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"A GOOD AND PEACEABLE PLACE"
Bateman's (East Sussex, England)
Member Name: Richada
Bateman's (East Sussex, England)
Advantages: Beautiful Setting. Authentic17th Century House. Many Original Contents. Still Feels Like a Home.
Disadvantages: May be Crowded in Summer. Off the Beaten Track (As Kipling Wanted it to be!)
......and for those of you even less versed in these things than I, no, this review has nothing to do with cakes and pastries - that is a very different Mr Kipling!
The subject of this review, a not terribly large or extravagant country house, by the name of Bateman's, is very much at the centre of the Kipling story. It would also, now, appear to form the basis of many a pilgrimage from far flung corners of the globe - if our international band of fellow visitors were anything to judge by.
In order to bring us to Kipling's arrival at, and subsequent purchase in 1902 of, Bateman's, we need to know just a little about his previous life in order to explain why this country retreat was so very dear to him.
At the time of his birth in Bombay in 1865 the world was a very different place. His English parents were part of a well established upper class, resident in many parts of the world. As was the custom of the day, at the age of six they sent Rudyard back to England for a formal education - in his case a military school in Southsea. "The years of desolation" as he was to describe them, they left a scar never to heal emotionally.
Kipling did not enjoy a strong constitution and was emotionally restless, which partly explained his constant search for an idyllic place to put down roots - almost throughout his life.
At the age of sixteen he returned to India to take a job as a journalist on "The Civil and Military Gazette" in Lahore. During the seven years that he was there, he honed his writing skills to such an extent that upon his arrival in London in 1889 he was quickly accepted and gained a reputation for being something of a literary genius.
Two years later he married an American, Caroline Balestier, more widely known as "Carrie". They moved to live near her family in Vermont, ten months later their first daughter, Josephine, was born. In 1896 their second daughter Elsie was born. They lived very happily for four years in America, but this period was to end in heart ache following a huge public disagreement with Carrie's brother, ending in a law suit that threatened to break the family.
In 1897, the Sussex part of the story begins, the Kipling family having left Vermont for good, set up home at The Elms, a house facing the green in Rottingdean just to the east of Brighton.
Kipling was at the pinnacle of his career at the turn of the last century; his writing was earning £5,000 per year, this compared to a secretary at the time who may have been earning £80. Whilst the family spent a lot of time away travelling the world, the house in Rottingdean was the home to which they returned. Rudyard became increasingly disenchanted living here due to his fame attracting many sight-seers and day trippers. The Elms was all too visible and publicly accessible for comfort. Time then, to seek a new home!
A NEW START FOR THE KIPLINGS
Adding to the desire for a new home, was the tragic death, in 1899, of the Kipling's adored first born daughter, Josephine. Both she and her father had contracted pneumonia in New York, he survived, to be permanently yet more weakened.
During their extensive travels in Sussex, in 1900, they stumbled upon Bateman's. They were so attracted to this house, situated very privately in its own valley, cut off from "road and village noise" as he put it, that they attempted to buy it on the spot. To their regret the owner had just let it to a tenant for two years. In the summer of 1902 they managed to purchase it, the mill, outbuildings and the 33 acres of land surrounding the house for £9,300.
Kipling was enchanted by Bateman's total authenticity. Almost everything about it was local, the stone from which it had been built was quarried within site of the windows, its' interior oak panelling and staircase had been formed from ancient oaks once growing on the site. Built in 1634 the whole house was remarkably original, unusually having escaped the Victorian trend for modernisation or restoration.
During his travels, Kipling acquired many seventeenth century pieces of furniture, much of it oak, with which to furnish and decorate his house in the original style. Ironically in those days, this furniture was regarded as "old second-hand" and had relatively little value, not until much later in the twentieth century did the term "antique" become applied to such pieces, along with the monetary premium that the term adds today.......
......AND TALKING OF TODAY......
