Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Monk's House at Rodmell

After going to see the Virginia Woolf exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery we went to visit the last house she lived in, Monk's House in the village of Rodmell in Sussex. The Woolf's bought the house in 1919 and upgraded it each time they published a book so it was where they moved to from London to escape the Blitz when their house was hit by bombs in the Second World War. It's hardly the luxurious place you might expect and it's a far cry from the drawing rooms of Bloomsbury but it had a 'comfortable' feel about it.

It's train journey out of London Victoria through Surrey and into Sussex. Then a change at Lewes to the hourly train to Southease, a station that is only a platform and nothing else, and then a walk into Rodmell village, a tiny place with only one pub (that in itself is quite telling). Then down a narrow lane to Monk's House.

Someone lives in the upstairs rooms so you can only go into the ground floor rooms, the living room, dining room and kitchen and the extension that was Virginia's bedroom. Uneven floors and low headroom characterised the house and it was odd to see the furniture the Woolfs used, their chairs and tables surrounded by the art of their family and friends. I liked the chairs with 'VW' embroidered on the back, the colourful tiled tables created by Duncan Grant and the paintings on the walls.

The entrance to the house is round the back and through the built-on greenhouse full of plants and flowers. This was a sort of preparation for the extensive gardens. Just as they upgraded the house with each successive book publication, they also bought more land for gardens and I loved the gardens. Wandering along trails full of blowsy flowers and fruit trees, other areas looking out over the Sussex downs and other areas being allotments for fruit and vegetables. I actually preferred the gardens to the house which probably puts me in Leonard's team rather than Virginia's. I *loved* the gardens. I want gardens like those when I grow up.

In the garden under a tree is Virginia's writing 'lodge' - or shed with windows, handmade desk made by Leonard on which her glasses rested, and a comfy chair. We were lucky that the place had sufficient volunteer guides that day that meant that the lodge was open and we walk in and suck up the atmosphere. Each room had a volunteer guide who were happy to talk about the house, what was on display and how the Woolfs lived on a daily basis. They were very knowledgeable. Also in the garden is the skeleton of Leonard's greenhouse that has recently been bought and will be restored (see the sign).

The ticket office and shop is in what used to be the garage and that lends added poignancy when you know that the Woolfs considered using it to commit suicide in the event of a German invasion in the Second World War since they were on Hitler's hit list. I also inadvertently found the side door out of the garden that Virginia used on her last walk to the Rive Ouse.

It's a lovely trip out of London and it really is in the depths of the countryside. The tamed countryside of Sussex rather than the wild countryside of the North but it's still the countryside. And, to prove it, here are some lazy cows.

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