The National Trust was set up to preserve places of historic interest or natural beauty for the enjoyment of the British public. We are members of the National Trust (in the U.S. this is called the Royal Oak Society) which allowed us entry into the historic sites and provided a parking permit. The first National Trust property we toured, on my English Garden Tour, was Bateman’s, home of Rudyard Kipling; an English poet, short-story writer, and novelist chiefly remembered for his celebration of British imperialism, tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his tales for children.
What I learned at Bateman’s:
Rudyard Kipling bought the Bateman’s Estate, in 1902, to escape the tourist attraction he had become, at his home in Brighton. His wife found the sand-stoned estate in Burwash, East Sussex, built in 1634 by local ironmaster, John Bateman. It had 33 acres with outbuildings and a mill, no bathrooms, no running water upstairs, and no electricity, but Kipling loved it. In a letter he wrote, “Behold us, lawful owners of a grey stone lichened house- A.D. 1634 over the door– beamed, panelled, with old oak staircase, and all untouched and unfaked. It is a good and peaceable place. We have loved it ever since our first sight of it.”
Kipling had a road built from the village to his estate at Bateman’s. His car, which was driven by a chauffeur, was a 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom 1. The car is on the property in one of the out buildings, now used as part of the museum.
An oast is found in the peaceful, secluded, garden and is now used for a gift shop selling plants, Kipling souvenirs, books, and flour from the flour mill on the property.
There is also a lovely restaurant serving seasonal lunches, and homemade cakes with inside or outside seating. It was a beautiful spot to sit and enjoy the garden.
Here is the flower shop at Bateman’s!
Kipling, born in Bombay, India to British nationals, was sent at the age of five, to England, to live with people who boarded children of British nationals, who were serving in India. He and his three year old sister, Trix, lived there for six years and Kipling recalled the stay with horror and thought the cruelty and neglect he experienced hastened the onset of his literary career. He had turned to writing for comfort. The two Kipling children, however, did have relatives in England whom they could visit. They spent a month each Christmas with their maternal aunt, Georgiana and her husband, at their house, “The Grange,” in Fulham, London, which Kipling was to call “a paradise which I verily believe saved me.” When “The Grange” was sold Kipling bought the antique doorbell and placed it at Bateman’s, to remind him how he had loved his stay there.
There was also a hidden room ( Mrs. Kipling’s private room with a peephole) just above the entry which allowed her to say yea or nay when someone showed up at the house to visit. With a ring of a bell she relayed whether the guests should be allowed to stay or turned away. She was very protective of Kipling’s privacy and his writing time.
Here is Kipling’s desk and library; his personal paradise.
Kipling’s poems and works of fiction include, “Gunga Din” (1892), The Jungle Book (1894), and Kim (1901), Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906), and Rewards and Fairies (1910). Pook’s Hill was part of the estate at Bateman’s. The latter contained the poem, “If“. In a 1995 BBC opinion poll, it was voted the U.K.’s favorite poem. In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Acres of countryside provide a tranquil retreat.
Here an oast, near the mill, has been converted to the caretaker’s cottage.
A very knowledgable guide instructed us on the workings of the mill.
Kipling had three children. After the death of his oldest daughter, Josephine, at age six from pneumonia, he published the first of many children’s books. One was Just So Stories for Little Children.
Kipling actively encouraged his youngest, and only son, to go to war. Kipling’s son, John, died in the First World War, at the Battle of Loos, in September 1915, at age 18. John had initially wanted to join the Royal Navy, but having had his application turned down after a failed medical examination due to poor eyesight, he opted to apply for military service as an Army officer. But again, his eyesight was an issue during the medical examination and he was rejected. His father had been lifelong friends with Lord Roberts, commander-in-chief of the British Army, and colonel of the Irish Guards, and at Rudyard’s request, John was accepted into the Irish Guards.
He was sent to Loos two days into the battle in a reinforcement contingent. He was last seen stumbling through the mud blindly, screaming in agony after an exploding shell had ripped his face apart. A body identified as his was not found until 1992, although that identification has been challenged.
After his son’s death, Kipling wrote, “If any question why we died/ Tell them, because our fathers lied.” It is speculated that these words may reveal his feelings of guilt at his role in getting John a commission in the Irish Guards.
Kipling became friends with a French soldier whose life had been saved in the First World War when his copy of Kim, which he had in his left breast pocket, stopped a bullet. The soldier presented Kipling with the book (with bullet still embedded) and his Croix de Guerre as a token of gratitude. They continued to correspond, and when the soldier, Maurice Hammoneau, had a son, Kipling insisted on returning the book and medal.
Partly in response to John’s death, Kipling joined the Imperial War Graves Commission, the group responsible for the garden-like British war graves that can be found to this day dotted along the former Western Front, and all the other locations around the world where troops of the British Empire lie buried. His most significant contribution to the project was his selection of the biblical phrase,”Their Name Liveth For Evermore”, found on the Stones of Remembrance in larger war cemeteries and his suggestion of the phrase “Known unto God” for the gravestones of unidentified servicemen. He chose the inscription “The Glorious Dead” on the Cenotaph, Whitehall, London. He also wrote a two-volume history of the Irish Guards, his son’s regiment, that was published in 1923 and is considered to be one of the finest examples of regimental history.
Let’s take a stroll through the vegetable and flower gardens before we leave!
After the death of Kipling’s wife in 1939, his house, “Bateman’s, where he had lived from 1902 until 1936, was bequeathed to the National Trust and is now a public museum dedicated to the author. Elsie Bambridge, his only child, who lived to maturity, died childless in 1976, and also bequeathed her copyrights to the National Trust, which in turn donated them to the University of Sussex, in Brighton, to ensure better public access. We truly enjoyed our day at Bateman’s! See you tomorrow at another National Trust property! Enjoy!