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Bloomsbury’s Rural Retreat

Rough Guide to Kent, Sussex & Surrey, 2nd edition

THE BLOOMSBURY Group, an assortment of writers, artists and thinkers that sprung up in England the early 20th century, is often thought of in terms of the London neighbourhood that gave it its name. But as the 2nd edition of the Rough Guide to Kent, Sussex & Surrey points out, the group also had a country retreat, Charleston Farmhouse (www.charleston.org.uk) “hidden away at the end of a meandering lane” 10 kilometres east of Lewes in East Sussex.

The farmhouse was rented in 1916 by Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf’s sister. Bell lived there with her partner, Duncan Grant, and it soon became a gathering point for others, among them biographer and historian Lytton Strachey, novelist E.M. Forster, economist John Maynard Keynes and, of course, Virginia Woolf. The property declined after Bell’s death in 1961, but was bought and restored by the Charleston Trust, “retaining the warm, lived-in feeling of a family home.”

Charleston was an unconventional place: “Bell and Grant saw the house as a blank canvas,” says the guidebook, and decorated almost all of its surfaces: fireplaces, door panels, bookcases and lamp bases. In the dining room, the table was circular, “signifying equality between the sexes, where women were not required to leave the table after dinner and could enter into discussions with men on an equal footing.”

Relationships were equally unusual. Among the Bloomsbury Group’s values was “truth to oneself and one’s sexuality…resulting in a bewildering amount of bed-hopping and all sorts of complicated love triangles.”

In the purpose-built Wolfson Gallery changing exhibitions exploring the group’s artist and literary heritage.

 

www.roughguides.com

 

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