Charleston Farmhouse

After our walk from Bo-Peep’s to Berwick Church we returned the way we had come and arrived back at Bo-Peep’s. Our walk to Charleston was now about the same distance but in the opposite direction. Each walk was in the region of a couple of miles each but it took us a while as we were not in any frame of mind to hurry.

Again, we walked through fields of the South Downs, enjoying the peace and the sunshine. We walked a while, passed fields of horses and a few buildings and then we turned a corner, walked up the lane and Charleston was at the top on our right.

Unfortunately, we were unable to take photographs inside the house but this is one of my photographs of the outside of this 18th century farmhouse:

Charleston Farmhouse 2015

This is a more isolated property than Monk’s House and is much bigger. We booked in at the Reception for a guided tour. It was a pleasant surprise to find that in our ‘group’ there was just one other lady! We virtually had the tour guide to ourselves and this meant that as we toured the rooms there were so few of us that we had an unobstructed view of all the rooms (and there were loads of them to see); and we could ask as many questions as we wanted to.

Charleston Farmhouse was the home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant from 1916. They  shared their home with Vanessa’s estranged husband, Clive Bell (it was an unconventional household) and Maynard Keynes. The other Bloomsberries, including Virginia, were regular visitors.

The whole house was a riot of colour and design with every surface painted in some way. The walls, the furniture, the fireplaces, the doors, the ceramics and even the side of the bath; nothing escaped the paintbrush. Even the upholstery was Vanessa’s or Duncan’s own design along with the curtains and the fabrics. There were murals on the walls and much of the furniture was hand painted. Designs, even the wallpapers, were painted free hand so it actually shocked my keen sense of symmetry and my expectation that lines should be straight and equidistant down to the last millimetre!

Because of my preference for a minimal approach to decorating, this eclectic mix of paintings, furniture and objects with their confusion of colour and shabby ad-hoc feel felt a bit ‘noisy’ and I doubt that I could have ever felt calm in these surroundings.

The highlight for me was the studio. It came at the end of the tour and I was surprised when I walked in that I hadn’t previously wondered where these artists actually worked! The room was LIGHT. Much lighter than any of the other rooms. It had high windows to maximise the daylight and was, like all the other rooms, busy. There was a fireplace and pictures everywhere. Dressers were filled with objects and a work desk was covered with paints and brushes and so on. I liked the feel of this room. Messy and inviting and busy. Sociable.

John Maynard Keynes had his own bedroom at Charleston. The type of bedroom that has space for loads of furniture, the bed being pushed to one side, taking up only a small proportion of the whole space.

The view from John Maynard Keynes’ bedroom

The garden had ponds and sculptures and mosaic paving hidden among the planting. Gravel paths led to seating areas and the whole garden had a colourful informality with flower borders and secluded corners and such tall planting that you had to stand on tip toe to see over it.

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Like Monk’s House, Charleston Farmhouse garden is big but not that big. Both are charming and informal and useable, unlike those of some stately homes that just look nice. I can imagine them both being enjoyed and tended by their owners.

View of Charleston Farmhouse from the bottom of the garden
Garden detail
We had a great day at Charleston and for me, it brought the Bloomsberries to life. September 2015.

All Charleston photographs are my own.


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