What shall I tell you about today???? Perhaps you would like to do the Charleston?

Everyone into the car!  I’m thinking our Volvo is a true-life time machine, it drives us right into history every day!  In the last couple of days, we went to Sissinghurst to see the garden of Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson; we’ve been to Bateman’s, Rudyard Kipling’s warm and wonderful home near Burwash, down the same narrow roads he drove back then — it’s so hard to choose what to show you today.  But yesterday was a day of color and magic so I choose yesterday!

We are in very good hands, Joe and our darling English friend Siobhan are plotting our course through the green country hedgerows lined in Queen Anne’s Lace (the thing they call Cow Parsley), overhung with fragrant Hawthorn and ancient horse chestnut trees in bloom.  Just like going through the wardrobe, when we emerge on the other side, we will be somewhere we’ve never been before, a house Siobhan told us about, an amazing house with artistic history and personality called Charleston, outside of Lewes in East Sussex.  Ready?  Got your seat belts on?  OK, here we go!

In 1916, the author, Virginia Woolf  (pictured right), found a large old farmhouse in the country which was available for lease.  Virginia thought it would be perfect for her beloved artist sister Vanessa Bell and her family.  (Already, so interesting!).  Vanessa loved it, took it, and this house became the center of a literary and artist group of rather Bohemian friends (which is very brave in 1916 for women who are still in long skirts) called the Bloomsbury Group. The house is still there, still furnished as it was when they left it, and open to the public.  And it was at least 100% more exciting and interesting than I ever imagined.  I have spent hours on the internet researching the Bloomsbury group this morning . . . there’s so much more if you want it!

Small groups such as ours are able to walk through the house in one-hour tours led by a knowledgeable guide, passionate about sharing her wealth of knowledge on the subject and willing to answer all our questions.  The only disappointment was that photography of the interior was not allowed.  I found these two images of the inside of the house above on the internet, to give you at least a bit of an idea of what it’s about.  What Vanessa (in the photo below, left) and her artist-partner and father of some of her children, Duncan Grant did (to try and put it in a nutshell), is to decoratively, charmingly paint or stencil every single corner of this house.  Around the fireplaces, all the bookcases, the walls of course, the chairs and tables; they painted beautiful paintings which hang in every room; they designed jaunty colorful fabrics to drape the windows and beds, to cover the chairs, and needlepoint pillows in what I would describe as colorful, whimsical, sophisticated, elegance, in a style now called “Arts and Crafts.”  I didn’t find a photo of the dining room, but the large round table in the middle of the room seats twelve comfortably, and was gorgeously hand-painted by Vanessa.  Around the table, in a style reminiscent of the Algonquin round table, gathered what turned out to be some of the intellectual and artistic elite of the day, E.M. Forster (who wrote A Room with a View and Howard’s End among other things) was there, Virginia Woolf and her literary friends, several well known artists of the time, a famous economist, and all their children.  At the time, early in the 20th century, they were like any group of young people living together in a group home (like Friends, only smarter, and living quite a bit further outside the box than even Phoebe and Joey); they had lots of energy, believed in their dreams; but there was never a lot of money around.  Which didn’t stop these people from making something from nothing every day.  Home and domesticity are the main themes represented in their paintings . . . I thought you’d like to see a few of them.

This one is by Duncan Grant, Vanessa’s partner, called A Room with a View.

Vanessa painted this gorgeous still life.

Duncan Grant painted Spring!  I think he might have the happy gene.

Vanessa painted fruit!

They both did portraits, and who needs wallpaper, let’s just paint the walls!  They painted old pieces of furniture they picked up, and mixed and matched periods any old which way they wanted, and it all looks wonderful.

This is Vanessa’s art studio, right next to her bedroom.  She painted the fireplace!  They painted lampshades and made China and pottery too.  It is said that, at that time, not many people lived life just the way they wanted, but these people did.   Out back, to our delight, we found their lushly planted walled garden; we were allowed to wander through it to our heart’s content.

And you can see, they had as much fun “painting” the garden with colorful flowers as they did the rest of the house.  I love these people!  Would like to see a picture of the actual house?

