Monk’s House, Rodmell and Brighton Pride.

Leonard and Virginia Wolf bought this 17th century, weather-boarded cottage  for £700 in 1919 as a weekend retreat. In 1940 they moved here permanently. For 22 years Virginia found the peace and isolation here which she needed to keep her fragile mental state in balance.

Monk House, Rodmell.

Monk’s House, Rodmell.

The house was comfortless and primitive, with no running water or electricity, but they both loved it. They entertained leading lights of the Bloomsbury set here and the lack of comfort is often mentioned in their records. The food was bad and there was no wine. T.S. Eliot said that it was the most uncomfortable bed he had ever slept in and E.M.Forster burnt his leg trying to get as close as possible to the meagre fire . The walls were painted in Virginia’s favourite green and there were books and papers everywhere.  The house was inconvenient and lacking in mod.cons, but it was the garden and the orchard which particularly delighted Leonard and Virginia. Virginia wrote of it: ‘There seemed an infinity of fruit-bearing trees; the plums crowded so as to weigh the tips of the branches down; the unexpected flowers sprouting among the cabbages…  I could fancy a very pleasant walk in the orchard under the apple trees with the grey extinguisher of the church’s steeple pointing my boundary.’ Leonard was to become passionate about his fruit trees and even tried his hand at grafting.

The shed on the left was Virginia’s writing room and she became so successful, specially after ‘Orlando’ was published, that they were able to make improvements to the house.

Leonard became a passionate gardener and although Virginia was not so fanatical she found pleasure in weeding. All gardeners will understand when she says that when weeding she felt: ‘A queer sort of enthusiasm  which makes me say this is happiness’.  She  enjoyed playing bowls and feeding the fish and she was proud of what they achieved.’Our garden is a perfect variegated chintz; asters, plumasters , zinnia, geums, nasturtiums and so on: all bright, cut from coloured papers’. (I’m not sure what she meant by ‘plumaster’.)

There are two fish ponds and a croquet lawn . The  walls of old buildings divide the garden into rooms and  Leonard laid down brick paths everywhere.

There are long views over the Downs where Virginia loved to walk. ‘The garden gate admits to the water meadows, where all nature is to be had in five minutes’.

Sadly in 1941, faced with the horror of another bout of madness, Virginia put a heavy stone into her pocket and drowned herself in the nearby River Ouse, the scene of so many happy walks. Leonard stayed on at Monk’s House until his death in 1969. The house is now cared for by the National Trust. Even today, with so many visitors thronging to pay homage, their ghosts seem to linger in the garden that they loved.

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf

Leonard Woolf

Leonard Woolf

If  you would like to learn more, there is a great book about Monk’s Hall called ‘Virginia Woolf’s Garden‘ written by Caroline Zoub who lived there as a tenant for 10 years and cared for the garden.


By  way of a total contrast, we arrived in Brighton for the weekend, to find the whole town en fête.


We wondered what all the carnival atmosphere was about and on Saturday we found that Gay Pride was having a party and we joined in the crowd of more than 200,000 people to watch the parade, which this year was called ‘The Carnival of Diversity’. And what a joyous occasion it was.

Getting ready...

Getting ready…

Getting ready...

Getting ready…

...and off we go.

…and off we go.

Around the world there are still hate crimes against the LBGT community  as the recent shooting in Orlando proves. At the party in the evening, there was one minute’s silence to honour the Orlando victims and the many other victims of hate crimes across the globe.

We didn’t intend to be here for this event, but we were glad to stand shoulder to shoulder with these people and make a stand against the politics of  fear and discrimination and support them in their celebration of diversity and tolerance.


“Society, as we have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to offer; but Nature, whose sweet rains fall on unjust and just alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide, and secret valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed. She will hang the night with stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints so that none may track me to my hurt: she will cleanse me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole’.

 ‘De Profundis‘. Oscar Wilde.

If only he could have been there on Saturday.

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45 Responses to Monk’s House, Rodmell and Brighton Pride.

  1. sueturner31 says:

    What a wonderful post, I felt so many emotions reading about Monk’s Hall and the Woolfs, then the amazingly joyous and colourful Gay Pride topped it all. You made my day…..Thank you Sue

  2. Kris P says:

    Mankind has much farther to go (as the reports from our presidential campaign remind me daily) but, yes, I think Oscar Wilde would be very pleased by the progress that’s been made, even with the all too frequent setbacks.

