Monthly Archives: September 2015

Berwick Church

Our walk to Berwick Church

The day after our visit to Monk’s House we walked from Bo-Peep’s Farmhouse (where we were staying for bed and breakfast for two nights) to Berwick Church. This was part of our route:


The sun was shining and, as you can see, we walked through acres of arable land. There was a scattering of buildings dotted around and to our urban sensibilities, it was quintessential countryside and a million miles away from our daily rushed lives, incessant noise and sensory overload. I wonder if Virginia ever made this same walk? I wonder if she appreciated it as much as we did or whether this was just so usual for her that she barely noticed it?

Berwick Church

Berwick Church is well known for its extensive 20th Century murals that were painted during the Second World War by the Bloomsbury artists, Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Quentin Bell. These artists transformed this traditional Sussex church with their murals. The murals were not painted directly on to the walls but on panels in the artists’ studios which were then attached to the walls.The artists posed for each other in biblical costumes and used local people as models to depict the life of Christ against the background of war.

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The decoration of the church was the idea of Bishop George Bell who wanted to encourage a closer association between the Church and the arts, and also wanted to continue the tradition of wall paintings in Sussex churches. Sir Charles Reilly, Professor of Architecture at Liverpool University from 1904 – 1933 knew Duncan Grant’s aunt and recommended Grant as a suitable artist, experienced in creating murals. Grant teamed up with Vanessa and her children, Quentin and Angelica, to work on the church which was only a few miles from their home at Charleston.

The Murals

Inside Berwick Church. A small church with huge paintings. Spotlights had been fitted that could be turned on as necessary to highlight the individual paintings. All photographs are my own.

The Annunciation by Vanessa Bell
Christ in Glory by Duncan Grant
The Nativity by Vanessa Bell
Wise and Foolish Virgins by Quentin Bell
The Crucifixion by Duncan Grant

Above: In Duncan’s painting Jesus’ feet rest on a ledge whereas the only support to the feet in an actual crucifixion was that provided by the single nail which would have pierced through both ankles. The nails to the hands would in fact have gone through just below the wrist to give greater support and the body would have hung down under its own weight.There is no apparent sign of suffering on Jesus’ face: in this painting Jesus is victor rather than victim.

All Berwick Church photos are my own.


Joseph Lancaster (1778 to 1838)

Joseph Lancaster founded the use of the monitorial system of education which was that as one pupil learned a subject then he or she passed the knowledge on to a younger pupil. These Lancasterian schools were criticized for poor standards and harsh discipline.

I was immediately reminded of Lowood School in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre so I just checked Bronte’s birth and death dates (1816 to 1855) and she would have been writing during this period. At the time of Lancaster’s death there were around 1500 schools still using his methods.

Then I noticed that Charlotte’s husband was Arthur Bell Nicholls and I really hoped that I could link him to Clive Bell, one of the Bloomsberries!

However, no luck as yet. Chris and I have gone back four generations and haven’t found a link so far. Shame.



Monk’s House, Rodmell, East Sussex

After a fabulous week, we reluctantly left Dorset and drove to East Sussex. A journey that should have taken about three hours stretched to four because of road problems but never mnd; it was worth it. We stayed at Bo-Peeps Farmhouse, for two nights and while we were there we visited Monk’s House, Berwick Church and Charleston Farmhouse – and the local pub on an evening, of course! The lovely lady, Eileen, at Bo-Peep’s seemed anxious that we take a torch for our walk home from the pub and I thought she was over reacting. Silly me.

Monk’s House – The Woolfs’ Country Retreat 

These are photographs of Monk’s House taken when I visited on 10 September 2015.

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In July 1919 The Woolfs bought Monk’s House for £700 and transported all their furniture via two horse drawn carts. Their new home was not luxurious. Rainwater washed through from the garden to the house, mice disturbed them at night jumping into the beds, but over time the primitive conditions improved and, as Virginia’s work earned her money, they made improvements. They had the kitchen redone and made a writing lodge in the garden (information from Virginia Woolf by Alexandra Harris p64-65).

They later installed a hot water range and a bathroom and had an extension in 1929.

Electricity would have been available to wealthy people but Virginia would never have seen a television. I asked my mother in law when she first had electricity in her home. She told me that newly built council houses in Royston, South Yorkshire, had electricity from 1926 but most private rented homes didn’t have electricity until the mid 1950s. Black and white television would have been commonplace in homes after the second world war.

The Outside

What first surprised me about Monk’s House was that it was down a lane in a village with other houses and I had expected it to be rather more isolated. To my inexperienced eye other nearby properties looked like they had been there as long as Monk’s House had, in that they fitted in quite nicely; so it seemed that Virginia and Leonard had neighbours. The second thing was that it was smaller than I thought it would be.

Well, it turns out that Monk’s House is a 17th century cottage and some of the properties nearby had been built in the 1950s. I think I had better stick to literature and not get too involved in the history of architecture. So, maybe Virginia and Leonard were more isolated than they would be today but certainly some properties nearby would have been around at the time.

I started in the garden. A considerable (about 3/4 acre) and charming garden with bowling green, orchard, allotments, footpaths and flowers. Deckchairs were set out and positioned as if to watch the bowling on a summer’s day.

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Above: the garden with Virginia’s bust marking the place where her ashes are scattered; the allotment area, and, anyone for bowls?

For me, the most poignant part of the garden was Virginia’s writing lodge. Think of a big garden shed with windows and ‘patio’ doors giving views of the garden on three sides. Virginia liked her solitude and wrote many of her novels in this lodge. A simple place with a desk and a couple of chairs. However, despite its beautiful location, the peace and the feeling of privilege, I thought it had a sadness about it.

