Charleston Farmhouse Garden, Sussex
Charleston Farmhouse and Garden, located on the South Downs outside the village of Firle, near Alfriston, East Sussex, was the home or weekend and holiday retreat of Bloomsbury Group figures Vanessa Bell and Clive Bell, Vanessa’s companion Duncan Grant, and Vanessa’s children, Quentin and Julian, from 1916 until the 1960’s. On a Friday afternoon in July, we toured Charleston with Flickr contact Penwren, who graciously met us in Alfriston and first showed us the village and church in Firle, where Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Quentin Bell are buried.
Photography is not allowed in the house itself, so these pictures are of the garden only. The house itself was indescribable, with every square inch covered in enchanting Modernist artwork of all kinds, and the guided tour, lasting over an hour, was outstandingly well presented and informative.
Penwren added the following comment to one of the pictures in this set: Sir Peter Shepheard, in charge of the restoration (of the garden in the 1980’s), has described it as an "apotheosis of the traditional English cottage garden." He wrote notes to remind himself to "avoid neatness". Like the house, it was not intended to be tasteful or restrained. Interestingly, the garden has been organic since the 80s.
The story of Charleston and its occupants is told very well in the book Charleston, a Bloomsbury House and Garden, by Quentin Bell and his daughter, Virginia Nicholson (Frances Lincoln – paperback edition 2004). Alibris.com had numerous copies available in August, 2008 at: www.alibris.com/booksearch?qwork=1025402 &matches=16&a...
We also enjoyed two small books published by Snake River Press and available by mail or in person at the excellent Much Ado Books in Alfriston: Bloomsbury in Sussex, and 20 Sussex Gardens (muchadobooks.com)
The list of visitors reads like a Who's Who of English intellectual and artistic life in the first half of the 20th Century: Leonard and Virginia Woolf (Vanessa's sister), Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, T.S. Elliot, Benjamin Britten are just a few.