly's Directory from 1911 to 1921 and at 76 Windmill Road in the 1911 census, where he is described as a jobbing gardener. It appears that the Morrises had given the new name Gleanbury Cottage to the house that was formerly called Hill View, but that C. S. Lewis was using the old name, which may still have been on the door. This house was again in All Saints (Highfield) parish, and In a letter to Greeves of 24 August 1919, Lewis described himself as living “in the solitudes of Highfield”.

Mrs Moore's daughter Maureen went to Headington School, and C. S. Lewis wrote to his brother in April 1921 describing how he attended a show there, “sneaking in alone a whimsical and unobserved male among miles of petticoat”.

(3) Hillsboro House, now 14 Holyoake Road (original address 2 Western Road)

On 28 July 1922 Lewis moved in to a third house with Mrs Moore and her daughter: Hillsboro House on Holyoake Road, the west side of which was again in All Saints' parish. They remained there until they moved into The Kilns on 10 October 1930, but Mrs Moore was subletting 28 Warneford Road and they appear to have returned there for a period from 5 September 1922. By June 1924 their charlady and friend at Hillsboro was Mrs Harry Joseph Phipps (nicknamed Phippy by Lewis): she lived at 151 Windmill Road, and Lewis claimed that Tolkien's way of communicating was the same as hers.

Below: Hillsboro House in September 2013
Hillsboro

Hillsboro

Left: The house still has its original name engraved over the right-hand side of the downstairs bay window

The address of Hillsboro House used to be 2 Western Road, but it is currently 14 Holyoake Road. Mrs Moore can be seen listed here in Kelly’s Directory for 1928, the first directory that covers Headington fully.

Hillsboro House was for many years the Oxford Chiropractic Clinic.

Lewis famously became a theist in 1926 while on the bus up to this Headington house:

The odd thing was that before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears to be a moment of wholly free choice. I was going up Headington Hill on the top of a bus. Without words, and almost without images, a fact about myself was somehow presented to me. I became aware that I was holding something at bay. I felt myself being given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut. I chose to open.

In 1929 he became a monotheist, and finally a Christian in 1931/2.

Mrs Moore is still listed at Hillsboro in Kelly's Directory for 1930, but on 10 October that year she and Lewis moved to The Kilns, now in Risinghurst.


Life at The Kilns, 1930 until his death

At first Lewis’s brother Major Warren Lewis (known as Warnie) would have nothing to do with Janie Moore; but after the death of their father in 1929 Lewis persuaded Warnie to buy “The Kilns” (then outside the city of Oxford), together with him and Mrs Moore. The two brothers saw the house for the first time on Sunday 6 July 1930, and Lewis wrote in his diary the following day:

We did not go inside, but the eight acre garden is such stuff as dreams are made of. I never imagined that for us any such garden would ever come within the sphere of discussion. The house … stands at the entrance to its own grounds at the northern foot of Shotover at the end of a narrow lane, which is turn opens off a very bad and little used road, giving as great privacy as can reasonably be looked for near a large town. To the left of the house are the two brick kilns from which it takes its name – in front, a lawn and hard tennis court – then a large bathing pool, beautifully wooded, and with a circular brick seat overlooking it: after that a steep wilderness broken with ravines and nooks of all kinds runs up to a little cliff topped by a thistly meadow, and then the property ends in a thick belt of fir trees, almost a wood: the view from the cliff over the dim blue distance of the plain is simply glorious.

The Kilns

The Kilns (right) cost £3,300, and Lewis moved there with Mrs Moore and her daughter on 10 October 1930.

The ownership of The Kilns was put in Mrs Moore’s name, even though her Askins estate had borne less than half the cost. Hence in Kelly's Directory the listing of The Kilns (under Forest Hill) was under the name of Mrs J. K. Moore.

In June 1931 Lewis described in a letter to Arthur Greeves how he would go out on the lake at The Kilns before breakfast and dive into the lake and swim.