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Above: Virginia’s desk, the front of the lodge and the patio side of the lodge. Virginia and her friends used to sit in their deckchairs on this patio so it wasn’t all about Virginia being alone; not all of the time.

The Inside

We entered the house through the conservatory which was like a greenhouse; not a conservatory as we think of one, with furniture and a place to sit and chat, but one filled to the rafters with plants.

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What I really loved was the deckchair on the small balcony above the conservatory. I can imagine Virginia sitting there, reading perhaps or writing; thinking and brooding and looking out at the expansive garden and views.

The first room was the sitting room with armchairs round the fireplace, Leonards writing desk, a large table and books, of course.

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The next room was the dining room. A bit squashed I thought. Apparently Virginia didn’t even know how to scramble an egg. The servants would have managed all the food and its preparation. One of the guides at Monk’s House told me that the two cottages at the bottom of the Lane (about a two minute walk away from Monk’s House) were for the gardener and the cook.


My favourite room was Virginia’s bedroom. This ground floor room is an annexe to the main house. The only access is directly from the garden. Virginia liked to be away from the noise of the house and this was her retreat. The room was furnished with a single bed under one of the windows. Virginia would have been able to see two aspects of the garden from her bed. Book shelves were on the walls including several above the head of the bed.

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Above: The fireplace in Virginia’s bedroom; simply furnished; Shakespeare’s works (hand covered by Virginia); bedside table with a lamp designed by Vanessa – and note the bell; the outside access to the room.

The guide in this room said how the housekeeper would enter the room on a morning to find screwed up bits of paper all over the floor. Each piece of paper would have the same sentence on it but with perhaps just one word changed.

We were not allowed to go upstairs so really there were only three main rooms on display and it really was much smaller that I expected it to be. The stairs themselves though were worth noting. I assume the National Trust has ‘furnished’ them with books as they would have been in Virginia’s time. I love the trail of books on the stairs. A true book lover’s house.


When Leonard died in 1969 he left the house to Marjorie Parsons (artist) who had been his partner after Virginia’s death. Marjorie sold it to the University of Sussex in 1972 and it was acquired by the National Trust in 1980.

I had wanted to visit this house for several years but the distance was always an obstacle. I am so pleased we went and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Next:  Berwick Church and then Charleston Farmhouse.

To the Lighthouse


During my holiday I managed to read ‘To the Lighthouse’. I didn’t expect it to be easy but neither did I expect it to be so compelling. I read it in coffee shops, on the beach, waiting for the kettle to boil. A simple plot, little dialogue and little action, but that’s not what it is about. It is haunting and enthralling. My literature training of identifying ‘showing’ and ‘telling’ was a bit challenged. Which is it? Is it neither? I immediately recognised it as autobiographical with Mr and Mrs Ramsay representing Leslie and Julia Stephen; the death of Mrs Ramsay, clearly portraying the death of Virginia’s mother.

To me it showed the transience of life, the power of nature, the experiences and thoughts of characters and how one person’s personality is not just ‘fixed’ and static but variable, depending on the ‘viewer’ and his or her experiences and values. If I was doing a university essay here, I would have to back this up with evidence from the text but with me, on this occasion, it is a feeling, that I am struggling to articulate.

My first thought while reading the first page was how long the sentences were and I had to read the, ‘since he belonged, even at the age of six …….’ sentence quite a few times to ‘unpick’ the clauses but I soon came to love them. The themes of transience, nature, grief and love are to me, the haunting aspects of this novel and these are the reasons that I am still thinking about this novel, long after I have read the last word.

Now that I have visited Monk’s House I have a picture in my mind of Virginia at her writing desk in her writing lodge at the bottom of her garden. Pacing around perhaps, looking out to the stunning views and writing every word that I have just read.


Wild and Homeless Books

In September 2015 we were on holiday, staying with friends in Dorset, and while we were there we made a trip to Bridport.

‘Wild and Homeless Books’, Bridport, Dorset.


I was immediately drawn to this delightful second hand bookshop because of its name.


The name is from a quotation by Virginia Woolf:

“Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.”

I couldn’t resist a trip to this bookshop and wasn’t disappointed. A young lady was working there during her university holidays. She is a literature undergraduate and talking to her made me wish that I could do my degree all over again! She showed me the Bloomsbury section and, though I have a  huge pile of books ‘in waiting’, I added to my substantial collection with a study of  Leslie Stephen by Noel Annan.

The cutest thing though was the Virginia rag doll sitting on top of the Bloomsbury shelf.

Who were the Bloomsberries?

The Bloomsbury Group



Virginia died in 1941, two years before this painting, but she is represented by the left hand portrait on the wall behind the group. The other portraits are of Lytton Strachey who died in 1932 and Roger Fry who died in 1934.

A group of friends with shared interests and attitudes who were active in literature, art, economics, politics and social theory. When Leslie Stephen died, the Stephen siblings moved to Gordon Square in Bloomsbury to escape the gloom of Hyde Park. They rejected the constraints of the Victorian life they had previously led and welcomed Thoby’s Cambridge friends to their home. A close group of highly educated upper middle class friends was formed.

These people had shared interests and common beliefs and unconventional lives and became an influential group of writers, artists and intellectuals.

My main interest is in Virginia Woolf but I am also keen to learn about:

The other WRITERS: Lytton Strachey, E M Forster and David Garnett

The THINKERS: Leonard Woolf and Saxon Sydney-Turner

The ARTISTS: Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry

The ART CRITIC: Clive Bell and,

The ECONOMIST: John Maynard Keynes