28 Jun 2014

Travel: Monks House, Sussex (Virginia and Leonard Woolf)

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
I recently visited Monks House in the Sussex villiage of Rodmell near Lewes which used to be the home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf. The house was purchased by the couple for £700 (!) in 1919 and was initially used by them as a retreat from busy London life before becoming their primary residence in later years after their Bloomsbury residence was damaged in an air-raid. 
When Leonard and Virginia bought Monks House it was in quite a sorry state, but over the years the couple lovingly restored it, decorating it with the help of their artist friends such as Vanessa Bell, whose work can be seen throughout the property - on and above the fireplace in Virginia's tranquil bedroom (above), as well as on lamps, teacups and furniture throughout the open rooms of the house. 
In the 1930s, Virginia's writing lodge was constructed at the far end of the gardens and it was here that she wrote parts of her novels including Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse and Between the Acts. Sadly, it was also in the writer's lodge that Virginia wrote her farewell letter to Leonard in March 1941 before drowning herself in the near-by River Ouse. When her body was recovered three weeks later, Leonard scattered her ashes under a large elm tree in the garden - a peaceful spot today watched over by a bust of Virginia, whilst a bust of Leonard, who lived in the house until his death in 1969, is perched further down the wall overlooking a perfect lily pond. 
Above: A bust of Virginia in the living room of Monks House with green walls painted by Virginia herself.
Above: The rear of Monks House leading onto the beautiful gardens.
Above: Garden details. The gardens were beautiful - well maintained in a way that made them look wild, natural and spontaneous but still cared for. Flowerbeds spilled over onto pathways which themselves gave way to wild grass from which two little beehives were peaking out.  
Above: Virginia's writing lodge where she penned many of her great novels, essays and letters and sadly her farewell note to Leonard before her suicide in 1941. To the side is a small patio where Leonard and Virginia used to sit with friends in the summer and a vast lawn where they used to play bowls and entertain the many creative guests who visited them.
Above: Inside the writer's lodge. It was light and peaceful with beautiful views across the expansive gardens. 
We had a wonderful afternoon at Monks House - the gardens were definitely the highlight and visitors are free to explore them as they wish. I saw someone sitting quietly under a tree reading, enjoying the tranquility of the surroundings, whilst two elderly women held fort on the patio outside Virginia's writing lodge, reclining in deck chairs and enjoying the beautiful weather. It's certainly a good place to go if you want to escape from the world for a bit and soak up some inspiration - I can see why it made such a good weekend retreat for Virginia and Leonard all those years ago! As a writer myself it was lovely to visit the home of Virginia Woolf, and I would definitely recommend it - though not many rooms of the house are actually open to the public which was a shame.

Thanks to ArtsEater for info on Monks House.

2 comments

  1. This looks lovely- definitely one to add to my list
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  2. Yes well worth a visit - Charleston (another Bloomsbury Group property) is not far away if you ever want to make a day of it :) x

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