You can’t hardly go wrong if you live on THE STREET, can you? Of all the gardens we have visited, the one cottage in a garden that I know I would be happy to live in, is Monks House. Monk’s House is the country cottage in Rodmell, 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. Previously, renting an old roundhouse windmill in nearby Firle, they had escaped the hubbub of London, and diminished the anxiety and depressive episodes that Virginia experienced when stressed.
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 Woolf’s 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. Leonard wanted to buy Monk’s House, as he thought country living had proved to be better for Virginia’s mental health and he was very interested in gardening.
The house was derelict when they moved in…… no electricity, no running water and no inside toilets, just an earth closet in the garden.
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, ( 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. 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 door to the garden………
In letters to friends Virginia said, “ The point of Monks House is the garden. I shan’t tell you, for you must come and sit there on the lawn with me, or stroll in the apple orchard, or pick—-there are cherries, plums, pears, figs, together with all the vegetables. This is going to be the pride of our hearts I warn you.”
Another garden area……..
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. 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. The grounds and gardens were beautiful and just the right size……..It was a joy to visit!
This is what I think Virginia would have looked like sitting at her table and reading……
PS Why did they name the cottage Monks House? There is a narrow lane that leads to a small village church on the property next to Monks House. It is said that many, many, many, many years ago the monks lived on the property and had gardens there.
I hope you have enjoyed my SOS for this week!
The instructions for SOS are easy. The photos can be flowers, vegetables, a garden design, whatever, as long as it’s garden related and posted on Saturday! So, its six photos. Of Gardens. On Saturday. Easy Peasy. To see all the SOS’s look at SIX ON SATURDAY, hosted by the Propagator, to check out all of them each Saturday! See you next week!