Charleston Farm House and Berwick Church – another Literary Ladies outing

WI book group outing this week to Charleston and Berwick Church.
     All ten of us met up at the excellent Middle Farm for essential refreshment stoking-up before embarking on serious stuff. Battleaxe and Philosopher used to go there when grand daughter Eve was very small. She used to love the chickens and other farm stuff. Or perhaps, looking at this old photograph, maybe she didn’t love them quite as much as fond Granny remembers!

Eve at Middle Farm 2003

    Today’s Middle Farm has a greatly expanded farm shop, an amazing cider shop and a great selection of plants as well as the farm, and the cafe is good too. We devoured their entire stock of cheese scones.
     Next, to Berwick Church. Have never been there before.It is a pretty little church, heavily restored after bomb damage in 1940s (Bomb? Out there? How?).

Berwick Church

     It is best known for the murals, painted in the 1940s, 50s and 60s by the Bloomsbury set, Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Quentin Bell.
     This is the second church decorated by prominent twentieth-century artists I have seen recently. When we were in Cornwall we visited St Hilary Church, near Marazion, decorated by artists from the Newlyn Group, including Dod and Ernest Proctor, Norman Garstin and Harold Knight. Although I much prefer the Newlyn artists to the Bloomsbury Group, in fact Berwick Church is more attractive and interesting. Both churches had to face difficulties both with their dioceses and their parishioners in relation to the paintings, which were seen as over-ornate and un-Christian, and both churches suffered vandalism.

Paintings in Berwick Church

     The churchyard was interesting and pretty – lots of wild flowers, great views of the Downs.

View from the Churchyard

     After that, we clocked in for our guided tour of Charleston. To be honest,  The Bloomsbury Group have never really captured Battleaxe’s imagination. Despite their left-wing and pacifist credentials, I get the impression that they were not very nice people. The atmosphere at Charleston must have been riven with hurt, rejection and anger running alongside the devil-may-care Bohemian freedom. Somehow, the underlying tension seemed to linger in the house, despite its bright colours and rich furnishings. It felt very cold (and indeed it was a cold day after all the unseasonal sun we have had), but there was an underlying chill about the place, and the colours somehow seemed flat.
    They clearly enjoyed decorating, and painted many of the walls, doors, fireplaces etc. as well as the furniture. There was plenty to see – pottery, textiles – all sorts of things either made, designed or commissioned by the occupants of the house.There were many interesting paintings, by artists such
as Walter Sickert as well as many works by Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant,
Roger Fry etc.  They seemed very fond of painting each other.
    Like many nineteenth/early twentieth century creatives and social reformers, the Bloomsberries were not short of money. As even our guide to the house remarked, it is much easier to be Bohemian and free-living if you have servants to look after things for you.

Grace, who worked at Charleston for most of her life, painted by Vanessa Bell

    I was very conscious of this when I was writing an earlier blog post about Barbara Leigh-Smith Bodichon. Although Barbara appeared to have achieved an enormous amount both as an artist and a pioneer of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, she did not have to waste any energy on the basics of life – all was provided for her.
    Unfortunately, by the time we had finished the tour, it was raining quite hard, and we did not really fancy spending time in the garden. However, most of the rooms in the house had garden views, so we had a good idea of it.
    We occupied the tea-room, and ate a late lunch. 
    Not surprisingly, photographs were not allowed in the house, so here are a few pictures of the interior, and a few paintings, taken from the internet.
    It was a good day out.

Virginia Woolf – Vanessa Bell
Vanessa Bell – Duncan Grant
Angelica Garnet – Vanessa Bell
John Maynard Keynes – Duncan Grant

    I have just read that the BBC are producing a new drama series, much of it filmed at Charleston, based on the lives of the Bloomsbury Group. Life in Squares will be broadcast later this year.


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