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Charleston Farmhouse, Home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant

Charleston Farmhouse, Sussex, UK

Charleston Farmhouse, Sussex, UK

Charleston Farmhouse, Sussex, UK

Charleston Farmhouse, Sussex, UK

Charleston Farmhouse, Sussex, UK

Charleston Farmhouse, Sussex, UK

Charleston Farmhouse, the home of Vanessa Stephen Bell, (Virginia Woolf’s sister) is about six miles from Monk’s House, (Virginia Woolf’s home) as the the crow flies. The farmhouse sits in a big open field, down a long narrow road, in the middle of no where.

This is what I learned……..

In 1916, Charleston Farmhouse was rented by Vanessa Bell, and Duncan Grant, under the terms of his exemption from the military as a conscientious objector. He and his lover, David Garnett, were employed at a nearby farm and lived at Charleston with Vanessa Bell. Vanessa Bell was married at the time to Clive Bell and would remain so all her life. Their unconventional household became the meeting place for the Bloomsbury Group, a group of writers, artists and intellectuals who had formed from the Apostles group at Cambridge. Vanessa’s and Duncan’s decorative style, made up of squares, circles, and triangles, were featured throughout the farmhouse on every wall, ceiling and piece of furniture! People came and went over the years but the farmhouse was lived in by Vanessa and Duncan for sixty years. Vanessa stated, “it will be an odd life, but……. it ought to be good for painting.” The Bloomsbury members came here to relax and have fun. It was said the group lived in squares, painted in circles, and loved in triangles. To me their life was very complicated. To them they lived a bohemian life, and felt anything was OK as long as it didn’t hurt anybody. I’m not sure you can live that life without hurting somebody. Just my thoughts, I tend to be starchy.

There is no picture taking allowed inside Charleston Farmhouse and only a small group is allowed in at any one time with a well versed guide. You must make a reservation or risk not getting in or having to wait. The rooms show a complete example of the decorative art of the Bloomsbury artists: murals, ceramics, paintings, textiles and objects from their Omega Workshops. Vanessa’s room was painted by Duncan, Vanessa’s lover. (a triangle between her, Duncan and David Garnett) He painted a huge red dog above her bed, to always protect her, and she painted his room in delicate pastel circles, squares, and flowers. There are lots of bedrooms in the farmhouse and what struck me the most were the various ceramic numbers above the doorway representing a specific room. For some reason it reminded me of something you would find in a bordello. Maybe because the guide kept reminding us of all the people who came and went and their various activities there. They did more than paint, write, or talk. The farmhouse was interesting and different and the garden was beautiful. It is now owned by the Charleston Trust, a charity set up in 1980 to restore and maintain the property. Every May there is the Charleston Festival, which draws artists and writers alike to promote the arts. For more information about the Charleston Farmhouse see here. There were several very knowledgable artists among our tour group and artists could be found painting or sketching in the garden while we were there, so it is still an artists’ hangout. Let’s walk through the garden!

Click on any image for a larger look!

While visiting Charleston, I bought a book at the gift shop, called, Vanessa and Her Sister, by Priya Parmar,  which enlightened me further on the Bloomsbury Group, Vanessa Bell, and Virginia Woolf. Their lives were anything, but conventional. I won’t go into ALL the details, but it was a very good read! The group had ten or so core members, the males, all educated at Trinity or Kings College of Cambridge, and were called the Apostles. Vanessa and Virginia’s brother, Thoby, was friends with the Apostles and this is how they came to meeting at the Stephens home in Bloomsbury, a neighborhood in London, in which Vanessa and Virginia, the only women, were included. Here is the Bloomsbury Group.

Clive Bell, art critic, Vanessa Bell’s eventual husband.

E.M Forster, fiction writer.

Roger Fry, art critic and post impressionist painter. (Had a passionate affair with Vanessa Bell)

John Maynard Keynes, economist. (Had an affair with Duncan Grant, but married Russian ballet dancer, Lydia Lopokova, and eventually lived close to Charleston Farmhouse.

Desmond McCarthy, literary journalist.

Lytton Strachey, biographer, who was Virginia Woolf’s fiancé for one day.  He was a homosexual and in love with his cousin, Duncan Grant.

Leonard Woolf, essayist and non-fiction writer, who married Virginia Stephen.

Thoby Stephen, brother of Virginia and Vanessa, who brought all these men home for dinner and their weekly meetings in Bloomsbury.

Virginia Woolf, fiction writer, essayist and publisher.

Vanessa Bell, post-impressionist painter, started Friday painting club, an addition to the Thursday night intellectual meetings.

Duncan Grant, post-impressionist painter and Vanessa’s lover. He was also the father of Vanessa’s only daughter. He also had many homosexual affairs. What a triangle this was! There was a lot going on with them, read the book!

Were they a group of rich spoiled kids, who did what they wanted, come what may? Or were they trying to change the world? They had grown up in a strict victorian society, and then the great war and the loss of so many men changed the lives of all English men and women forever.  Women were no longer confined to the home and women’s rights were taking front and center stage.  Men and women did not want to return to service for the affluent. The affluent could no longer manage their large estates and homes. So times were changing! Were the Bloomsburys just caught up in this new way of life? Were they the survivors? You can draw your own conclusions. Next we’ll explore the lives of the maids and housekeepers that took care of Virginia and Vanessa! After I had explored  the Bloomsburys, I wanted to know about the other side of that coin! See you next time in the kitchen!

One of my Favorites in the Charleston Farmhouse Garden, Sussex, UK

One of my Favorites in the Charleston Farmhouse Garden, Sussex, UK

14 Responses to “Charleston Farmhouse, Home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant”

  1. Gillian

    Thanks for sharing your lovely photos and knowledge about this interesting time in history. Looking forward to the next instalment!

    Reply
  2. joanfrankham

    What wonderful information! I must definitely get the book, and then watch the mini series ‘life in Squares ‘ again as the people will all fall into place.

    Reply
      • joanfrankham

        No I don’t think so. Going to look on Amazon for the book, as my local library doesn’t have it. Maybe it’s too racy!!

      • CadyLuck Leedy

        Maybe! I was shocked about what Virginia did after Vanessa got married to Clive Bell! Won’t spoil it for you but oh my! I think Virginia was crazy as a fox and very manipulative!

  3. travelphotosafari

    Very nice article/blog. The numbers above the doors are a reminder that the house was a guest house before Vanessa and Duncna took the house in 1916. On Sundays the house is free flow so not quite the regimented tours but a knowledgable guide in every room (I am often one of them)
    Glad you enjoyed the trip

    Reply
    • CadyLuck Leedy

      Oh, how nice to meet you! We loved visiting Charleston and of course went to Virginia’s place too and then I came home and read a book about the domestics that worked for both Vanessa and Virginia and about the Bloomsbury group…..I just went on and one! Blog after blog! How I miss the gardens now!

      Reply

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