Monk’s House

Monk's House | Miranda's Notebook

Monk’s House, Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s former home, is one of my favourite places on earth. Nestled in a picture-perfect village in the heart of the Sussex Downs, the National Trust owned property offers a marvellous glimpse into the life of one of Britain’s greatest writers.

When she first viewed the house, Virginia wrote:Β the rooms are small…the kitchen is distinctly bad. There’s an oil stove, & no grate. Nor is there hot water, nor a bath… These prudent objections kept excitement at bay; yet even they were forced to yield place to a profound pleasure at the size & shape & fertility & wildness of the garden.

Monk’s House garden is indeed everything an English country garden should be, complete with beehives, an orchard, winding paths, a wisteria arch and a writing shed. Walking amongst the pink-tipped blossom, with the bees buzzing and a light breeze stirring, I felt as if I’d stepped back in time to a more tranquil era, when there was space in the day-to-day hum of life for tea in the garden and picnics under trees.

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We spent ages in the garden, sitting on deck chairs in a shady patch of grass and admiring the glorious views. ‘All nature is to be had in 5 minutes,’ said Virginia of the South Downs, and I do see her point: this particular corner of Britain is especially lovely, and it is easy to see why so many writers and painters alike have been inspired by it.

It isn’t just the garden, though, that makes Monk’s House special Β – I love the house itself, which is filled with Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s instantly recognisable designs and has an atmosphere of calm serenity. Virginia, apparently, was particularly fond of green paint, and the sitting room is painted a remarkable, pistachio ice-cream shade. There is a very lived-in quality to the room: all the usual writing paraphernalia is left out on Leonard’s desk; books are piled on tables and lavender sits drying in bowls. It is as though the Woolfs have just that minute stepped out – perhaps on a walk over to Charleston to see Vanessa and Duncan – and will be back before sunset to take tea in the cosy armchairs by the fire. Incredibly, I can reach out and touch a chair that Virginia perhaps once scraped back in a hurry to leave the dining table.

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Only the ground floor of the house is viewable to visitors, but happily Virginia Woolf’s bedroom is one of the rooms open to the public and must not be missed. It is a room surrounded by garden, with a door leading direct to the outside. Standing at the doorway, you can look down the whole stretch of the garden to the church tower presiding over the treetops.

‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,’ Virginia famously wrote in A Room of One’s Own. It is easy to imagine that inspiration would fly from the pen in such an appealing room, although apparently it was used as a bedroom alone, rather than a work room, as Virginia was very particular about the height of the table she used to write. Still, such a room would provide a fine refuge at the end of each day.

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Beautiful as Monk’s House is, there is a hint of bitter-sweet poignancy that clings to the air; a touch of sadness that mingles with the echoes of footsteps trodden long ago and the words of Virginia Woolf, which used to reverberate through the house as she read aloud in the bathtub every morning (where the acoustics were good), checking the rhythm to her lines was right. It is impossible not to walk through her former home without remembering the novelist’s tragic end. Equally, though, it is impossible not to feel that, when she could find happiness, she found it here.

Returning to Monk’s House made a memorable end to our recent day in East Sussex, and if you haven’t been yourself, I do urge you to go. It has an incredible atmosphere that is all its own and must be experienced in person for it to truly resonate.

Have any of you visited Monk’s House already? What did you think of it?

++ See my post on Charleston House, home of Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf’s sister) here ++

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  • Your outfit is gorgeous! You always look so well put together. What a lovely little home, I like the decor!

    Tara x

  • this looks like such a beautiful place, and it looks like it was a really lovely day as well – weather and otherwise! also, i really like your skirt! xx

    • Thank you Laura! The skirt is an old favourite of mine from Tara Jarmon. It was such a lovely day – fun to relive it through these pictures πŸ™‚ xxx

  • Cindi Brumpton

    I remember sitting on the benches in the garden amazed that here she and her Bloomsbury friends played Bowles, talked, and laughed. Awesome.

  • Ohh it looks lovely! I’ve just started exploring the South Downs and it’s so nice on a warm blue sky day. I totally need to get out to here on our next visit! x

    Jasmin Charlotte

  • This looks lovely – even just the gardens are stunning and the historical element is just the icing on the cake. Would love to visit one day x

  • Wow, such an interesting place! I love how cozy the home looks!

  • This is definitely going straight to the top of my “to-visit” list! x

  • Thank you so much for introducing this place. It was great experience to visit the author’s house and imagine how she created wonderful works. The scenery around the house is so beautiful and the rooms are very cozy. Maybe they are the rich source of inspiration for Virginia.

  • Thanks you so much for sharing these wonderful place on your blog with us! πŸ™‚ My mother is really into gardening and has often mentioned Virginia Woolf’s garden to me before and so I would love if I could take her there one day to spend some mother-daughter-time! πŸ™‚ I think it must be so interesting to visit the home of as inspiring and talented a person as Virginia Woolf – I can imagine that it would inspire anyone to start writing as well! πŸ™‚
    I really must pick up one of her works again: I read A Room of one’s own a few years back and then read one of her novels (I’m not sure I ever finished it, though) and your post has just motivated me to start again! What are your favorite works by VW?

    • Oh yes, I’m sure your Mum would love the garden – have you heard of the book Virginia Woolf’s Garden? It’s all about the garden at Monk’s House. I bought it as a gift for my Mum, in fact, who loved it! You’re right – her home is so inspirational! I actually just reread A Room of One’s Own the other day – it’s such a favourite! If you want to get back into her writing, I think Virginia Woolf’s essays (collected in The Common Reader) are a great place to start. I absolutely love them! As to novels, Flush is charming and very accessible. Orlando and Mrs Dalloway are, I think, also good first choices. I haven’t read all of her novels, but now I want to, as well as more about her life and the Bloomsbury Group characters. I just found a lovely edition of Anglica Garnett’s Deceived With Kindness in a second hand bookshop so will be giving that a go! xxx

      • I think that book is one of the main reason my mother knows of Virginia Woolf’s garden – but I think she actually first learned of it through the garden design work of Vita Sackville-West. Have you ever visited her garden at Sissinghurst Castle? It’s a place I’d love to see one day! πŸ™‚
        And thank you so much for your suggestions! I really don’t read enough anymore (after reading in the library all the day, I don’t exactly feel motivated to pick up a book again when I come home) and that’s such a great shame. I’m working on it, though, but I’m trying to focus on lighter reads at the moment and so essays seem like great thing to add to my reading list! πŸ™‚

        • I haven’t been to Sissinghurst yet, but it’s definitely on my list (not least because I own a fabulous book about that garden, too!!). I hope you enjoy the VW essays if you give them a go πŸ™‚ xxx

  • Kristina Collins

    We didn’t visit Monk’s House when we went to Charleston, and I now I see we really missed out! Definitely adding it to my to-visit list. xx

  • Eleanor Baggley

    It must have been such an inspiring house to write in – there’s something to spark your imagination in every corner. Lovely photos, Miranda. I’m definitely planning a trip for the summer.

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