I had a very ‘Bloomsbury’ weekend recently. I took a friend to Charleston Farmhouse in East Sussex and as I haven’t been for quite a few years I was completely bowled over again at the sheer creative endeavour that flowed from this house; writing, painting, ceramics, textiles, furniture, cooking, gardening, sculpture…. the list is endless.
Artists Vanessa Bell and Clive Bell had a very open marriage, both taking lovers throughout their lives. Vanessa had affairs with artist and critic Roger Fry and with the painter Duncan Grant who also moved to Sussex with their unconventional household. Over the following half century Charleston became the country meeting place for this group of artists, writers and intellectuals now known as the Bloomsbury Set. You can only see the house by taking an official tour but it’s a very informative guide that fills you in on the anecdotes behind each piece in the rooms. I loved the artist’s studio for its roughly painted burnt umber walls and (of course!) the lovely grey wallpapers and hand painted textiles and furniture. I was unable to take photos in the house so tried to capture a few from the garden…
If you in the area you must also visit another Bloomsbury group home, Monks House which is where Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard lived and wrote. I visited on the same summery day as Charleston so it was washed in beautiful sunlight. The house is decorated and furnished with Virginia’s sister Vanessa Bell’s work; everything from textiles, beautiful painted tables and chairs to ceramics. Here you can walk around at your own leisure, making it much less formal experience than at Charleston. I loved the particular green Virginia insisted on using:
The gardens are wonderful and have remained pretty much how both Leonard and Virginia planted them.
The writer’s hut lies to one side of the garden, tucked under a tree and is where Virginia wrote Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse. There is no access to the inside but you can peer in through the windows and imagine her sitting at the table with her typewriter.
There are also plenty of black and white photographs of the couple and their literary friends including T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, Roger Fry and Lytton Strachey who came to stay at Monks House.
One of the reasons for buying this house was its amazing views of Mount Caburn…