“Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft presents the story of outstanding artist, designer and typographer Elizabeth Friedlander. The work of Friedlander (1903-1984) is instantly recognisable as mid-20th century design at its best, but few will know the name behind the art. Best known for her Penguin book covers and Bauer Type Foundry typeface ‘Elizabeth’, the exhibition touches on her escape to London from 1930s Nazi Germany, friendship with her sponsor – poet and printer Francis Meynell – and her work with a wartime British black propaganda unit. The show includes rarely-seen works from the artist’s compelling career including type design, wood engravings, decorative book papers, maps and commercial work.
A few weeks ago I read an article in the latest Art Fund Quarterly magazine about the beautiful calligraphy and design work of Elizabeth Friedlander. As I read I realised that the venue for the exhibition of her work was The Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft in East Sussex. I remembered that friend (and regular commenter here) Fran, had recommended me to stop at this museum on my journey to Laughton Place back in 2014. In the end the traffic hold-ups in London meant that time was pressing and I would have insufficient time to do a visit justice. Upon realising that Ditchling was not a million miles from Godalming, where I’m pug-sitting this week, I suggested meeting Fran there and seeing the exhibition in good company.
On Sunday last week I took one of my American friends (and fellow book group member) to Petworth House in West Sussex. I’d picked her up the day before from a Charlotte Bronte Conference at Chawton House Library near Alton in Hampshire; taken her back to Godalming where we walked with Oliver Pug to Munstead Wood (just a glimpse) and dropped her at her Ewhurst B&B after a pub supper nearby.
Last year Simon over at Stuck-in-a-Book lent me his copy of ‘Tea is so Intoxicating’ by Mary Essex which is one of several pen names of romantic novelist (and my brother-in-law’s Godmother!) Ursula Bloom.
One thing I especially loved about the book was the choice of chapter headings. Shall I quote them all here?
1. Tea for Two,and Two for Tea
2. I do like a Nice Cup of Tea
3. For all the Tea in China
4. The Cups that Cheer but not Inebriate
5. Everything Stops for Tea
6. Cold Tea may be Endured, but not Cold Looks (Japanese Proverb)
7. Tea and Scandal
Written in 1950 it is basically the story of a London couple who set up a Tea Garden in the South of England but the marriage is not a success.
Anyway, when Fran told me that Tea Gardens were a particular feature of the East Sussex countryside around Laughton I knew, should the weather remain sympathetic, that I would have to take my Swiss friends to one of these minor Sussex institutions. So, after the walk on Sunday at Firle Beacon and the visit to Firle village we headed for Litlington Tea Garden.
In the Tea Garden – there are a few sheltered places should the weather turn inclement
We were in luck – the day remained warm and dry. We ordered cucumber sandwiches to be followed by scones and jam and accompanied by plenty of tea.
From Litlington it was just a short drive to Wilmington. Here is the famous Long Man carved into the chalk hillside many centuries ago. Here also is Wilmington Priory another Landmark Trust property.
Wilmington Long Man
After tea and scones and jam we were ready for a little exercise so parked up in the small car park on the edge of Wilmington and walked about the half mile or so to the bottom of the hillside upon which he is marked out. The nearer you get to him the less of him there is to see. Still, it was a nice walk.
Approaching the Long Man
We Reach The Long Man
“The enigmatic Long Man of Wilmington attracts many theories but provides little evidence to back them up. Now outlined in stone, he was formerly carved in the chalk of the hill. His first definite mention was as late as 1710, but the monument was old then. A picture drawn by bored monks, commemoration of the Saxon conquest of Pevensey, a Roman soldier or Neolithic god opening the gates of dawn. The ‘Long Man asking the traveller – like the Sphinx – to solve the dark mystery of its own origins’.” [Wealden Walks]
“The remains of a once highly regarded Benedictine Priory Wilmington Priory was a cell of the Benedictine Abbey at Grestain in Normandy. It was never a conventional priory with cloister and chapter, the monks prayed in the adjoining parish church where the thousand-year-old yews are testimony to the age of the site. The Priory has been added to and altered in every age and some of it has been lost to ruin and decay, but what is left shows how highly it was once regarded.” [Landmark Trust website]
Rear of Wilmington Priory
The Ruined Priory
Wilmington Priory Gardens
The 1,000 Year Old Yew Tree in the Churchyard
We arrive at Great Dixter
Our Saturday excursion in Sussex was intended to be to Sissinghurst former home of Vita Sackville-West : a kind of continuing of the Bloomsbury trail. However, word must have reached the Swiss Alps to the effect that the house and garden at Great Dixter must not be missed. Thus we wended our way across county to near the Kent border to visit this wonderful house and its almost overpowering garden.