......how are we, the general public, able to view this place of beauty and tranquillity? For this privilege, and I have to say that is a carefully chosen word in this case, we have to thank Carrie Kipling, Rudyard's widow, who survived him by three years. Upon her death in 1939, she left Bateman's to the National Trust, wishing that it be preserved exactly as he left it - as a permanent memorial to her late husband.
Whilst all the family photographs show Carrie to be a handsome, if not beautiful, woman, she was fiercely protective of her husband and took personal charge in organising every part of his life. As she saw it, this left him free to develop his literary ideas without the pressures of everyday life, every aspect of which she took care of. She was however, unable to shield him from the harshest of realities, having never recovered from the loss of their first child; they were to suffer the loss of their only son, John in 1915 at the Battle of Loos during the First World War. In 1924 their only surviving daughter married George Bambridge and moved to the grand splendour of Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire. They died without children and there the Kipling line ended, Bateman's remaining as a tangible reminder of a once great man.
AN ODE TO BATEMAN'S:
There was a young person of Bateman's
Who was guarded in most of her statements.
When they asked 'Where is your pa?'
She said - 'Out in his car'
Whereas really he was in Bateman's.
That was written by Elsie Kipling, who was fifteen years old at the time.
BATEMAN'S IN THE HANDS OF THE NATIONAL TRUST
Whilst this is actually one of our more local National Trust properties, for whatever reason, having been members for two years, we only actually made our first visit here in September (2007). As soon as we set foot in the grounds, we regretted not having done so sooner, especially as we were a touch pressed for time on this particular occasion.
Our new friend "Beckie" (a German GPS system) made rather a meal of guiding us to Bateman's, I rather think that Mr Kipling would have been amused by this, as by all accounts he rather enjoyed the circuitous route himself! However, in a sense our difficulties in getting there, to this slightly obscure part of Sussex, are partly what attracted the Kipling's to this spot in the first place.
Naturally when they arrived it was not to a large and rather dusty car park on the northern edge of the property! You actually enter the Bateman's estate, having been through the ticket office, via the herb garden and orchard which rise to the north above the house. Passing through an archway cut in the hedge you approach the house from the side.
The square front garden is predominantly a flat lawned area, with a gravel path cutting it in half - leading from a gate onto the lane (Bateman's Lane) to the front door.
Entering the house via the porch, picking up a walk around guide from the wooden bench, we step straight into the hall. As with the rest of this Jacobean house, not particularly grand, but nonetheless fascinating, this is the room in which guests were met and entertained by the Kipling's. As you enter, facing the door, you cannot fail to miss an internal window, behind which lay Carrie's office. Through this window she scrutinised all visitors before allowing them into the presence of her husband.
Whilst the Kipling's had rapidly installed electricity - generating sufficient power to light the house for four hours each evening - even in his later years Rudyard refused to have a telephone installed. He became ever more paranoid about privacy and his over-active imagination prohibited him from "speaking to someone that he couldn't see".
In his final years he burned at the fireplace in the hall many unpublished manuscripts, ensuring that nobody could read them after his death.
The "Inner Hall" is a more conventional hallway, having a door out to the garden and a carved oak staircase. Both this, and the majority of the panelling here, date from the building of the house.
Off of the inner hall is the Parlour. This was a room for relaxation and entertaining, often apparently, Rudyard would roll back the carpet and play ball with his dogs. This room, indeed the whole house, had something of a reputation for its' lack of comfort and austerity. Kipling had insisted on furnishing it only with period furniture - in his later years he joked that the place would not "allow" modern furniture and as a result, in the words of Elsie, his daughter 'was rather "stiff" and chilly in winter'.
In the Parlour and throughout the house are to be seen many of the oriental rugs and tapestries which Rudyard was so keen on collecting. Complimenting the tapestries are well chosen paintings and etchings, collected rather in the way that we ourselves may, that is because we like them, rather than for any monetary value they may have, or indeed acquire.
One such picture has pride of place to one side of the Parlour fireplace; it is of Rottingdean from the churchyard and was painted by Sir Ambrose Poynter, Kipling's cousin and best man at his wedding. Poynter was an architect by profession and played a major role here at Bateman's, modernising the house and converting some of the out-houses into servants quarters.
