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CBN.com C.S. Lewis’ Oxford, England, home called the Kilns has been the location for some of the best thinking and writing the world has ever known. But, there was a time when this famed house was in such poor condition that it was in danger of being lost forever. That seemed to be it’s likely end until a unique turn of events would restore it for use physically, academically, and spiritually.
It was World War II. Great Britain was suffering under the blitzkrieg bombings of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Children were evacuated from major cities to the relative safety of the English countryside.
Kim Gilnett, Marketing Associate for the School of Fine and Performing Arts at Seattle Pacific University, says, “Many people may not realize that The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe actually comes partly out of Lewis’ life. He had children come live here during the war.
“They had one young man who had learning difficulties; he couldn’t read. He must have been somewhere around 14 years old. Lewis would sit in the evenings, go over the alphabet with him every day, spend time making up flash cards and doing everything he could do to try to help this young.
“In his ‘Weight of Glory’ sermon, he talks about the eternal importance of human interaction. He treated every human interaction as if it was eternal.”
For C.S. Lewis’ stepson, Douglas Gresham, the Kilns was the place where he grew from childhood into manhood.
“It was the result of the dire things that were happening in our lives at the time,” says Douglas. “I was only there because my mother and father had divorced when I was eight years old. I had been transplanted from America to England.
“I was only there because my mother was dying of cancer and married C.S. Lewis.
“One of the things that gets missed sometimes about the relationship between my mother and Jack was that the two of them were almost isolated from the rest of mankind on pinnacles of their own intellectual abilities. They both had these extraordinarily eidetic memories. I mean, Jack would read something and never forget it. My mother had the same facility. She could pick up a score of a piano concerto -- a Mozart piece -- put the book down and play it on the piano from memory.”
Kate Simcoe is the Coordinator of the Summer Seminars-in-Residence Program at The Kilns. She says, “Lewis lived a very cloistered life until Joy came in. When Joy moved into the Kilns, she said it was a home that was put together with books and cobwebs. She immediately went about cleaning it and brought hospitality back into that home.”
“I had the benefit of hearing conversations with Tolkien and with Roger Lanceyln Green, who was a great children’s writer,” recalls Douglas. “W.H. Lewis the historian, Lord David Cecil… all kinds of people would come to the house.”
Doug says that his stepfather always treated him with respect.
“Jack didn’t think he was good with children, but in fact, children got on with him very, very well,” says Douglas. “He never seemed to talk down to children. He never treated you as some kind of inferior species, like so many adults do.”
When his beloved wife Joy finally succumbed to cancer, Jack and Doug were left alone at the Kilns.
“Jack and I found ourselves isolated together right in our own pool of grief,” says Douglas. “I had Jack to lean on. He only had me, and I got the better end of the deal, I think. But we did grow very close in those years after mother’s death.”
Kim says, “C.S. Lewis died in 1963. His brother lived on and off here until his death in 1973.
“By the mid-‘80s the house was really suffering. It was in danger of degrading to the point where it couldn’t be brought back.”
College professor Stan Matson was looking for a role model of Christian scholarship that could illustrate his vision of ministry to academia.
“We need a role model of someone who can enter into the marketplace, as Jesus did, and really reach out to them in love and not in a patronizing way, but in a really nurturing way,” says Stan. “For me Lewis became an example of that.”
The C.S. Lewis Foundation was born.
“We then determined that we would establish a summer program at Oxford,” says Stan. “God led us to C.S. Lewis’ home, which was a total wreck. [It] had been up for sale and bought by a small group of Christians.”
“They turned it over to the C.S. Lewis Foundation with the hope that they would be able to restore and protect the house,” says Kim.
Since 1993, volunteers have worked to restore the Kilns to the same condition and decoration as when Jack, Joy and Doug lived there. The C.S. Lewis Foundation continues to renovate and maintain the home for the use of their mission.
“I’m sure Jack would be pleased,” says Douglas.
Stan says, “Our ministry is one of encouragement. It’s one of hospitality. It’s one of encouraging Christian faculty artists, dancers, poets, and novelists to take a deep breath, to go to their knees first, to repent, arise and allow the Holy Spirit to have His way.”
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