Great Dixter recently featured in a one hour presentation on the BBC TV series British Gardens in Time.
I’d seen the programme and therefore knew a bit about Christopher Lloyd (1921-2006) whose parents moved to Great Dixter in 1910. He was born here; the youngest of 6 children. In 1954, after attending Rugby School and King’s College, Cambridge and studying and later teaching horticulture at Wye College, he moved back to Dixter to live with his mother Daisy. They shared their love gardening until 1972 when Daisy died. He lived here until his own death in 2006 gardening and writing and encouraging students of gardening to stay at the house and study. His work continues today under the stewardship of Fergus Garrett and the Great Dixter Charitable Trust. Read more about Christopher Lloyd here.
Great Dixter Nursery Garden
You can only visit the House in the afternoons between 2 and 5pm so we spent the morning in the Nursery Garden, walking in the Wild Flower Meadows and Orchard, visiting the shop and refreshment area and generally the more informal garden areas. After a (disappointing) lunch we visited the House and the more formal parts of the garden nearer to the house.
Shop and Picnic Garden
The Potting Shed
Great Dixter Seeds
Wild Flower Meadow, Topiary and House
Just three rooms in the Great Dixter House are open to the public : The Great Hall, The Solar and The Parlour. No photography is allowed inside. There were knowledgable room stewards in each room. None of these rooms were part of the Edwin Lutyens ‘extension’ as this is used still today to accommodate GD’s horticulture students. I learned that a barn had been spotted by Lutyens some miles away and bought and removed to Great Dixter beam by beam. The ‘Benenden’ House and the Lutyens features are described here :
“As you face the entrance side of Great Dixter, the porch and everything to the right is 15th or early 16th-century, while the left hand side of the house, containing service quarters below and bedrooms above, is by Edwin Lutyens.
The extraordinary sweep of the tiled roof, particularly when seen from the upper garden, punctuated by tall chimneys and small dormer windows, is the most dramatic element of Lutyens’ otherwise self-effacing work at Great Dixter.
Following the path to the right, the huge chimney breast on the end wall of the house was a substitution by Lutyens for the miserable small flues then serving the Parlour and Solar.
The ground on the garden side of the house falls away quite steeply, so a terrace was built where additions to the south side of the Great Hall were destroyed, and the reconstructed house from Benenden was erected on a high brick base (containing the Billiard Room).
As you begin to walk along the Long Border, look back at the east side of the house. On the right on the first floor is a small window on a different level from all the others. This was a characteristic touch of Lutyens’ and is a floor level window in the Day Nursery. He called it the Crawling Window. Few great architects would have bothered to ensure that the smallest inhabitant, unable to reach a conventional window sill, could also see out.
The doorway (now blocked) in the end of the Benenden house is original.” [Source]
Benenden House Wing
I was intrigued to learn that the exterior of the ‘Benenden House’ wing is reflected in the two Lutyens garden seats strategically placed at the end of the Long Border and by the Topiary Lawn.
Lutyens Garden Seat at the Long Border
It was such a beautiful day that we didn’t go into the Oast House and White Barn exhibitions. Great Dixter is not just a place to visit and although it is the gardening students who stay here there are courses for everyone.
Miniature Hurdles ‘in action’ in the garden
The only disappointment as far as we were concerned was the refreshment ‘kiosk’; I suppose it was just meant to be a place to obtain a minimal amount of sustenance and the intention was not to turn it into a destination in its own right. My advice would be – take your own picnic!
Our journey to and from Great Dixter took us through Herstmonceux and on our way we noticed the Sussex Truggery and decided to call in on our return journey. Unfortunately The Truggery closes at 1pm on Saturdays but we did stock up with fruit and vegetables at a nearby country farm shop.