On 22 November 1931, the anniversary of the dedication of Holy Trinity Church, Lewis attended a special service there taken by the Revd Alured George Clarke, the Vicar of All Saints Church, and was very rude about his sermon in a letter to Warnie, stating “The matter was good enough, the manner detestable”.

When Warnie retired in 1932, he also came to live with them, and Alice Hamilton Moore (no relation, but an old friend of Mrs Moore’s from Ireland) also lived there.

The extensive grounds of this house, which was then out in the country, provided the inspiration for the Chronicles of Narnia, which started off as a tale told to children evacuated there from London in 1939. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe was published nine years later in 1948.

Narnia window by Trevor Coppock

The Kilns is in the parish of Headington Quarry, and Lewis attended Holy Trinity Church there with his brother. He first preached there on 29 March 1942, on the subject “Religion and pleasure”.

Warnie served Churchwarden at Holy Trinity from 1953 to 1956.

The brothers always sat in the same pew there, beside the pillar to St George. The Narnia window (left), designed and made by Sally Scott, was installed beside this pew in 1991.

On the left, the window depicts Aslan the Lion as the sun, with the word NARNIA in the rays of light coming from his mane.

On the right are the flying horse, the castle Cair Paravel, and a talking tree.

1939 Register

This Register shows at least nine people (and possibly twelve) living at The Kilns, but some are blacked out because they could still be alive. The eight who have been revealed are as follows. Note that Mrs Moore and her married daughter Maureen Blake are listed ahead of Lewis, and that two employees are listed ahead of Mrs Moore's old friend Alice Hamilton Moore. Warnie is missing, as he had been recalled to active service in France on 4 September 1939:

Janie K. MOORE (born 28 March 1872), married, unpaid domestic duties
Maureen D. BLAKE (born 19 August 1906), single [should read married], music teacher
Clive Staples LEWIS (born 27 November 1890), single, Fellow & Tutor University
Annie HENRY (born 9 June 1896), single, Confectioner, Employee
Frederick W. PAXFORD (born 5 August 1898), single, Gardener & chauffeur
Alice H. MOORE (born 20 November 1853), widow, incapacitated (age)
Name blacked out
Muriel McC. CROCKER (born 23 April 1921), single, Domestic servant
Joan E. FRETWELL (born 24 February 1923), single, at school
Three names blacked out that could belong to this house or a neighbouring one

Mrs Moore's friend Alice died at the age of 85 soon after the Register was compiled and was buried in Holy Trinity churchyard on 6 November 1939. Mrs Moore herself died on 12 January 1951 and was buried in the same grave. Lewis accepted the Chair of Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature at the University of Cambridge that year, but continued to keep “The Kilns” as his home.


“Surprised by Joy”

In 1952 Lewis met Mrs Joy Gresham (née Davidman), and their story is famously told in the film Shadowlands.

Joy Davidman’s house in Old High Street

Joy was an American who had been deserted by her husband.

Lewis helped her to arrange the rental of 10 Old High Street, Headington (right) for herself and her two boys, and she moved in during August 1953.

The house (opposite the present Waitrose) has a plaque over the downstairs window reading: “The former home of the writer Joy Davidman, wife of C. S. Lewis”.

Davidman plaque

Joy’s son Douglas Gresham was about eight years old when he moved into Old High Street in 1953. He said of the house: “It was a nice place partly because of the visitors who came, many of Oxford’s literary luminaries. Lewis himself of course, his brother Warnie, and J. R. R. Tolkien.”

In 1956, Joy's visitor's visa was not renewed by the Home Office, and Lewis agreed to enter into a civil marriage contract with her so that she could continue to live in the UK, telling a friend that "the marriage was a pure matter of friendship and expediency". The civil marriage took place at the register office, 42 St Giles', Oxford, on 23 April 1956..

Mayfair suite, NOC

 

In 1957 Joy was admitted to the Wingfield Morris Orthopaedic Hospital (now the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre) with a broken leg, and was found to have cancer.