Here it is, not crazy painted on the outside as you might expect, but tall and calm with milk blue trim, surrounded by birdsong on the English coast waiting for you to come visit!  More wonderful proof of “If you can dream it, you can make it so!”

 We can only imagine what this garden will look like later this summer, when the roses that grow on all the walls, over the windows and doors, are in bloom!

But something tells me that it will be a very colorful!  Wish I would be here to see it.  Would love to see it in the snow too.  There are benches to sit on to listen to the bees in this small garden; there are paths, hedges, and arches.  There was a baby bird on the wall being fed by a mommy.  You may say to yourself, hearing the blackbird singing in the apple tree, let’s never leave here!  Right?  But let’s not go yet — wouldn’t a cup of tea and a little something to munch on go good right now???

Because, attached to this house is the most wonderful tea room.  I know I’m going to love it because on the counter there’s a jug of flowers from the garden, a jug of fresh cream from the local dairy.  Where shall we sit?  By the window?

I love the Cath Kidston oilcloths covering the powder blue tables!

And there’s room for all of us in this English prettiness!

Anyone rather sit outside in the garden?  You can do that too . . .

Look girlfriends!  All the cups are Emma!!  Just like the ones we have!!  Oooo, I think I like it here!  (Don’t forget, we’re going to the Emma Factory next month!  So excited!)

Cake anyone?

Anything besides tea?  This Rose Lemonade is my newest passion.  Pink, sparkling, and delicious, with just a touch of rose, yum!!!!  And this “Shandy” everyone is talking about is really good, not bad at all, I’m not a beer person, but this is delicious too.

I didn’t take photos of the food because we were just too busy eating and I forgot, because I had the grilled brie sandwich with tomato and pesto; I was so busy going “mmmm,” licking dripping brie from the crust, by the time I remembered I had a camera, my sandwich was gone!  On the way out, we noticed, as behooves a place where art reigns number one, the colored pencils and paper available on a table by the door . . . and this darling work of art left behind by someone we never saw by the name of Eleanor Farwell . . . she titled it “Sheep on the Loose.”

After a visit to the gift store at Charleston (oh yes, we brake for gift stores), we knew we weren’t done . . . over hill and dale we drove to the darling town of Alfriston . . . which is a story for another day!  So far, I’ll just tell you, not to keep you guessing, we haven’t bought the pink house, but the idea did cross our minds! 🙂  I know it crossed yours too!  I hope you had a good time today . . .  If you like, here are more views of Charleston…. I hope you put this on your list of places not to miss in this lifetime.  Try for June, when the roses are in bloom!  Your homework for today; to give a corner of your house the Charleston Arts and Crafts look in a really easy way, find the equivalent of some bright English meadow flowers, stuff them into a jug (that’s English for “pitcher”) or jam jar. Put it on top of a stack of old books.  And, have a wonderful day!!!!  xoxo

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267 Responses to Charleston!

  1. Barb says:

    Hello Susan, This post was jam packed with such a wealth of information yet summarized so great so we all can enjoy. I was in “awe” of the spring painting
    by Duncan Grant and just so loved the way that Virgina Woolf painted everything.
    I so enjoyed seeing the wall gardens. I see these flowers the tall (white ones with yellow drops) hanging from them. I am curious as to what they are? Perhaps an (Iris) of some sort or something different? I love the simplicity of
    the outdoor tea rooms…… thats where you would find me! I did note though on the inside of the buildings where the tea rooms are painted white……..are these (stucco walls) inside? Homework assignment is a joy…..thanks for everything and continued enjoyment each day from morning till night! Hugs & Smiles,
    Barb, Ludlow MA

  2. Jeannine Holmes, SC says:

    Thanks for opening up a whole new chapter in our lives! Many of us will never get a chance to get to those places, but you are making them come alive for us to see and enjoy, in your wonderfully charming and personal way. Thanks so much, Susan . . .

