They were just an ordinary group of friends, the Bloomsbury Group. They had been drawn together in seemingly unremarkable ways at the time; bonds formed at university and continued afterwards at the Stephen's house at 46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury, London. There, over cups of hot chocolate and the occasional nip of whisky, Thoby, his sisters, Virginia and Vanessa, and Thoby's friends from Cambridge would get together of an evening and talk without taboos about everything - politics, sex, religion, food, society - in the smoke filled rooms of No 46.
They were young, keen, intelligent people living through a time of change which the history books would eventually define. The Bloomsbury Group were forward thinking; they were modernists who challenged the status quo in the way that they chose to live. They were prolific communicators and from their diaries and letters to each other we get to know them as people who lived through some of the most challenging times in modern history with those days often defined by small joys and tribulations, the food and social threads of everyday life. Little did they know whilst they were alive that their work as individuals, their bohemian way of life, their principals, their contributions to art, literature, philosophy and economics, would become influential the world over.
They sought beauty and tranquility in which to write, paint and think. They were pacifists and in 1916 Virginia came across the remote Charleston Farmhouse in rural Sussex into which Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Bunny Garnett moved in order to farm the land and avoid conscription.
Life at the farmhouse wasn't easy; the place was in a poor state, it was freezing cold, and they had very little money to put into it and so they began to play with colour and pattern to decorate it in their characteristically flamboyant style. Whilst Vanessa and Duncan lived there from when the children were young into their own old age, the house would have been an ever changing canvas with the noise, mess and hurly burly of everyday life going on all around.
And there it is...this is where the enduring appeal of Charleston Farmhouse lies. There is a sense of lives lived. You almost get the feeling that Vanessa has just stepped out of the french doors of her bedroom to pick flowers from the garden to put on the kitchen table. The armchair covers in the studio are crushed from where Duncan Grant and Maynard Keynes might just have stood up from a late night discussion by the gas fire, stubbing out the last cigarette of the evening. The farmhouse is cosy and scuffed by life and it's echoes of the past are not far away.
The Charleston Literary Festival (18th-28th May 2018) embodies the essence of all they strived for, bringing together literature, philosophy, art and debate.
We are living through turbulent times and this year in the true spirit of the Bloomsbury Group, the festival will not shy away from discussing the pressing agendas of modern life.
The Charleston Centenary Project is now underway. This is a £9 million project to "return Charleston to a unique, living artistic environment: dedicated to originality in art, colour and design, to the power of education and the inspiration of the written and spoken word."
The huge Grade II listed barns opposite the house are to be transformed into an auditorium, a new Exhibition Gallery, the Charleston Creative Learning Studio offering high quality arts and crafts workshops and courses and a new cafe.
This is going to be a wonderful enterprise, bringing people from far and wide to this most creative part of rural Sussex which has always been the chosen destination for artists, writers and alternative thinkers. I imagine that this would be exactly how the Bloomsbury friends would have wanted Charleston to evolve, with the farmhouse still their cosy sanctuary at the end of the day.
Charleston Farmhouse is just ten minutes from Starnash Farmhouse and May is a wonderful time to visit the house and the gardens, and all the better if you can go to some of the events at the Literary Festival.
Just for the week of the Charleston Literary Festival we are offering 10% off on the price of a stay with us at Starnash Farmhouse if you book with us directly.
All you have to do is to let us know (by 'phone, text or email) that you have read this blog and have seen the offer. You can then enjoy a peaceful break in our Sussex farmhouse and take in Charleston and some of the other delights of East Sussex whilst you are here.
You can contact us by phone or email prior to booking and we will apply the 10% discount for the duration of your stay.
text and 'phone: 07876255792 (Vicky)
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