Parking at the end of a narrow country lane in Rodmell, Sussex, we walked to the National Trust Property of Monk’s House, the country cottage that was the home of Leonard and Virginia Woolf from 1919 until her death in 1941. There are few houses on this country lane and it is quiet and peaceful. That is the exact reason it was purchased in the first place. During WWI Virginia lived in nearby Firle to escape the hubbub of London, and the war, and to diminish the anxiety and depressive episodes that she experienced when stressed. Following the war she and Leonard bought Monk’s House and lived there a good part of the year, as Leonard thought it was better for her health.
This is what I learned……….
Unlike other homes we have visited on The National Trust, Monk’s House is a small unpretentious home, that anyone could have lived in. I would have loved to have lived in this house! It is not too big, but cozy, and the interior is a time capsule of the 1930’s. You get the feeling Virginia is waiting to greet you at the door! The house itself is a timber framed, but weather boarded house, that originally had a Sussex stone roof, but now is slate.
The front of the house faces the garden, the back is to the street, as we see here. Let’s go in the gate!
Previously renting an old roundhouse windmill, Virginia and Leonard saw the advertisement for the auction of Monk’s House, which included three other small cottages and a 3/4 acre garden. Spread out on the lawn, during the auction, were the provisions and paintings from the previous owners, the Glazebrook family. The Woolfs bought the property and three primitive paintings for 700 pounds. Another draw to the house was the fact that Virginia’s sister, Vanessa, had bought the farmhouse, Charleston, just a few miles away, where she and several members of the Bloomsbury Group had settled to entertain and paint.
The house was derelict when they moved in…… no electricity, no running water and no inside toilets, just a earth closet in the garden. I wasn’t sure what an earth closet was so I have included a picture here with instructions!
Slowly, as finances improved they updated the house adding bathrooms, which included an inside toilet in 1926, and a kitchen. The two bathrooms were paid for from Virginia’s earnings from Mrs. Dalloway and she often said when she was going to the toilet that she was going to see Mrs. Dalloway! By 1929 with the earnings from their Hogarth press business, (remember Virginia was printing and hand binding books for therapy), they decided to add a two story extension, which included “a room of one’s own.” The sitting room was moved upstairs because the view of the garden and South Downs was beautiful and Virginia used the downstairs room as her bedroom. The only way in and out of her bedroom was via a door to the garden. Leonard slept at the opposite room of the house and every morning brought Virginia her coffee in bed.
The lower to door is to the kitchen of the main house and used to be a shed!
Virginia’s favorite color was viridian green! Her friends and family thought it horrid!
More property was added so they could have an unobstructed view of the South Downs, and a writing lodge was tucked into the orchard garden for a retreat for Virginia.
Behind the back garden wall sits St Peter’s Church, which I thought made the grounds very peaceful and serene. The garden was Virginia’s source of inspiration.
By 1939 the Woolfs were living full time at Monks House to escape the bombing in London. Their home in Bloomsbury was destroyed. The peace was shattered for Virginia when German bombers flew low, almost daily, over Sussex on their way to bomb London. Her brother provided both of them with lethal doses of morphine in case the Germans invaded. During this time they were both nervous because Leonard was Jewish and Virginia was listed in Hitler’s black book. The anxiety took its toll and Virginia committed suicide by filling her pockets with rocks and drowning herself in the nearby Ouse River. She left two suicide notes, one for Leonard and one for her sister, Vanessa. Her ashes were scattered unceremoniously under an Elm tree in the backyard.
Leonard lived at Monks House for 50 years and died there in 1969, at the age of 88. He left the cottage and property to his friend Trekkie Ritchee Parsons, who really didn’t know what to do with it and so passed it to the University of Sussex. The university sold off the 4000 books and rented the house to visiting lecturers. Eventually it was too much for them and they gave the house to The National Trust in 1980. A sizable sum of money was raised by Quentin and Angelica Bell (Virginia’s surviving nephew and niece; children of Vanessa) for the upkeep. Quentin was at this time a Professor of Fine Art and History of Ceramics at the University of Sussex. Together they helped to restore the house to 90% of how it was in Leonard’s and Virginia’s time there. We were able to explore four of the rooms of the cottage, the rest of the house is cordoned off for the resident caretaker. There are guides in each room who can explain all the artifacts and what they meant to the family. It was a joy to visit and next we’ll explore the garden at Monk’s House! See you there!