  3. Bobbie says:

    Smiling with all the info and pics of your adventure and for sharing your time! Thank you to all your friend’s replies~find them so interesting. My oh my having a great time. ~Happiness & Smiles~ Bobbie

  4. Susan says:

    Are you perchance going anywhere near Rushden, Hertfordshire? My gr-gr-grandfather lived there. And gr-gr-gr-grands too. Just wondering what it looks like now. (Found a few pics but not much.) Too much to ask…Are you having lotsa cuppas in merry old England? Seems amazing we don’t do tea here in the States as well as the Brits. Enjoy every minute

    • sbranch says:

      Not sure, But I think we pass through Hertfordshire on our way to Yorkshire. I can only guess that’s beautiful since everything else we’ve seen has been!

  5. Kay says:

    I took a week off to sew for a friend. Even though the fabric she picked out for her grand daughter’s room is so vibrant and full of nature it doesn’t compare to the lovely sights you’ve shared with us. You must hate for the day to end. What a dream! I think some of your memories will lead to memories of our own. Thanks so much for taking us with you.

    • sbranch says:

      Tonight the sun was going down and we were both wishing it wouldn’t get dark! You are so right!

  6. Connie Michael says:

    Simply beautiful! By the way, how are Jack and Girl doing? Have you heard anything?

    • sbranch says:

      Yes, my kitty sitter Will has written a couple of times and says they are fine, Jack is chasing the ball, Girl is cuddling with him and they are loving the dirty laundry we left on the beds for them to lay on!

  7. Leslie says:

    It has been so fabulous to travel along with you. I look forward to the blog and tweets. Love the gardens – it is all great! Thanks for sharing!!

  8. Glenda says:


    Thanks so much for sharing yours and Joe’s trip with the rest of us. I am so enjoying this trip. You are doing all the things I would like to do and I think my husband would enjoy it too. I haven’t written in awhile but I don’t miss checking out your blog. It always brightens my day. Can’t wait to see where we are going tomorrow! 🙂

  9. Kathy G. says:

    The last four days have been filled to the brim. I sit here with my IPad, a cup of tea and your blog. I have found the peace needed by traveling with you in England. My husband Joe and I traveled England and Ireland last September for 20 days and reading your adventures takes me back to our wonderful travels. As I sit in my comfy chair and breath, my mind and body is finding rest. I find your visits by blog SO wonderful. You are a friend to me indeed. Thanks for being there for me.

  10. Liz from Sterling Heights, MI says:

    Just got my new British Country Living – couldn’t decide which to read first — your blog or the magazine! Your blog won out, of course! Which, by the way, would be perfect in the magazine! I keep saying that – Susan Branch in British Country Living! Really enjoyed the Emma mugs in the pics!

    • sbranch says:

      I’m honored! 🙂

      • Liz from Sterling Heights, MI says:

        The camellia mug is featured in the magazine for May — oh, and Victoria cake – which I am going to bake and enjoy with a cup of tea while sitting by the lilac bush and reading your next installment. Thank you, again, for the joy we are receiving from your writing and pictures! Do you have wellies for those walks?

        • sbranch says:

          I have these little red rubber boots … not wellies, they were too big to pack, is what I thought, and if I needed them, this is the place to buy the cutest ones!

  11. my goodness. i thought virginia woolf was british.
    her house and all the lovely paintings look like a
    mackenzie childs piece of pottery.

    lovely expose!

  12. Gert~Iowa says:

    Oh Susan how interesting, I never knew any of this…you have introduced us to something new once again! Thank you for taking us along on this amazing adventure!


  13. Mrs. Joan Keller says:

    Thank you for taking time to show us your travels in England. I have always wanted to go to England. The homes, flowers and all in general is so me. I love it!

  14. Silvia Niomi says:

    What an interesting and creative group of young people. It just goes to show that great things can happen when birds of a feather find each other. I would have loved to have met the Bloomsbury Group – In a sense, I have, through your wonderful blog. Thank you for the introductions.

    The notion of painting everything in one’s house makes me smile. It makes a house feel like a home. I painted one of my rooms into a garden room. It is filled with flowers and birds and a big mural of gently rolling hills and more gardens. The rest of my house has white walls that feel like giant canvases waiting to be filled with more life. That’s how the Bloombury Group must’ve felt. I think being creative and expressing creativity keeps our minds young…. it keeps us curious.

