A visit to Charleston

A 17th century farmhouse made famous and in some circles infamous, for it’s former occupants.

You see Charleston became the London retreat for the Bloomsbury Group. Vanessa Bell the artist rented it in 1916 and gradually over the years it filled (and emptied) with children, husbands, lovers, friends and well, anyone on the guest list. from painters, writers, philosophers, sculptures, thinkers and movers.

I spent a sunny June afternoon deep in the Sussex countryside, far from the madding crowd, ooops sorry wrong author and county!

The house itself, extended over the centuries provides an inspiring and informative place to visit – it is not a grand estate or castle, but a former farmhouse on a working estate. The occupants, principally Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant set about decorating it whilst outside creating a truly pretty English country garden.

There is a wonderful tour of the house, the tour leaders are deeply passionate about the house and the art, fantastically knowledgeable and engaging. The house was literally decorated by the artists with every surface painted (if it didn’t move it was covered) and has been preserved and maintained by the charitable trust that runs the estate.

I’m no art critic so I will re-direct you to more informative pages on the subject and the story behind the art and the Bloomsbury Group. If I just mention that it’s occupants included  Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey you will get an idea of the importance of the house.

There was no photography allowed in the house, understandable considering it’s precious contents of paintings, decorations and fabrics, but I was free to wander and snap away in the walled garden. The garden is simple in it’s design and entices you in, along narrow paths bordered with densely planted English cottage garden favourites. I’ve included a slideshow to give you an idea. Some of the photos are literally snaps to give you and to remind me of the essence of the garden. I hope you enjoy your wander around this quintessential English Walled Garden as much as I did. And yes I stopped for an essential reviving cup of tea and piece of cake in the cafe.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’ll just add one more link about the Knapped flints – a common sight in Sussex and Kent.

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36 thoughts on “A visit to Charleston

    • Hi BAM It’s all set up in WP – when you do a post and you go to add new photos, add them and then underneath that you see a couple of buttons. 1) for a photo gallery and 2) for a slideshow. So once you load your photos and are happy with them click the slideshow button and it will load into your post – just like a single photo – but you will see {Slideshow} in between your other text.

  1. I just adore the romance of a walled garden…thanks so much for sharing this!
    (Currently re-reading “The Secret Garden” to myself…It will be a year or two before Angel is ready for “Chapter Books”, and I want to be ready! ;) )

    • How lovely to re-read such a classic, it’s an all time favurite of mine. The BBC did a serialisation of it when I was a kid, it was truly wonderful – true to the book, beautifully written, well acted – in fact all the things that the BBC do best. Happy days :)

  2. That’s a lot of photos, Claire! I think I like the opening “Vegetable Garden” photo best and the water lily. I was waiting for the photo of the tea and cake, but then I remembered you said you couldn’t take photos inside the house. I had never heard of this Charleston: Charleston to us means Charleston, South Carolina, so I thought you were on the road in the States.

    • Ooops, maybe you are right – the thing was it was such a pretty garden :)
      I realised that the house was the same name as the place, but thought what the heck, I’ll go with it anyway

  3. Such a beautiful place and it must be great to spend the day there. The history of the home & its occupants would be fascinating but the garden would off that bit of respite needed after soaking up all of the history. :) Aren’t water lilies beautiful? And I just love the banks of flowers lining that pah up to the house. Must’ve been something to see in person. Thank you, Claire, for bringing us along.

    • It was my first visit, despite only living 20 miles away for 10 years! But I’m so pleased I made it. And chuffed you apreciated the flint – it’s such a classic in this part of the world

  4. I understand, of course, why no indoor photos, but I would just love to see the way the artists expressed themselves! What a gorgeous garden, though. I think it would have been wonderful to walk about the place and just try to hear the voices of the amazingly talented men and women who once graced the place! Your photos were wonderful! You provided a wonderful tour, Claire. Debra

    • You are very kind Debra, I did get some photos of some of their artwork which is in a local church, I was going to write up a separate post, so thanks fo rthe reminder !! Hop eyou are having a fabulous weekend :)

  5. Thanks for the slide show – a reminder of my visit to Charleston many years ago, mentioned by Lo Jardinier too. The house is fascinating and I remember the garden as a peaceful haven, even with all the visitors it gets. Monk’s House at nearby Rodmell, the home of Bell’s sister Virginia Woolf, is worth a visit too if you haven’t already been there.

    • I think we were lucky – midweek and towards the end of the afternoon it certainly seemed quieter by the time we got out into the garden. And no I haven’t been to Rodmell, the tour guides at Charleston were recommending it so thanks for your thoughts – it’s now on the list. We did pop into the church at Berwick to see the paintings that Bell and Duncan had done in the church. all very unique and wonderful

  6. What a wonderful tour! Thank you for sharing this experience! One of my favorite gardening books – for sheer inspiration – is Creating a Cottage Garden by Sue Phillips, which features many lovely old gardens in the UK. These photos are equally inspiring…thank you!

    • I’ve just had a look at the book on-line an dit does look fabulous and practical – with lots of lovely inspiring photos and great advice. I’m sur eyou would have loved the tour of the house and the gardens Cindy, so it was a pleasur eto take you there virtually :)

  7. So glad to have run across this post. I did a paper in college ( a long time ago) on the Bloomsbury group, lots of research about the different writers and artists… and I imagined what it would be like in that circle! I would love to visit Charleston one day. Thanks for sharing.

    • Happy to have brought back some memories. The Bloomsbury Group certainly were a fascinating bunch I know I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall! And with your previously gained knowledge I’m sure you would appreciate and enjoy Charleston – it seemed a very special place that should be treasured.

  8. Pingback: “Charleston” (or, On Painting a Painter’s Garden) | helenwhiteart

  9. Pingback: A sweet pea for my sweet pea | Promenade Plantings

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