#MyGloriousGardens: Virginia Woolf’s Monks House

Today for the #MyGloriousGardens Theme we will be visiting the home and garden of Virginia and Leonard Woolf in Rodmell. I am doing the post in two parts: one this week and one next, because I think if you are like me you would want to see her cottage as well as her garden, am I right?

Parking at the end of a narrow country lane in Rodmell, Sussex, we walked to the  National Trust Property of Monk’s House, the country cottage that was the home of Leonard and Virginia Woolf from 1919 until her death in 1941. There are few houses on this country lane and it is quiet and peaceful. That is the exact reason it was purchased in the first place. During WWI Virginia lived in nearby Firle to escape the hubbub of London, and the war, and to diminish the anxiety and depressive episodes that she experienced when stressed. Following the war she and Leonard bought Monk’s House and lived there a good part of the year, as Leonard thought it was better for her health.

Rodmell, Sussex, UK

Unlike other homes we have visited on The National Trust, Monk’s House is a small unpretentious home, that anyone could have lived in. I would have loved to have lived in this house! It is not too big, but cozy, and the interior is a time capsule of the 1930’s. You get the feeling Virginia is waiting to greet you at the door! The house itself is a timber framed, but weather boarded house, that originally had a Sussex stone roof, but now is slate.

The front of the house faces the garden, the back is to the street, as we see here. Let’s go in the gate!

The Entrance to Monk's House, Rodmell, Sussex, UK
The Entrance to Monk’s House, Rodmell, Sussex, UK
Sign at Monk's House, Rodmell, Sussex, UK
Sign at Monk’s House, Rodmell, Sussex, UK
Monks House, Rodmell, Sussex, UK
Monk’s House, Rodmell, Sussex, UK
Monks House, Rodmell, Sussex, UK
Monk’s House, Rodmell, Sussex, UK

Previously renting an old roundhouse windmill,  Virginia and Leonard saw the advertisement for the auction of Monk’s House, which included three other small cottages and a 3/4 acre garden. Spread out on the lawn, during the auction, were the provisions and paintings from the previous owners, the Glazebrook family.  The Woolfs bought the property and three primitive paintings for 700 pounds. Another draw to the house was the fact that Virginia’s sister, Vanessa, had bought the farmhouse, Charleston, just a few miles away, where she and several members of the Bloomsbury Group had settled to entertain and paint.

The house was derelict when they moved in…… no electricity, no running water and no inside toilets, just a earth closet in the garden. I wasn’t sure what an earth closet was so I have included a picture here with instructions!

Slowly, as finances improved they updated the house adding bathrooms, which included an inside toilet in 1926, and a kitchen. The two bathrooms were paid for from Virginia’s earnings from Mrs. Dalloway and she often said when she was going to the toilet that she was going to see Mrs. Dalloway! By 1929 with the earnings from their Hogarth press business, (remember Virginia was printing and hand binding books for therapy) they decided to add  a two story extension, which included “a room of one’s own.”  The sitting room was moved upstairs because the view of the garden and South Downs was beautiful and Virginia used the downstairs room as her bedroom. The only way in and out of her bedroom was via a door to the garden. Leonard slept in a room at the opposite side of the house and every  morning brought Virginia her coffee in bed.

Virginia's Room of her Own, Monks House, Sussex, UK
Virginia’s Room of her Own, Monk’s House, Sussex, UK

The lower door is to the kitchen of the main house and used to be a shed!

The Kitchen Entrance at Monks House, Rodmell, UK
The Kitchen Entrance at Monk’s House, Rodmell, UK
A Room of One's Own, Monks House, Rodmell, Sussex, UK
A Room of One’s Own, Monk’s House, Rodmell, UK
Virginia's Bedroom, Monks House, Rodmell, UK
Virginia’s Bedroom, Monk’s House, Rodmell, UK

Virginia’s favorite color was viridian green!  Her friends and family thought it horrid!