The Revd Peter Bide married Lewis and Joy a second time at this hospital (this time with a real Christian ceremony) on 21 March 1957: the marriage took place in the Mayfair Suite (left).

The next month (April 1957), Joy moved into “The Kilns” with Lewis. On 15 December 1958 he wrote in a letter to Sheldon Vanauken:

My wife's recovery is really more like a resurrection. She walks (with a stick and a limp) about the wood shooting – or anyway shooting at – pigeons; we walk together to the Ampleforth Arms.

Davidman plaque at crematorium

Joy died on 13 July 1960. At her request, her funeral was held at Oxford Crematorium, and her ashes were scattered in its garden. Lewis had a plaque (right) put up there in her memory. It reads:

Remember
HELEN JOY
DAVIDMAN
D. July 1960
Loved wife of C. S. LEWIS

Here the whole world (stars, water, air,
And field, and forest, as they were
Reflected in a single mind)
Like cast off clothes was left behind
In ashes, yet with hope that she,
Re-born from holy poverty,
In lenten lands, hereafter may
Resume them on her Easter Day


C. S. Lewis continued to live at The Kilns, and survived his wife by five years.

C.S. Lewis’s grave

 

 

During Lewis’s final illness, Father Ronald Head, the Vicar of Holy Trinity Church, visited him twice a week to administer communion.

 

Lewis died at “The Kilns” on 22 November 1963 and was buried at Holy Trinity churchyard in a very plain grave (left). The quotation on the grave, “Men must endure their going thence”, is taken from King Lear: Lewis's mother had a calendar with a Shakespearian quotation for each day of the year, and that was the one on the day she died.

The report on his death in the Oxford Times of 29 November 1963 was very brief:

Prof. C. S. Lewis, who was Fellow and tutor at Magdalen College, Oxford, from 1924 to 1954 died on Friday at his home in Headington Quarry. Until his resignation last month because of ill health he was Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge University.
   The son of a Belfast solicitor, Clive Staples Lewis served as a second lieutenant in the Somerset Light Infantry in France towards the end of the First World War. In 1918 he went up to University College, Oxford. He was best known outside the university for his books, especially his apologies for Christianity - among them
The Screwtape letters.

His brother Warnie remained at The Kilns and died there on 9 April 1973. He was buried in the same grave as his brother.


Mary Rogers gives two vignettes of Lewis in Headington in her article “C.S. Lewis — God’s Fool” in Oxford (the Journal of the Oxford Society) for November 1998:

“Jack never minded looking a fool in a good cause. My sister-in-law tells me that he used to attend an annual party in Headington where guests were expected to arrive, not exactly in fancy dress, but to suggest some topic the hostess had decided upon. After Jack’s marriage to Joy, he brought her along, obviously much to her disgust. She had chosen not to represent some character in Poetry or Opera…. Lewis (of course) represented Wotan, wearing a black eye-shade over one eye — without embarrassment.

“Another Lewis-the-fool story involved an elderly dog. Both brothers were animal lovers, and cared for each dog lovingly to his last breath. One, in its extreme old age (probably Baron or Mr Papworth, also known as “Tykes”) became very difficult, as we all do, in time. It was one of the rare sights of Headington to see Jack feeding an animal who was sensitive about being seen eating, and would not eat on home territory. So Jack would walk in front holding the dog dish in one hand, and a spoon in the other, ladling the food backwards over his shoulder to the following shambling dog, the leader being quite unmindful of the passersby and their reactions, as long as the dog got fed.”


Frequently Asked Questions about C. S. Lewis
by Mike Stranks of Holy Trinity Church (PDF)

Pictures of The Kilns, and how to get there

You Tube: Memories of C. S. Lewis in Headington

There is a much fuller entry on C. S. Lewis in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
The ODNB online is available free to many public library users, including those in Oxfordshire:
enter L followed immediately by your library ticket number in the “Library Card Login” box

Wikipedia: Clive Staples Lewis

© Stephanie Jenkins

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