I was first introduced to Charleston, the former home of the artist Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and their assortment of family and friends a few years ago. Ever since then I’ve been just a little bit in love with it and have been back on a couple of occasions including a two day creative writing course. At the time I figured if I couldn’t be inspired at Charleston with all its noble creative and literary connections then I was unlikely to be inspired anywhere.
Charleston, is a delightful 16th Century farm house in East Sussex and in 1916, Vanessa Bell on recommendation from her sister Virginia Wolf moved there. For the next 60 years it became a country retreat for the group or artists, writers and intellectuals collectively known as ‘The Bloomsbury Set’. The last member of the family, Angelica Garnett, Vanessa’s daughter moved out in 1980. The Charleston Trust was then formed with the aim restoring and preserving the house for the future.
The house is a delight, preserved as it was lived in. To tour the house, you must book tickets and take a guided tour. For those of you sceptical about guided tours this is by far the best (and in fact only) way to see Charleston. There is so much to see and so many treasures with stories behind them and the guides are knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Once in side the house, there are no barriers or ropes or cordoned off areas and its possible to wander through the property viewing paintings, customised furniture and ceramics made by Bell and Grant as they have always been. Duncan Grant’s main studio is a wonderful finale to the tour. It’s filled with light and feels as if he has just left and could return and start painting again at any moment.
The gardens are glorious, filled with all manner of cottage garden flowers, fruit and vegetables. The house and gardens continue to be a source of inspiration for artists today. I love this picture I managed to take of an artist painting the house. I imagine the garden was once filled with similar artists trying to capture the beauty of Charleston.
This is a beautiful place to while away an afternoon, sunny or otherwise while you dream of living a bohemian life and becoming an artist. Of course there is also a shop to browse and a pretty cafe to get your fix of tea and home made cake.