My friends Shauna and Lauren (who were on the master's course I did 2008/9) and I have been intending to take a trip to Sussex for about three years, and on Saturday we finally organised ourselves and did it. Our itinerary? Monk's House and Charleston - being the homes of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, and Vanessa Bell et al respectively. When I say 'et al' that includes luminaries as various as David Garnett, Duncan Grant, and John Maynard Keynes.
We took the train to Lewes (which is lovely and where, ahem, I bought a couple of books - Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky by Patrick Hamilton and Blaming by Elizabeth Taylor) and then had a beautiful walk along the river to Monk's House. It really couldn't have been a better day for it - we kept stopping and marvelling at how beautiful it was. Normally I do this sort of gasping next to my brother Colin, who doesn't care at all about views ("They're just things from further away") so it was a refreshing change to have people agree with my effusiveness.
|Such a lovely walk to take! Also oddly deserted.|
|Lauren and I get a bit too excited about it all...|
After a picnic and some debate over the map (and me falling into a very deep rabbit hole for a moment - sadly no Alice-esque adventures) we arrived at Monk's House, and I used my National Trust membership for probably the last time. And we were allowed to take photos! Here follows lots of photos...
|Table painted by Vanessa Bell!|
|Shakespeare volumes bound & labelled by VW|
|VW's writing shed|
But we didn't just go to one Bloomsbury Group home, oh no! Next stop was Charleston, a few miles away. We weren't allowed to take photographs inside, so here is just the outside. If it was a beautiful home outside (and it was) than the inside was utterly breathtaking. Every wall and item of furniture was decorated by Vanessa Bell or Duncan Grant - abstract patterns creating a sponged-on 'wallpaper', a rooster painted above the window to 'wake up' the occupant in the morning, etc. Despite being a rented house...! And paintings hung everywhere, too. All so stunning, and all the more special because they had been done by one of the residents or their friends. They included a portrait of Virginia Woolf by her sister, Vanessa Bell, which I hadn't seen before, and which I prefer to the famous portraits Bell did of Woolf. I can only find a small part of it online (see right).
Our guide, called Angie, was exceptionally good. She barely drew breath in the hour we had for the tour. It would have been nice to have time to ask questions, perhaps, but I suppose then we'd have lost out on some of the prepared tour. It catered to people who knew nothing at all about the occupants and their friends, whereas I think all seven of us on the tour already knew quite a bit, but it was still great to hear it from an enthusiastic expert. I'm definitely intending to go back - and if you go on a Sunday, then you can roam freely.
Oh, and there was a man about my age in the gift shop who had a 1920s chair at home, and they were buying reproduction Vanessa Bell fabric (at £55 a metre!) to re-cover it. I don't know whose life gave me greater life-envy - the Bloomsbury Group and their idyllic house, or the man who would have that beautiful chair...
If you get the chance to go to either of these wonderful properties, do take it. I can also definitely recommend the walk from Lewes to Monk's House, which is exceptionally beautiful on a sunny day. It was the most delightful day out imaginable, and I was rather worried that my impending cold would ruin it for me. Luckily I managed to stave it off for a day - and it has come back now with a vengeance. So it might be a day or too before you hear from me again, whilst I feel sorry for myself...