Upstairs the rooms are very much in keeping with the rest of the house, although were regarded more as an "inner sanctuary" by the ever private Kiplings. Honoured guests were occasionally permitted into his study, but never to the bedroom suites beyond. We see this all important room, both the hub of Bateman's and, of the latter years, Kipling's life, very much as the great man left it. As with many such rooms of many creative people, the study here is tightly packed with an extraordinarily eclectic mixture of objects, but primarily books.
The bookshelves themselves draw the eye in a sense, because they appear rather "Heath Robinson" in nature, obviously expanded rapidly to accommodate the ever growing collection of books, bowing under the sheer weight too. The wall space not crammed with books is taken up with various objects collected in his travels, my eyes were particularly drawn to the various ship memorabilia here - I had no idea that he shared a major interest of mine, commercial shipping.
Kipling worked not at a conventional desk, but at a long drop-leaf table, which reportedly was often piled high with unfinished manuscripts. He shared a female secretary with his wife - his manuscripts were handwritten, she used the "Good Companion" Imperial typewriter now displayed today on the table. Kipling did not like, or approve of, the typewriter - accusing it of not being able to spell. Quite what he would have thought of the program on which I write this review is anyone's guess!
The largest room upstairs is in the centre of the house, and was once used as the main bedroom by the Kiplings. It was they who had the walls panelled in oak, their daughter Elsie who turned it into an exhibition room portraying the life and works of her father. Glass covered cabinets contain many family photographs and treasures, including the Nobel Prize awarded to him in 1907.
On the whole Kipling was a modest man, a man of great humour in the face of personal ill-health for much of his life. Whilst he accepted literary prizes and honours, he turned down others - including a Knighthood.
An anecdotal example of his humour draws us to the small West Bedroom at the top of the stairs. A very modest bedroom by any standards, yet some of the guests who were accommodated here were household names of the day - such as Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin who, one evening upon returning from a twenty mile hike in the Sussex countryside, found the following notice pinned to his bedroom wall:
RULES FOR GUESTS
1) No guest to walk more than 5 miles an hour
2) No guest to walk more than two hours at a time
3) Guests are strictly forbidden to coerce or cajole the natives to accompany them in said walks as the proprietors cannot be responsible for the consequences.
Signed Rudyard Kipling, Caroline Kipling, Elsie Kipling (natives)
THE JUNGLE BOOK
No review about Kipling, his life, or indeed specifically Bateman's, as here, could be complete without referring to what is widely regarded as his greatest work - Jungle Book.
Offset to one side of the Exhibition Room is a small square anti-room, designed into the original house as a powder closet. These were small rooms used by gentlemen for powdering their wigs - a fashionable accessory in the seventeenth century. Now this small space is a shrine to Jungle Book, hung here are a fascinating series of original coloured lithographs by the twin Detmold brothers. These were commissioned for the first edition of Kipling's Jungle Book in 1902. Set into a corner of this wood panelled room is a wonderful little diorama of wooden, hand carved, Jungle Book figures.
From the Exhibition room we pass through into the "Holy of Holies" the Kipling's bedroom. Again a modestly proportioned and furnished room, containing a nineteenth century four poster bed, we felt this room to be strangely "feminine" in character. Maybe not so strange, considering that Carrie was very much mistress at Bateman's.
There is a bathroom at the top of the stairs - almost en-suite to the bedroom, but regrettably it is locked and we do not get to view it. The smaller, stone, staircase leads from the landing next to the bedroom down to the dining room. Unfortunately the kitchen is not open to view, apparently one of the changes made by Kipling was the insertion of a serving hatch through to the dining room.
The dining room itself has a most unusual wall covering. Only previously seen in Preston Manor in Brighton, the walls are hung with calfskin panels, embellished with silver foil, painted with oils and then lacquered. These panels "discovered" on the Isle of Wight, possibly at Osborne House, which was at the time being re-furbished, following Victoria's death. The panels were rolled up for storage - Rudyard went to the Island in August 1902, returning with them rolled up in the back of his car.
