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.
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.
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’.)
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.
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.
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.
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.