Monks House, Sussex, UK
Monks House, Sussex, UK
Monks House, Sussex, UK
Monks House, Sussex, UK
Monks House, Sussex, UK
Monks House, Sussex, UK
Monks House, Sussex, UK
Monks House, Sussex, UK

More property was added so they could have an unobstructed view of the South Downs,  and a writing lodge was tucked into the orchard garden for a retreat for Virginia.

The South Downs, Monks House, Rodmell, UK
The South Downs, Monk’s House, Rodmell, UK
Virginia's Writing Lodge, Monks House, Rodmell, UK
Virginia’s Writing Lodge, Monk’s House, Rodmell, UK
Virginia's Bedroom Writing Area, Monks House, Rodmell, UK
Virginia’s Lodge Writing Area, Monks House, Rodmell, UK

Behind the back garden wall sits St Peter’s Church, which I thought made the grounds very peaceful and serene. The garden was Virginia’s source of inspiration.

St Peters Church, Rodmell, UK
St Peter’s Church, Rodmell, UK
A View of St Peters Church, from the Garden at Monks House, Rodmell, UK
A View of St Peters Church, from the Garden at Monks House, Rodmell, UK

By 1939 the Woolfs were living full time at Monks House to escape the bombing in London. Their home in Bloomsbury was destroyed. The peace was shattered for Virginia when German bombers flew low, almost daily, over Sussex on their way to bomb London.  Her brother provided both of them with lethal doses of morphine in case the Germans invaded. During this time they were both nervous because Leonard was Jewish and Virginia was listed in Hitler’s black book. The anxiety took its toll and Virginia committed suicide by filling her pockets with rocks and drowning herself in the nearby Ouse River. She left two suicide notes, one for Leonard and one for her sister, Vanessa. Her ashes were scattered unceremoniously under an Elm tree in the backyard.

Leonard lived at Monks House for 50 years and died there in 1969, at the age of 88. He left the cottage and property to his friend Trekkie Ritchee Parsons, who really didn’t know what to do with the house and so passed it to the University of Sussex. The University sold off the 4000 books and rented the house to visiting lecturers. Eventually it was too much for them and they gave the house to The National Trust in 1980. A sizable sum of money was raised by Quentin and Angelica Bell (Virginia’s surviving nephew and niece; children of Vanessa) for the upkeep.  Quentin was at this time a Professor of Fine Art and History of Ceramics at the University of Sussex. Together they helped to restore the house to 90% of how it was in Leonard’s and Virginia’s time there. We were able to explore four of the rooms of the cottage, the rest of the house is cordoned off for the resident caretaker. There are guides in each room who can explain all the artifacts and what they meant to the family. It was a joy to visit and next we’ll explore the garden at Monk’s House!  See you there! 

Virginia and Leonard Woolf

Won’t you join in the fun at #MyGloriousGardens? I think it will be inspiring to see all the other gardens and what you are doing in yours too! See you next week!

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Annika Perry says:

    What an idyllic house and garden…I love how they added to the house over time and her writing lodge is lovely in such a peaceful tranquil setting. I had NT membership for many years but alas never heard of this place!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We travel every year to various NT properties and gardens on the National Garden Scheme. And we have the best time finding new gardens to explore!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh this is lovely Cady! I almost missed it no I was waiting for this post! What a sad story in such a beautiful place. Thank you for the post Cady. Thank you for using my Linky badge too. I will host another Linky post in early July. X

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Are we supposed to wait until July to post for #mygloriousgardens?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No! You can write whenever you like but we shall link them all together in July if that’s ok! It’s so busy at work at the moment. Hope that’s ok. X

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh Ok! I want to finish up the Virginia/Vanessa gardens and mention the servants in a post too! Just too much interesting stuff to write about! Ha ha!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I must have missed this post the first time around, Cady, so I pulled it up from archives. You’ve written a lovely story of Virginia and Leonard’s Monk House! Now, I’m on to the second “installment.”


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