Bateman's was a place that guests came to pay homage to its owner, not necessarily to enjoy conventional hospitality. Apart from having a reputation for being an uncomfortable house, the food served here was described as "boring". This was deliberately the case, as Carrie had to ensure that the plain food did nothing to upset Rudyard's delicate constitution - made all the worse in later life by un-diagnosed duodenal ulcers. Kipling himself had a taste for much spicier dishes - a throwback to his early childhood in India
Within the 33 acres here, there are several different types of garden.
An interesting fact is that Kipling spent his £7,700 Nobel Prize in 1907 on designing and creating the ornamental garden to the south of the house. The pond, rose garden and yew hedging were all laid out by Kipling. As with the house and interior, to this day, the garden looks very much the way Kipling intended it to.
Passing out of the ornamental garden the path takes you through the Wild Garden, one corner of which is devoted to a pet's cemetery - Kipling was a dog lover. Running through the Wild Garden is the River Dudwell, looking like a placid stream on the September afternoon that we were there, however the river rises quickly and regularly floods. On one occasion Rudyard was up in the middle of the night saving his floor coverings in the hall as the water threatened to flood the downstairs of the house.
What we particularly enjoyed about the garden is its informality. It is not particularly large or grand, but there are several different attractive aspects to admire and many benches placed strategically on which to sit and admire them from. Mrs R commented on what a joy it would be just to sit here with a good book on a summer's afternoon, a remark which I think would have pleased Mr Kipling no end.
Situated at the bottom end of the garden is the water powered (by the River Dudwell) Park Mill, dating from 1750. Originally used for grinding corn, within weeks of arriving here at Bateman's, Kipling had de-commissioned the traditional (wooden) grinding equipment to replace it with a state of the art water powered electricity generating set. This created enough energy to light ten 60 watt bulbs in the house, 250 yards away, via a buried deep sea cable.
Between 1968 and 1975 the, by then dilapidated, mill was restored to its original corn grinding condition. At the same time the Royal Engineers rebuilt the turbine generating equipment.
Regular guided tours are now given by the miller and flour is actually ground here and on sale when available. A large range of cookery books are also on sale on the ground floor of the Mill building.
WHAT ELSE TO DO AT BATEMAN'S?
As you may expect there is a National Trust shop here, a very good one at that. This is housed in the original oast houses which were converted to servant's quarters by Kipling.
Adjacent to the shop is the garage, presumably formally a stables block. Here you will find a large Rolls Royce limousine - for those interested in such things, a Phantom 1 40-50 horsepower. He had purchased it new in 1928 for £2833 18s 6d, the car now belongs to Sir Jack Hayward and is on permanent loan to the National Trust.
Kipling, although never having driven a motorcar, was a pioneer motorist, he travelled widely both here in England and particularly after the First World War in France, carrying out his duties as a War Grave Commissioner. He kept detailed diaries of his various "motor tours".
Behind the garage is an elongated building which has now been converted into a large tea room. We did not have time to sample the food here, but it looked reasonably priced and well presented.
Opening times vary according to the season, rather than attempting to list these here, I would refer you to the National Trust's information page on Bateman's:
Admission charges (2007) are £6.85 adult, £3.45 Child, family £17.10.
Bateman's is located half a mile south of Burwash on the A265.
Telephone: 01435 882302
Many of us when looking for a property in which to set up home choose them on "gut instinct" - they just feel right, despite any potential pitfalls. This is exactly how the Kipling's felt about Bateman's, visiting this property today it is not at all hard to see why. In our ever more busy and noisy century, it is increasingly difficult to find a home free of annoyance and disturbance from neighbours and passers-by. Even as mere visitors to Kipling's home today, we are all able to share in that tranquillity, if maybe not the privacy, so valued by Rudyard Kipling and his family.
As a post script I must credit the title of this review to the great man himself, in those very words he described Bateman's in his autobiography, written in the closing years of his life.
Summary: A place where we all may find peace and tranquility.