A £4.3M grant that will attract thousands of tourists to a historic manor house will ‘destroy’ the village around the building, residents say.

Kelmscott Manor near Lechlade was awarded the grant by the National Lottery’s Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) last month for repairs and facilities.

But villagers fear the grant, which aims to help the manor attract up to 40,000 visitors a year, will ‘hasten the deterioration’ of Kelmscott, which is already at ‘saturation point’.

Witney Gazette:

They claim the rise in tourists will increase pollution, create a ‘never-ending’ stream of traffic and impact emergency services’ ability to reach the village.

Objectors raised their concerns in a letter to the HLF in August, adding that more visitors will create a ‘Disney-like experience’ at the cost of residents.

One objector, Laura Roberts, said: “The fund is awarded to make the community a better place to live and clearly that isn’t going to be the case.

“I’m sad that the building that made this such an idyllic place to live is going to completely destroy it by hosting 40,000 people a year.”

The manor, which was the retreat of influential designer William Morris from 1871 to 1896, has long attracted tourists to Kelmscott, which has just 34 houses and two farms.

In August, West Oxfordshire District Council’s planning committee approved an application from the manor to improve its facilities, despite villagers voicing their concerns.

This includes a new education centre and car park, which aims to prevent visitors walking through the village to the house.

The manor is currently open three days a week between April and October, with the society intending to add one day per week for pre-booked tour groups.

Meanwhile, it will reinstate a programme for school and community groups to visit on Mondays and Tuesdays between February and November.

Residents say this will attract tourists for six days a week, 10 months a year, which they believe will make Kelmscott harder to visit, damaging the local economy.

For years, tourists have driven and walked along Kelmscott’s narrow roads to reach the house, which villagers say encourages visitors to treat the area as a ‘theme park’.

The manor is spending £1-3million on the car park and using two electric vehicles to drive physically-impaired visitors from the village to the house.

Residents believe this will not prevent a rise in pollution, creating an ‘ever increasing destruction of grass verges and the flora and fauna’.

John Lewis, general secretary of the manor’s owner, the Society of Antiquaries, said the organisation would ‘smooth out’ visitor numbers to relieve pressure at peak times, adding the manor would not be developed at Kelmscott’s expense.

He said: “To do so would destroy what makes the property so special and would be completely at odds with our charitable objectives as the leading learned society concerned with research and care for the remains of the past.”

A HLF spokesperson added: “We understand that the location is sensitive, and that measures will be taken to reduce traffic through the village.”