    Loved all the pictures in this blog….. the magic volvo, joe and his beret and Siobhan and her very English outfit (love her stockings and her shoes), the paintings were really colorful and sparkly (it’s amazing that whatever medium they used could produce such vibrant hues for the early 1900’s) oh and yes, the flowers….. just lovely.

    glad to hear your kitties are doing well back home
    Cheers, xoxoxox

    p.s. I am going to see if I can find some Shandy and the sparkling pear drink…. just to try them.

    • Laura says:

      I know….I want to try them, too….Susan, what is the name of sparkling pear? I wonder where I could find them here? Fun to have a big ice bucket filled with Rose Lemonade and sparkling pear juice for a summer party…sounds delicious and fun for our girls!

      • sbranch says:

        Not sure where you can find it, but we really all must look for a source, have to have it!!! The one we like the best, we’ve tried three different ones now, is Magner’s. We might not be able to find it, I don’t know … Bulmer’s isn’t bad either.

        • TerrieInAtlanta says:

 has been the best place (so far) to find all of the treats Sue and Joe have been mentioning, Girls! Some items they carry; others they can order from England when the smaller English shops don’t ship. Give ’em a whirl and see what you can find….

  15. Peggy says:

    What a wonderful day trip (love the car and Joe’s beret) and now you are keeping me busy learning more about the Bloomsbury Group. This is all so fascinating and the photos are gorgeous and so colorful. Now, I’ll make a grilled Brie (or some type of cheese)sandwich and a cup of tea to enjoy while I research all of this. Thanks for introducing me to this part of our wonderful world!

  16. Joan in TX says:

    Everything looks so magical and quaint! I cut some tiny blue lobelia flowers from my patio pot and put them in small jelly jar; and set them on my antique bookcase in my tiny apt. kitchen nook, and lit a small white candle to boot. I’m feeling very much like Anne Bancroft in that movie, 84 Charing Cross Road. Reading, writing and dreaming!! of all things British; and wishing I could be there. So this such a treat. Thanks so much for all the great stories and photos. It’s 8AM here. I think I’ll have some tea and toast!

  17. Nina says:

    O Susan I think we are going to adopt you as a national treasure! For services to American and English girlfriends alike! I am sooo enjoying this trip! I am making notes of places to visit and reading all the girlfirnds comments! I love that they love England so much, when you live here you tend to take it a little for granted. Thank you so much for opening my eyes and my heart! xxxx

    • sbranch says:

      Have you been to Hever Castle? We went for the first time today. Oh My Goodness!!!! The childhood home of Anne Boleyn, just amazing. Hill and dale to find it, green green green! Thank you for your beautiful country!

      • Nina says:

        ooo Susan I googled it! Looks a great place for a picnic! And I just happen to know someone (me) that treated herself to a new picnic basket this month! Its a good old fashioned totally inconvienent type one thats bulky with no build in cool bag but sometimes you gotto go with what looks nice and makes you feel good! lol Can’t wait to here about your day out! xxxx

  18. Kathy from Brevard, NC says:

    Hi Susan and Everyone,

    Sorry that I am late to this party. I love Joe in his beret. It adds a certain je ne sais quoi that is very appealing. I love Siobhan’s outfit too. Both of them together with a little editing of canvas carryall, car, etc. —pretty as a watercolor picture for the book!

    Oh, I learn so much from all you girlfriends, Jack and Jake! Meandering is the perfect word for what I have been doing during retirement. I have been thinking of it as “being scattered” and that has made me a little bit concerned because ideas, projects, curiosities and new interests just pop up all the time and I don’t want to repress any of them. So I meander from one to another, and back again, then take a detour here and there, and borrow something from this project for that project and this idea for that new interest. It is a most creative way to live but it would benefit most if one could live several parallel lives at once instead of linearly. (I don’t know if that is a word) Hubby has to keep reminding me that I don’t need to do all these things all at the same time. It would help if we could afford STAFF—alas…xoxo Kathy

    • sbranch says:

      In other words, we all need clones! 🙂

      • Kathy from Brevard, NC says:

        The cosmologists are now talking about all of us perhaps being holograms. Now that makes sense to me if the holograms turn out to be “images of God”. So not clones, and not even a Bloomsbury group, but something so much better, images created to be creators!!!

