Thursday, April 23, 2009
The Writer's House
Rudyard Kipling. We grew up with his stories. We memorized his poems. We watched the movies based on his writing. Who can forget Mowgli, Baloo or Gunga Din? In his day, Kipling was as big as J.K. Rowling and the most famous writer in the English-speaking world. You know him well, but have you ever been to his house?
Well, you can and you should and here’s why. Bateman’s, Kiplings family home and refuge for more than 30 years, and now a National Trust property, has just reopened for the season and of all the literary sites you can visit in the UK, Bateman’s may be the best. First, because Kipling’s life is a gripping story full of contradictions and filled with professional triumphs and personal tragedies, and second, because the house exists today just as it was when Kipling lived there. His Rolls Royce is in the garage. His books and papers are in the study. His Nobel Prize sits proudly on the table.
One of the first things you see as you enter the house is the little window in the entry hall where his American wife, Carrie, who he once described as the ‘Ways and Means Committee’, would screen his visitors. The clues to this man’s life are everywhere, just as he left them. For this, we can thank the ‘Ways and Means Committee’, who bequeathed the estate to the National Trust as a memorial to her husband in 1939.
Wandering around the house it’s easy to see the world through Kipling’s eyes. His fascination with the Indian subcontinent, his need for privacy, the garden he designed and built from the proceeds of his Nobel Prize, his love of children and the tragic loss of his own. As far as drilling down to the details is concerned, the place is staffed with endearing cult-like volunteers with encyclopaedic knowledge of Kipling and nothing pleases them more than when you ask them a question. In addition to the house, there are extensive grounds and gardens with a working mill that was used by Kipling to generate electricity and a tea room that, on the day we were there, was packed with picturesque pensioners enjoying a spring outing.
To reach Bateman’s near Burwash in East Sussex from London, you can either take a train from Charing Cross Rail Station to Etchingham and then by bus or taxi to Burwash or you can drive. Either way takes about two hours. There is an excellent Journey Planner on the Bateman’s website with all the details. If you have a car, Sissinghurst Castle and Garden, another site with rich literary associations, is nearby as is Bodiam Castle, one of the best preserved moated castles in Britain.
The house is open from March 14 to November 1 every day except Thursday and Friday from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. The gardens and tea room open throughout the year. Opening times can be found here.
Tel: 01435 882302
Fax: 01435 882811
Photo courtesy of the National Trust, Geoffrey Frosch