worth a visit?

charleston exterior photos


bloomsbury group

clive bell
vanessa bell
roger fry
duncan grant
maynard keynes
desmond maccarthy
adrian stephen
thoby stephen
lytton strachey
leonard woolf

virginia woolf

monk's house

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man ray

leonora carrington
nusch eluard
frida kahlo
leonor fini
jacqueline lamba breton
rita kernn larsen
lee miller
meret oppenheim
remedios varo

frank auerbach
francis bacon
joseph beuys
jean cocteau
salvador dali
jasper johns
anselm kiefer
jean marais
egon schiele
andy warhol

charleston farmhouse
west sussex, uk

charleston farmhouse
2009 - leninimports.com

Worth a Visit?

  • Certainly but the colours have dulled and the gift shop prices are so high they give you an outer-body experience!

The artist Vanessa Bell started leasing (none of the Bloomsbury group actually owned it) and moved to Charleston near Firle in East Sussex in October 1916. he took with her her two children, the artist Duncan Grant and his lover David 'Bunny' Garnett, a nurse, a housemaid, a cook, and Duncan's dog Henry. Vanessa's sister, Virginia Woolf, had recommended the modest farmhouse which though it dated from the sixteenth century, had been largely reconstructed in the early nineteenth century. Prior to them moving in, it had been used as a boarding-house.

Vanessa knew the area well, having stayed with her sister and her husband Leonard at the home the leased, nearby Asheham House. Chartleston was ideal in the circumstances for Grant and Garnett were conscientious objectors and were able to find work 'of national importance' on a nearby farm. Incidentally, pacifism was the one common thread that ran through all of the Bloomsbury group.

During the remaining war years the group used this as their country retreat despite the fact that the house had no hot water and was always chilly. Visitors then and after included Vanessa's husband, Clive Bell, Roger Fry, Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey, E.M. Forster, Benjamin Britten and T.S. Eliot.

In 1918, Vanessa gave birth to her daughter by Grant, Angelica, at Charleston.

What makes the home fascinating is that from the moment they moved in they decorated the house in their name only. Indeed, if you go on the tour of the house you will come away with the feeling that if it didn't move it was painted! Bell and especially Grant, imposed their style on the house to almost overpowering effect.

Between the First and Second World Wars they used the house as a holiday home. When the Scond World War came in 1939, Vanessa, Clive & Duncan moved in permanently. Vanessa died in 1961, her husband two years later, and Grant lived there until his death in 1978 (fitting that the last room of the tour is his studio). Vanessa's and Duncan's daughter lived there alone for the next two years. She now lives in the south of France though did revisit the house a couple of years ago.

In 1980 the Charleston Trust was formed and renovated the house to appear as it did in the 1950s.

So is it worth a visit? Well, I give it a qualified yes. It is a beautiful place and the gardens in summer are awash with colour. It is a place of peace, serenity, and the Trust has succeeded in creating a 1950s time capsule. It captures a time long gone and for that the Trust should be applauded.

On the down side is the fact that all the colours of the interior designs have faded to a dramatic effect. On the tour I went on in 2006 of the house one of the other tour members had been on the tour fifteen years previous and remarked how much the colours had faded even since then. I have to say that the main reason I visited the place was that I had always loved the bright colours the Bloomsbury artists used. Indeed in the books on the place someone must have been using the autobalance on the graphics and turning the brightness up for the reality is a disappointment. The guide immediately apologised for the fading but it really should be pointed out that this is the case in those aforementioned books and on their website.

The tour of the house cost 6.50 (May 2006) and took about an hour. The guide was informative and enthusiastic though her love for all things Duncan Grant got on my nerves a bit. Indeed, I swear in her anecdotes on Grant I heard her say that when he did a turd it was golden. Ok, I made that up but she did bang on about him as though he was some kind of demigod. And, of course, like all tours, there was one person who knew more that the guide, or thought they did, and put in their two-penny at every opportunity. Why they can't shut-up is beyond me.

Paradoxically, the tour made me realise what a second-rate artist Grant was in many respects. You can see so much of other artists' influences in his work which he definately didn't succeed in absorbing into his own style. I saw Matisse in his work, Picasso and Jean Cocteau to count but three. Vanessa Bell seemed far more accomplished to me.

Oh and the gift shop. It has some beautiful ceramics, jewellery, hand painted cabinets and boxes, but you will need to take out a second mortgage to buy some of the. An exaggeration but most of the products do not represent value for money. For example 3500 for a Duncan Grant replica rug is just way over the top when you consider that on ebay from time to time you can pick up an original Grant drawing for 700.00!! If they had the prices at a reasonable amount, say half what they are now, I'm sure they would sell a hell of a lot more.

All in all though, it is worth visiting. It is a lovely glimpse into the lives of the Bloomsbury group and it does succeed in taking you back to a time, a place, when the world seemed a better place.

Recommended Reading:

Contact Details:



Snail mail:
The Charleston Trust
East Sussex
United Kingdom

Office: 01323 811626
Visitor information: 01323 811265

worth a visit? | contact


clive bell | vanessa bell
roger fry | duncan grant
maynard keynes | desmond maccarthy
adrian stephen | thoby stephen
lytton strachey | leonard woolf

virginia woolf

charleston | monk's house

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