Period Property of the Month - August 2008
At Bateman's, Rudyard Kipling found the refuge he had been seeking. Today, his spirit lives on in this inspiring and evocative country house.
A writer's retreat
Rudyard Kipling fell in love with Bateman's from the moment he saw it. It was a home, he wrote later, "in which to settle down for keeps". Tucked away in a wooded landscape of the Sussex Weald, this 17th Century house, with its mullioned windows and oak beams, was untouched by modernisation and change. It was an idyllic sanctuary for a man who had endured a lonely and unhappy childhood, and it was fondly remembered by all who visited it. In 1902, Kipling moved to the house with his American wife Carrie and their children Elsie and John. He was 36 and already the most famous writer in the world. The couple's eldest daughter, Josephine, had died of pneumonia at the age of six, a tragedy from which they never fully recovered, yet Kipling was determined that this new home should be a happy place - especially for his children - and an oasis of calm in which to work. Despite the further despair to come with the death of John in the First World War, Kipling always found serenity at Bateman's
Born to British parents in India, Kipling was sent to school in England and lodged at a house where he was often beaten. These were times of great loneliness. His only joyful moments were spent during holidays at the London home of his uncle, the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones, and his wife. It was such a refuge that many years later he brought the wrought-iron bell-pull from his uncle's house to hang in the porch at Bateman's. He hoped that other children would feel the same sense of happiness when they rang it.
Kipling was best-known in his lifetime for his poetry, but his much-loved works included The Jungle Book, Just So Stories and the novel Kim. Despite his fame, he was a modest man, for whom Bateman's was a haven away from the trappings of fame. Nevertheless, the house was often filled with friends such as Stanley Baldwin (Kipling's cousin) to the writer Rider Haggard. The visitors' book is still at the house and notes all the guests who visited across the thirty-four years that Kipling was there.
The rooms which the writer described as "untouched and unfaked" still evoke a rich period atmosphere, and most are exactly as he left them, giving a detailed insight into his character. A sense of fun was instilled from the moment a visitor stepped into the porch and saw the initials of Kipling, Carrie and the two children, which had been carved into the stonework one rainy afternoon.
The delightful oak-panelled parlour was the location for after-dinner games. It was also used as a place to roll back the rug and play ball with the family dogs. Here, Kipling would also read extracts from his latest poems and stories to his enraptured children and guests. Like other rooms in the house, there is an Eastern flavour from displays of travel mementos from his time in India as a young journalist. There are blue and white dishes and vases, decorated boxes and Kipling's collection of miniature Indian, Chinese and Japanese deities that he called his "household gods".
In the dining-room, the walls are decorated with striking 18th Century Cordoba leather hangings depicting tropical birds and entwining foliage, which Kipling and Carrie bought on the Isle of Wight. He was thrilled to have acquired them, saying they were "lovelier than our wildest dreams," and they gave the room a luxuriant backdrop for the jovial entertaining the family so enjoyed. Kipling suffered from stomach ulcers in his later life and the menus were often plain and simple, but guests would always be offered good wine as ample compensation.
The study is a fascinating record of a writer and his work. It is just as Kipling left it, only tidier. According to his family, he was extraordinarily messy, especially when he was mulling over many drafts for a book on his ink-stained desk. The tools of his trade are all here - the Good Companion typewriter of which he often complained "the beastly thing simply won't spell"; the boxes of pen nibs, rubber bands and clips. In the corner is his day-bed, where he would sit and wait for inspiration. The room contains his extensive library, an eclectic mix of works from poetry to Pepys, naval history to bee-keeping. Guests sometimes remarked that the books they would find by the bed seemed carefully chosen for them.
Bateman's is filled with mementos and evidence of Kilping's love of his family. The series of bronze and plaster plaques of Mowgli from The Jungle Book and characters from Kim were made by Kipling's father and intended as illustrations for the books. There are photographs of Burne-Jones at work, while other items of memorabilia show how Kipling's children influenced him - he devised the Just So Stories for Josephine and Elsie and John appear as characters in the tales Rewards and Fairies.
Kipling died in 1936 and his wife, Carrie, passed away three years later, having bequeathed Bateman's to the National Trust as a memorial to her husband. But Bateman's is far from being simply an historic house depicting the life of its owner. Special events offer behind-the-scenes glimpses of a home that meant so much to Kipling, and there are performances of his prose and poetry in the garden on summer evenings.
Or there is simply the opportunity to soak up the atmosphere of period rooms in a perfect rural setting. A century after it was created, Kipling's beloved rose garden is being replanted, and visitors have the unique chance to sponsor a rose... and claim a little piece of Bateman's for their own