  19. Jack says:

    Courious , so I Bing’d ” Hot Bishop” —-Olde English drink made with a clove studded Orange , oven baked 1.5 hrs — then quartered and rebaked with a 750bottle of Ruby Port for thirty minutes Makes a mildly alcoholic hot drink –tasty and warming …..perfect
    for cool evenings in England ……..

    • sbranch says:

      Hmmm, that sounds rather wonderful!

    • Kathy from Brevard, NC says:

      Thank you so much for the research, Jack! xoxo, Kathy

      • Dawn from Minnesota says:

        I’m gonna try that when the weather turns a tad chilly this
        fall. I’m kinda a light hearted Margarita girl…but this
        sounds cozy and very Olde English….and I have loved, loved
        loved the “Bishops Wife” forever !!! ….the movie silly !!!!

    • TerrieInAtlanta says:

      Oooo ~ Jack “Bing’d”! He’s way hipper than the rest of us who are still “Google-ing” our way through life’s confusing moments…you GO, Jack!!

  20. Lorraine says:

    More Bloomsbury information: Angelica Bell Garnett, the daughter (and only child) of Vanessa Bell and her lover Duncan Grant, died earlier this month (May 4th) in France, at the age of 93. Angelica was the last direct link to the Bloomsbury group. She grew up at Charleston, where she lived with her (half) siblings, her mother Vanessa Bell, Vanessa’s art-critic husband Clive Bell (whom Angelica thought to be her father, until her mother revealed her true paternity when Angelica was in her late teens), and her biological father, the artist Duncan Grant. Angelica was born at Charleston on Christmas day, in 1918. She later married her father’s former lover, David Garnett, who used Angelica to stay close to Grant. The marriage was not a happy one. Angelica’s memoir “Deceived with Kindness: A Bloomsbury Childhood” was published in 1985.

    • sbranch says:

      Thank you for that! I just ran out of time to go into the complicated children, but you did it perfectly, in a nutshell — and they added so much to Charleston. There are still great grandchildren involved in making art.

  21. Denise says:

    I am enjoying all your blogs so much and look forward to all the new and delicious details makes me so very homesick ,but in a good way. One small correction the Bloomsbury group was early 20th century , 19th century is 1800-1899. Enjoy your hols!! cheerio

  22. Diane from Washington state says:

    I am so feeling that I am right there with you and the girlfriends! You do an amazing job at weaving a story and with the gorgeous pictures thrown in, I am in England too! This is so much fun and exciting to travel right along with you and see the sights! Have you ever had a steak and kidney pie? lol. I hope your dreams are coming true for you each and every day that you are there! Hugs to you….and Joe….and all of the girlfriends!

  23. Wendy says:

    Lovely pictures. You know if you check out your local Waitrose you’ll probably find that Fentiman’s rose lemonade.x

    • sbranch says:

      Oh yes, but I think we are looking for it in America, and (very unfortunately) we don’t have Waitrose.

      • Laura says:

        Yes, very unfortunately….no Laura Ashley, no Harrod’s, no Emma Bridgewater factory, no Liberty of London, no Cath Kidson….how do we survive??? At least we have Trader Joe’s:)

  24. Joan in TX says:
    Any friends in the DFW area there is a cute British grocery/gift store in Grapevine TX has Fentimans Shandy and Victorian Lemonade! But they did not have any of the Rose Lemonade though. The adorable British gent. that owns store…I could have listened to him speak all day!

  25. Sandy-Shirley, MA says:

    Hello Susan,

    My cousin just sent me this email. Perhaps some of your English friends have witnessed this brilliant phenomenon!