The Sussex Trugggery
Welcome to Charleston Farmhouse Shop
In some ways very different from Monks House but in other ways similar; on the Friday of our stay we headed to Charleston Farmhouse just a few miles from Laughton Place. It’s a rather more slick presentation in that tickets are sold and one is booked on one of the timed tours which take place at twenty minute intervals throughout the opening hours (just Wednesday to Sunday during the season). No photography is allowed in the house. But like Monks House there is colour inside and out and the garden is relaxed and colourful and again reflected the atmosphere of the house itself.
“Charleston is a property associated with the Bloomsbury group. It was the country home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and is an example of their decorative style within a domestic context, representing the fruition of over sixty years of artistic creativity.
In 1916 the artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant moved to Sussex with their unconventional household. Over the following half century it became the country meeting place for the group of artists, writers and intellectuals known as Bloomsbury. Clive Bell, David Garnett and Maynard Keynes lived at Charleston for considerable periods; Virginia and Leonard Woolf, E. M. Forster, Lytton Strachey and Roger Fry were frequent visitors. Inspired by Italian fresco painting and the Post-Impressionists, the artists decorated the walls, doors and furniture at Charleston. The walled garden was redesigned in a style reminiscent of southern Europe, with mosaics, box hedges, gravel pathways and ponds, but with a touch of Bloomsbury humour in the placing of the statuary.
… humour in the placing of the statuary
“It’s most lovely, very solid and simple, with … perfectly flat windows and wonderful tiled roofs. The pond is most beautiful, with a willow at one side and a stone or flint wall edging it all round the garden part, and a little lawn sloping down to it, with formal bushes on it.” — Vanessa Bell
The pond is beautiful
The rooms on show form a complete example of the decorative art of the Bloomsbury artists: murals, painted furniture, ceramics, objects from the Omega Workshops, paintings and textiles. The collection includes work by Auguste Renoir, Picasso, Derain, Matthew Smith, Sickert and Eugène Delacroix.” [Adapted from here]
We arrived by 12 noon, when tickets go on sale, and our tour was booked for 1.20pm. In the meantime there was a delicious shop to mooch around and a video to watch. There is a cafe but it’s very limited in what it serves.
Our House Tour with Meg focused on A Day in the Life of Charleston, taking us on a journey of daily life in the house which included the Charleston kitchen not normally visited on other days. In fact the gardener actually lives in the house and it is his private kitchen.
From Charleston we headed for the nearby village of Berwick where we had lunch at Cricketers Arms and afterwards visited the Church of St Michael and All Angels where Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell decorated the walls with murals. The church itself had a rather unusual feel not just because of the famous murals but because in contrast to so many churches the windows are plain glass.
All the scenes are set in the local Sussex countryside and they were painted, for the most part, during the Second World War and they used members of their families and their Bloomsbury circle as models.
The Nativity by Vanessa Bell
The Nativity Close-up : A Sussex Trug
Christ in Majesty by Duncan Grant
The Annunciation by Vanessa Bell
‘A Room of One’s Own’ by Virginia Woolf in the Library at Laughton Place
The moment my Swiss friends stepped off the London train at Lewes Station the sun came out and this set the scene for the next few days. We stuffed the cases in the boot and I whisked them straight off down shady narrow lanes to the quiet village of Rodmell just a few miles from the town centre of Lewes. We parked up in the Monk’s House (NT) car park and ambled back up the lane past wisteria covered cottages and pretty gardens to the Abergavenny Arms for lunch where, wonder of wonders, we were able to sit outside in the garden.
Description of Monk’s House by Virginia Woolf
Monk’s House is the former 17th century summer cottage home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf. They lived here together from 1919 until Virginia’s death in 1941 and Leonard continued to live here permanently with his companion, Trekkie Parsons, until his death in 1969. The house was left to Trekkie but before she died in 1995 she had sold the house in 1972 to The University of Sussex. Visiting lecturers and researchers stayed here until 1980 when the National Trust took on the property.
Leonard Woolf had the Conservatory added when he was too frail to walk to the Greenhouses
The Writing Lodge
Here Virginia Woolf wrote in the small wooden lodge at the bottom of the garden. Jacob’s Room was published in 1922, Mrs Dalloway in 1925, To The Lighthouse in 1927, Orlando in 1928, The Waves in 1931, The Years in 1937 and Between The Acts, published posthumously, in 1941. This latter is, apparently, steeped in references to Rodmell and the traditions and values of its villagers.