  3. snowbird says:

    What a wonderful post. I loved Monk House, I could do without running water and no electricity, and cope with bad food, but no WINE??? That where I draw the line!
    How sad about Virginia, mental health is still in the dark ages.
    Just loved the pics of gay pride, what fun! Daughter lived across the rad from that pier, Brighton is such a diverse, tolerant place!xxx

    • Chloris says:

      The house felt really cold, even on a warm summer’ s day. I don’ t think I could cope with such spartan conditions, even for the sake of the sparkling conversation. And no proper loo. Leonard rigged up a cane chair with a hole in it, over a bucket!
      I agree about attitudes to mental health. Now, I suppose we would say she was bipolar, then she was said to be mad.
      I love Brighton, it is always so vibrant, a great place for people watching.

  4. Liz, you have proved once again, there is nothing as lovely as an English garden in summer, especially the borders. I enjoyed seeing the gardens, my mother was nearly obsessed with VW! Thank you
    Upon seeing the Gay Pride event, I wished Freddie Mercury could have been there!

    • Chloris says:

      Well, I have to admit I am fascinated by Virginia Wolf and all the Bloomsbury set. It was lovely to see the garden and to know that it is being looked after so well.
      Now that would have been something, to have Freddie Mercury joining in the parade. Probably more tuneful than the Gay Men’ s Chorus singing ‘ Dancing Queen’!

  5. I love the idea of the Bloomsbury set roughing it in the Woolf’s country home! Dare I ask what happened to the wine? What fabulous weather for Gay Pride! Your photos really capture the carnival atmosphere.

    • Chloris says:

      They smoked a lot but they don’ t seem to have had much to drink or eat for that matter. They were proud of their honey and apples, but food doesn’ t seem to have been important. I expect their minds were on higher things.

  6. What a great post and fab photos. I really appreciate the thought you put into these reviews. I shall be ordering Catherine Zoub’s biography, thank you for the recommendation. How do you think it compares with Hermione Lee’s?

  7. Chloris says:

    I have the Hermione Lee biography and it is simply the best. This is a different sort of book, full of fabulous photographs and describing the garden in loving detail.

  8. What a beautiful and melancholy garden. Sad to think that Virginia Woolf might have been able to survive her depression if modern treatments had been available to her. At least the garden gave her solace for many years. As for Brighton, all I know is from the Graham Greene novel, “Brighton Rock”. Not sure what Mr. Greene would have made of the parade – I imagine he would strongly disapprove. Looks like a jolly time even so.

  9. Chloris says:

    Yes, Virginia could have been treated nowadays, so sad.
    At the time when Greene wrote ‘Brighton Rock’, Brighton had a bad reputation as rather a seedy place. Keith Waterhouse said: ‘Brighton looks like a place that is always helping police with their enquiries.’ Now it is vibrant, very trendy and often referred to as ‘ London- on-Sea’.

  10. Alain says:

    What an interesting post. I enjoyed reading Leonard Wolf’s diary some years back and would have been interested to see Monk’s House. As for the lack of comfort, it is surprising how one can get used to it (of course, some wine helps).

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Alain. I am working my way through the Bloomsbury letters and diaries but I haven’ t yet come across Leonard Wolf’ s. I must put it on my list.

  11. Pride is such an amazingly joyous festival in Brighton. I knew we had got our timings wrong visiting my brother in law one time. Traffic was clogged so we stopped at the services to let the dog out and we were the only people not sporting a feather boa or hot pants. How right that they can have such a festival.
    As for the house and garden of Woolf it looks in good hands but it is not a place I yearn to visit, too sad. Interesting write up as ever chloris

  12. Brian Skeys says:

    Perhaps Virginia Woolf would be happier today if she could see the Gay Pride March.

  13. What a contrast! You know you love a garden when you’re willing to put up with a house that miserable. That festival looks so happy! What perfect timing. 🙂

  14. Flighty says:

    A most enjoyable post and lovely pictures. xx

  15. bittster says:

    What a beautiful yet sad trip. The joy outweighed the sad I’m sure, but sometimes we forget the good old, simple days weren’t all that easy either.

