Tuesday, 22 July 2008
On Saturday afternoon we decided to visit Monks House the country home of Leonard and Virginia Woolf in the beautiful village of Rodmell nestled in the Sussex Downs. We are lucky as this is such a short drive from us and have been able to visit this beautiful property many times. As it is a National Trust property photographs are not allowed in the house but if you look here you will find some of the rooms.
Just a few miles away from Charleston, the home of Woolf's sister, Vanessa Bell, this lovely house was owned by the Woolfs until Leonard's death in 1969.
It provided a refuge for Virginia when the stresses of strains of London life became too much and they did move down here properly when their London property was bombed during the war.
Here is the entrance to her bedroom. It is separate from the house and to enter it you would leave the main building and walk a few steps across the garden - not so appealing in the cold winter months, It was apparently intended to be her writing room but she did not want to write in there, she loved the bright sunniness of the room and the views that opened out across the garden. It is a lovely room, quite self contained with beautiful tiles around the fireplace that were painted for her by her sister Vanessa Bell.
Virginia Woolf was able to walk across the Downs to visit her sister, across the water meadows that flanked the property and over the fields to Charleston.
Because Leonard continued to live on at Rodmell long after Virginia's death the house has been beautifully preserved and many villagers are still alive who have memories of the couple.
On Saturday we were fortunate to meet one of the stewards at the property who was the daughter of the Woolfs' gardener.
She told me that Leonard was very interested in her family and would often ask her as a little girl how she was getting on at school. He would always ask what she was reading and on one occasion, on hearing that she had nothing to read, he took her into the house and asked Virginia to help him find something for the little 9 year old to read.
As they had just moved down from London there were piles of books everywhere and eventually Virginia pulled out a book for her to read. On hearing that this little girl had done well in her exams Leonard gave her five shillings and would go on to be a referee for her when she applied to train as a teacher.
Apparently he would bring crates of apples from his orchard to the village school (maybe in the vain hope of stopping the boys scrumping them!).
She found Virginia to be quite formidable, I think I would have too.
There is a large vegetable plot which is now tended by the tenants and villagers.
When we were there we got talking (again!) to a villager who was digging up some veg and he asked the girls if they knew what the big tree was in front of them. They didn't know and he told them that it was a walnut tree planted by Leonard Woolf in 1930s.
He asked us if we liked pickled walnuts and then gave us a huge bagful to pickle. So we shall think of Monks House at Christmas when we eat our walnuts - does anyone have a good recipe for pickled walnuts - we need to do them justice!
In the garden stands Virginia's writing room, A modest little building with the village church behind it, their orchard to one side and the beautiful garden in front.
It is just a short walk from the house and must have provided her with the calm and solitude for her writing.
Although this house is far smaller than Charleston it does retain an atmosphere of a home. it was as Virginia said "an unpretending house" that had many writers visit and stay.
A home that seemed quiet and calm, a home where much reading and writing and entertaining was done and a garden that Leonard enjoyed for many years.
It is from this house that Virginia walked in 1941 leaving behind a suicide note to her husband and amongst the words were these : " I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been." Her ashes are scattered in the garden along with those of her husband.