Both Virginia and Leonard’s ashes are buried beneath the magnolia tree in the garden.
The tree beneath which the ashes are buried
It’s a wonderful house. You can wander around as your fancy takes you and the garden is very pretty. Photography is not restricted and friendly local volunteers are on hand to answer questions as best they can.
Garden and Rodmell Parish Church
Leonard was the gardener, despite the recently published ‘Virginia Woolf’s Garden‘ by Jacqui Zoob who for ten years from 2000 lived at the house as a tenant of the National Trust. However, we were able to visit Virginia’s bedroom which is very much a garden room in an extension which they had added to the house.
Virginia Woolf’s Garden Bedroom Exterior
Virginia Woolf’s Garden Bedroom Interior
Originally proposed as the sitting room it was given over to VW when they realised that the view from the room above would be more suited to a sitting room. This room, which we didn’t see, is now let by the Trust as holiday accommodation.
Room to Let
On leaving the house we walked the same route to the River Ouse that Virginia took on that fateful day 28 March 1941.
The River Ouse near Rodmell
More pictures inside Monk’s House :
The main aim of my stay in Sussex was to meet up with two Swiss friends. Last year when I was staying with Barbara in Bern for the weekend the idea of visiting Charleston and all those ‘Bloomsbury’ related places in Sussex was suggested. I said I’d also wanted to visit them and showed Barbara the Landmark Trust website. When she saw Laughton Place tower she would not be budged to look elsewhere for accommodation. So we ended up last weekend in the tower and visiting as many Bloomsbury locations as we could manage.
Alfriston Church and Village Sign
Badgers Alfriston (Note the Boot Bags – it’s on the route of the South Downs Way)
Barbara and Kathryn first wanted to have a few days in London so I spent the first two nights at Laughton Place on my own. But for the most part I wasn’t alone thanks to Fran being able to spend Tuesday afternoon and all day Wednesday with me.
Knowing my love of hiking she had planned a walking expedition for us but the weather was not kind on the Wednesday morning so we took lunch in Alfriston and drove later in the afternoon to the Seven Sisters Country Park car park, donned our boots and set off on a shorter walk following the River Cuckmere to where it joins the English Channel. At the sea’s edge you have a wonderful view of The Seven Sisters cliffs over which we might have walked part of the South Downs Way had the morning’s weather been different.
The Seven Sisters (looking east)
River Cuckmere behind the Footpath Signpost
River Cuckmere with Ox Bow Lakes, Meanders and the English Channel
Meanders and Buttercups
Thank you, Fran, for your good company and for being the most informative guide possible!
The Village of Firle nestled below the South Downs
On Sunday Barbara, Kathryn and I drove to the car park above the village of Firle and walked a mile or so each way to Firle Beacon and back. At the Beacon (an Ordnance Survey Triangulation Point) we could see the Channel and a cross-channel ferry arriving at Newhaven in one direction and the flat levels and meadows that surround Laughton Place in the other. There right in front of us but a little distant was our Tower itself.
Sunday Morning on the South Downs
After our walk we headed down into Firle village. Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant (see future posts about ‘Bloomsbury-on-Sea) are buried in the churchyard; Virginia and Leonard Woolf had a house in Firle before they moved to Monk’s House and we had a drink in the warm sunshine at The Ram Inn.
Firle Churchyard : Graves of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell
Little Talland House, Firle
I also managed to fit in a short walk directly from the Tower towards Laughton village but I never quite made it. I was anxious to see the village but had the time constraint of meeting the London train too so after a mile or so I turned back and drove to Laughton (the village of the buckle).
Complicated Bridge/Stile near Laughton Place
Laughton Place in its Landscape
If Laughton is the Village of the Buckle then Laughton Place is the Tower of the Buckle. Buckles turned up everywhere. Regular Commenter here, and now good friend too, Fran, visited me twice during my stay and together we enjoyed spotting the buckles. Here are the ones we found and some other photos of the wonderful Laughton Place.
