Category Archives: Places of Interest

Leonard’s Proposal

Frome Railway Station

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We have just been to visit friends in Somerset for a few days and on the way home, back to Yorkshire, we decided to call at Frome Railway Station (pronounced like ‘broom’, not like ‘chrome’).

I wanted to see where Leonard had set off from to propose marriage to Virginia. Leonard was staying with a friend, the Rector of the Church of St Mary Magdalene, at the nearby Great Elm Rectory (about three miles from Frome Station) when he decided to get the train to London in order to ask Virginia to marry him. It was the eleventh of January 1912.

In his autobiography, Leonard says:

The change from the incessant whirl of London to the quiet somnolence of a Somerset rectory was the passing straight from a tornado into a calm, or from a saturnalia into a monastery. At last I had time to think. It took me 48 hours to come to a decision and on Wednesday I wired to Virginia asking whether I could see her next day. Next day I went up to London and asked her to marry me.

To commemorate this (albeit tenuous) link to Bloomsbury history, Frome Station installed a plaque which was unveiled by Cecil Woolf (Leonard’s nephew) in November 2014.

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And to think that this very famous marriage began in a quiet railway station like this.

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You can just see the plaque in the middle photograph.

The rest, they say, is history.

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A Cultural Afternoon at the University of Leeds (part 2)

The Stanley and Audrey Burton Art Gallery, University of Leeds.

My husband and I had a day off work and went to Leeds for the afternoon. As we live less than ten miles away this is a regular occurrence in our lives but today we were going to the University of Leeds to look at Quentin Bell’s The Dreamer and to visit the University’s art gallery.

If you want to know a bit about the first half of our afternoon please see my previous post about The Dreamer.

After we had seen The Dreamer in the Clothworkers Courtyard we went to the University’s art gallery. We were glad to go inside as it was a very cold day. I didn’t know what to expect at the gallery but hoped there may be a Duncan Grant painting on display. I knew that one of his paintings of Charleston Farmhouse was in the gallery’s collection but the chances of it being on display weren’t too high. Anyway, I was happy just to have seen The Dreamer and anything else was just a bonus.

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Leeds University Main Entrance

As soon as I walked in, there it was.

Farm Buildings at Charleston, Leeds University Art Gallery

 I immediately loved the colours and the tone and the image. I didn’t know what size I expected it to be but it struck me as small so I must have sub-consciously expected it to be bigger. It is roughly square, about 65cm in its frame (about 25″).  Close up it was abstract and the further back I walked the more it came in to view.  More than anything the colours appealed to me. I have visited Charleston and though I don’t recognise the exact view in the painting I definitely recognise it as Charleston. I have a thing about tone and the proportions of light, medium and dark in this painting and frame immediately made me like it.

I was happy. I had seen a Duncan Grant painting. So I thought I would now explore the rest of the gallery. I turned the corner and …. there was a Vanessa Bell painting and then … a Roger Fry! I couldn’t believe it. I found my husband and dragged him over to take a look.

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Above, are postcards that I bought at the gallery. The left hand side shows Vanessa Bell’s Still Life (Triple Alliance)  and the right hand side, Roger Fry’s Portrait of Nina Hamnett. They were both on display. I loved the portrait. In real life there is much more detail than is visible in my photograph. Apparently the dress and fabric were designed by Vanessa.

I didn’t like Vanessa’s Still Life that much I’m afraid. I found it too pale and tonally bland. I am interested in it though and I understand that the three domestic objects on the table (an oil lamp and two glass bottles) allude to either the threesome of the relationship between Vanessa, Duncan and Bunny or perhaps refer to World War 1 and the mutual support of the alliance between Germany, Austria and Italy. Certainly The Times newspaper of September 1914 forms part of the collage. Leaned against the right hand side bottle is a cheque and I believe that this has Vanessa’s signature on it.

We had a good day and I feel that I have learned something and seen art that, if it wasn’t for researching my blog, I would never have seen.

A Cultural Afternoon at the University of Leeds (part 1)

The Dreamer

While I was researching my ‘Q… is for Quentin Bell’ post, I learned that a piece of his artwork, The Dreamer, was displayed at the University of Leeds. I live less than ten miles from said university so I was VERY excited. Last Wednesday my husband and I both had the day off work and we went on a cultural afternoon. He was as excited as I was (almost) and I do believe he is (almost) as interested in the Bloomsbury Group and its ‘interesting tangents’ as I am.

Quentin Bell held the position of  Head of Fine Art at the University in 1959, and was later as Professor of Fine Art until 1967.  In 1978 it was suggested that the University should acquire a piece of Bell’s artwork for display and Bell suggested  Levitating Woman (or The Dreamer) as it came to be known as, and with the help of the Department of Civil Engineering which designed and constructed the internal framework, the work was installed in 1982.

Bell’s work was inspired by  a conjuror’s trick he saw as a child and is one of the most popular works on display.

Well, we drove to the University and after finding it impossible to park nearby we walked quite a way to the main building and soon found our way to the Clothworkers Court by consulting the campus maps. As soon as I saw it I  couldn’t take my eyes off it. I absolutely loved it.

‘The Dreamer’ at the University of Leeds

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I actually liked the back more than the front

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Close up and long shot

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Beautiful buildings nearby.

The photographs hide the fact that the square was crowded with students moving from one building to another. I had to wait ages for a lull in the human traffic before I could take my photographs! I am so glad that we went to see this and to think that I have lived within ten miles of it for the past twenty five years and I never knew it was there.

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The River Ouse

The River Ouse, Rodmell, East Sussex

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Monk’s House is very near to a stretch of the River Ouse. Virginia walked to the bottom of her garden where she could access the fields that led to the river. She drowned herself in the River Ouse on 28 March 1941, near the village of Rodmell. Her body was recovered from the river on 18 April. She was 59.

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Both photos are my own

“Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.”

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:

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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.

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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.

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

All Charleston photographs are my own.

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:

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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.

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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

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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.