  16. glad you got to see Virginia’s house and garden Liz, thanks for reminding me of my visit last year, time flies, smashing photos of the parade, I love Brighton, it was the nearest seaside when I was a child, then first my bother, later my son lived there, it has changed greatly over the years, hope you get to see Charleston soon, Frances

  17. What a glorious celebration in Brighton! Such an unexpected treat. Poor Virginia, though. Even with the consolation of the garden and nature’s beauty at hand, I can’t imagine living in such a bleak home. Not a “home” really; more a self-imposed penitentiary. I suppose the harshness was wanted (and needed?) for her purposes.

    • Chloris says:

      I think they fell in love with the garden and of course it was just a weekend house for years. After Orlando’ s success they had running water and proper plumbing.

  18. Annette says:

    What a lovely post, Liz. I’m sure you’ve read the book abou their garden, have you? I often think of how ‘primitive’ in today’s terms these people lived that time and still they’ve produced such awesome work. Is the creation of great music/literature etc. maybe connected to simpler circumstances or what is the reason that these things have become scarce?

    • Chloris says:

      Oh yes, I have the book, that is why I was so keen to go. These people lived in quite basic accomadation without much comfort, but they had servants to take care of the housework and cooking so they could dedicate themselves to their art. And of course they were surrounded by such stimulating company.

      • Annette says:

        that’s what I’m lacking in: servants! oh so true and I think although our company is stimulating at times there’s be room for improvement…

  19. Lovely, so well said, and say it we must. x

  20. Robbie says:

    Chloris-thank you for sharing their garden! If I have an opportunity to visit it in the future, I would never leave. If only I could stay there forever- It is my dream garden. Their simplicity- I embrace but it is not for everyone. I could survive on an uncomfortable bed, if I could sit in that garden each day:-)
    I sometimes feel the same way about modern “fixing up” or “updating” of houses today. It is the garden where I want to be and spend most of my money:-) I get so bored and irritated with all the trends of indoor house improvement in USA. It is a bit over the top. People have no gardens, but they have a 50,000 upgraded kitchen-nuts.
    If I get over there I want to visit. It is sad about how she died. People with depression suffer. I did not know she put a stone in her pocket and drowned. Even that beautiful gaden could not keep her on earth.

    True we need to love all people:-) for who they are:-) nice post!

    • Chloris says:

      I agree the garden is the most important place to me too. I spend all my time, energy and money on it rather than the house. But I wouldn’ t like to live in Monk’ s House, it is a bit too spartan for me and very cold.

  21. Cathy says:

    Having sought out from the library and read Caroline Zoub’s book a couple of years ago after it was recommended by a blogger (could have been you) and thorughly enjoyed it, I was pleased to revisit the garden in your post and hope to visit sometime. Your photos of the Gay Pride parade are brilliant and it must have been wonderful to see – and such a poignant quotation from Oscar Wilde, one I have not heard before. Thanks for sharing

  22. Chloris says:

    Yes, I think I mentioned the book before, I was given it for Christmas and I have been wanting to visit Monk’s House since then. I am now working my way through the Bloomsbury set’ s diaries and letters.
    The Pride parade was enormous fun. I thought the Oscar Wilde quotation was very apt. His prison sentence broke him. I find De Profundis very moving.

  23. homeslip says:

    Alexandra Harrris’ recent biography of VW is very readable and Frances Spalding’s biography of Vanessa Bell is excellent. I’m been working my way through Jane Dunn’s very close reading of the lives of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf which shows how intertwined their lives were – “VW and VB A Very Close Conspiracy”. I had always thought of Virginia as the tortured soul while Vanessa bathed in the glow of her Charleston garden, her family and her art, but actually it was never as black and white as that – is any life? I think you would love Charleston. We park in Firle and walk to the top of the beacon and back down to Charleston passing Tilton Farmhouse where Maynard Keynes and his Russian ballerina wife Lydia Lopokova lived. The walk to Monk’s House from Charleston is a challenging eight miles. Amazing to think that “Aunt Ginny” regularly did it by bicycle, but I think the Stephens’ girls were made of very strong stuff. Wonderful quotation by Oscar Wilde and a great post Chloris.

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