Laughton Place on the first evening
Laughton Place by day
“The tower we see at Laughton today was built in 1534 by Sir William Pelham. It is all that survives of a house that existed from the 13th century until the 1950s, undergoing many alterations and rebuildings on the way. From 1401 until 1927 Laughton remained in the single ownership of the Pelham family, who owned great estates in Sussex. In the 15th and 16th centuries it was indeed their chief residence and it bears the emblem that they traditionally used to mark their property – the Pelham Buckle – claimed to have been won by military prowess at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356.
Terracotta Window Decoration with Buckle
In 1534 Sir William Pelham remodelled the house on a grand scale around a moated courtyard and with terracotta decoration in the newest Renaissance fashion. All that has survived is this bold brick tower, which stood close to the main hall as an outlook post and set of secure private rooms combined. By 1600 the family had abandoned Laughton, driven by the damp to build again on higher ground and slowly the house decayed.
In 1753, Henry Pelham, politician and brother to the splendid Duke of Newcastle, had the idea of surrounding the tower with a new Gothick farmhouse. The result was very charming, with a pediment between crenellated side-wings, and pointed windows. Thus it continued until sold by the Pelhams in 1927. The new owner pulled down the wings, leaving only the tower. Laughton Place stands, with a couple of other buildings, within the wide circle of the Downs, down a long drive.
The plain, but comfortable, sitting room
When the Landmark Trust bought it in 1978 the tower had great cracks in its sides and the floors had fallen in – much engineering and lime mortar went into its repair. The rooms inside are plain, apart from the delicate arabesque decoration of the terracotta windows, the moulded terracotta doors and the Pelham Buckle.”
[Adapted from The Landmark Trust website]
Buckle Window Catch
Buckle Door Latch
Buckle Door Handle
View from the Tower Roof Platform
Over 60 steps lead up to the third floor bedroom
Third Floor Twin Bedroom
Laughton in East Sussex lies about 5 miles NE of the county town of Lewes and that is where I spent 6 nights last week. Actually, not quite in Laughton itself but at the Landmark Trust property Laughton Place about a mile and a half from the village on foot but probably two miles by road. I’ll write more about Laughton Place next time but just show some pictures of the village and explain about the Buckle here.
“What time ye French Sought to have Sackt Seafoord;
This Pelham did Repell them back Aboord”
This poem and the buckle on the village sign represent the colourful Pelham family whose own history dominates that of this area. During battle in 1356 Sir John Pelham managed to capture the King of France. The English king [Edward III] was so impressed that he removed the buckle of his sword belt and handed it to Sir John as a reward. It henceforth became the badge of the Pelhams and can be seen throughout the village. [Adapted from Wealden Walks leaflet]
All Saints Church, Laughton
Below Laughton church lie the remains of over sixty Pelhams, including two Prime Ministers [Henry Pelham (1694-1754) and his brother Thomas Pelham-Holles (1st Duke of Newcastle) (1693-1768)]. The latter rebuilt the chancel and donated a new set of bells to the church in 1724, which he had cast on the spot by a travelling founder.
War Memorial in Laughton Church
“In front of the now blocked north door an impressive war memorial was erected in 1921 in honour of the eighteen Laughton men killed in the Great War. The striking war memorial in the nave was dedicated in 1921. Sculpted in Italy of Carrara marble, it was paid for in Italian lira to take advantage of the exchange rate at the time. Four names were added following World War II.” [Source]
A tablet on the same wall records the death of five people killed by a flying bomb in Shortgate.
Laughton has a pub, the Roebuck (shouldn’t that be Roebuckle??) which I didn’t try and a village shop and Post Office, which I did. The kind shopkeeper was able to point me in the direction of The Hammonds where the poet and author Eleanor Farjeon lived during the First World War.
Farjeon is most famous for her hymn Morning Has Broken which became a popular track on Cat Stevens’ album .
Morning has broken,
like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken,
like the first bird
Praise for the singing,
praise for the morning
Praise for the springing
fresh from the word
Sweet the rain’s new fall,
sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall,
on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness
of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness
where his feet pass
Mine is the sunlight,
mine is the morning
Born of the one light,
Eden saw play
Praise with elation,
praise every morning
of the new day
Oh, yes, we’ve still got our Teaser and the Firecat LP record (1971)!
Teaser and the Firecat LP Cover