    Here’s another mystery of nature:
    No one knows why they do it , yet each fall , thousands of starlings dance in the twilight above England and Scotland . The birds gather in shape-shifting flocks called murmurations , having migrated in the millions from Russia and Scandinavia to escape winter’s frigid bite . Scientists aren’t sure how they do it, either . The starlings’ murmurations are manifestations of swarm intelligence. As far as I am aware , even complex algorithmic models haven’t yet explained the starlings’ aerobatics , which rely on the tiny birds’ quicksilver reaction time of under 100 milliseconds , to avoid aerial collisions — and predators — in the giant flock . Despite their tour de force in the dusky sky , starlings have declined significantly in the UK in recent years , perhaps because of a decline in suitable nesting sites . The birds still roost in several of Britain’s rural pastures, however, settling down to sleep, (and chatter) , after their evening ballet.

    Two young ladies were out for a late afternoon canoe ride and fortunately one of them remembered to bring her video camera . What they saw was a wonderful murmuration display , caught in the short video – URL is below . Watch the variation of color and intensity of the patterns that the birds make in proximity to one other , and take a look at the girl in the bow of the canoe watching the aerial display.


    • sbranch says:

      I put this amazing video on my blog a few weeks back! Isn’t it just wonderful? We have a little of that on Martha’s Vineyard, not on the level of the video, but, on our street, starlings gather in a huge tree a couple of doors over (you can hear them); they fly together in cloud (as a mini murmuration) rolling over roof tops and then down low over the grass, up over the picket fences, up again over the chimneys; they’re so beautiful! One of my favorite things about fall!

  26. Nelson Eugene Linscott says:

    As an avid reader, lover of all that is Bloomsbury and the wonderful people who made Bloomsbury what it was, I have a request. Does anyone have or can they get me a list of the books in one of the original bookcases at Bloomsbury please? If I lived close or was able to travel to the wonderful house that it is, I would get it myself but I cannot. I would be forever indebted to you. Thank you, Nelson

  27. Diane P in N. Cali says:

    Oh! Sue! and girlfriends! I am SO excited, I just had to share!
    After I first read this wonderful, inspiring post, I knew I had to:
    1. Visit England!
    2. Visit Charleston!
    3. Try Rose Lemonade! 🙂
    My hubby indulged me and we searched for weeks to source the lemonade locally. Two big chain stores admitted they used to, but no longer, carry it…wau!
    But yesterday at our local health food store (we were there to find xanthan gum, since I recently discovered I am gluten-intolerant…wauu again!) Rob spotted the beautiful (rare!) pink nectar in the cooler.
    (Part of my thrill was that, after our hunt nearly a year ago, he remembered to look – I didn’t!)
    We bought two and I savored the first one last night.
    I’m saving the second one for tonight, to go with the carnitas that are presently simmering on the stove.
    So thrilled to finally find and try it, and our little store is JUST DOWN THE STREET!
    Most folks will think I’m silly to be this excited over Rose Lemonade, but I just knew you would all understand!

  28. Charlotte Anderson says:

    I’m hoping to get to Charleston in May! So, I was reading on their website it is hard to reach without a car (we are driving). They say if you arrive with a muddy bicycle or boots, proving your perseverance with no car, they give you a discounted entry! What a hoot! Makes you want to try that!

    • sbranch says:

      The only thing I would say is the roads are so narrow even for cars, I would think you might be taking your life even more into your hands if you’re on a bike. Wear a football uniform, just in case! 🙂 However you get there, you are going to love it. The tea room is heaven. Go to the church you will hear them talk about because the view from the stairs leading into it was one of my favorite of all. Which is saying something.

  29. Jenny says:

    Good evening
    I was chatting with my daughter this evening regarding the wonders of Charleston (which is not far from us and we have not been for so long….) and said to her that we will visit it this very week…only to find that it is closed for the Winter season. Happily a search meant that I have found your blog and this sojourn around the house instead – it will keep us going until Spring arrives!
    Best wishes

    • sbranch says:

      Yes, they do close, but when they open, glory be! Wait for June, the garden will be in bloom. You’re so lucky, you live in a BEAUTIFUL part of the world.

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