Charleston Farmhouse, Firle, East Sussex
Cultural foodies will love visiting Charleston Farmhouse, the home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, the pioneers of early 20th century British art.
Charleston Farmhouse is the place where the Bloomsbury set created a hub of artistic and intellectual activity. As you wander through the rooms, you can really feel the presence and almost hear the lively discussion of the many guests they welcomed into their home. Frequent visitors included Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell’s sister who lived at nearby Monk’s Farm, now a National Trust property; Maynard Keynes, Benjamin Britten, T.S. Eliot and E.M. Forster.The Foodie Travel Guide
- Tour the house and garden
- Seasonal opening
- Perfect for cultural foodies
- Easy day trip from London
Discover Domestic Life at Charleston
Visit on selected Fridays to do one of their themed tours. The tours begin in the kitchen which remains nearly as it was in their day. You can discover more about the eating habits and recipes of The Bloomsbury Set in a book The Bloomsbury Cookbook written by Jans Ondaatje Rolls.
Get to Know Grace Higgens, The Housekeeper
The Bloomsberries’ loyal housekeeper and cook was Grace Higgens. She worked for Vanessa Bell for over fifty years. In the kitchen fireplace, up behind the Aga cooker, her name has been inscribed. Hanging on the landing upstairs, you’ll see Vanessa Bell’s painting ‘The Kitchen’. Painted in 1943, it depicts Grace in the kitchen and unusually for the time, there is a string of garlic hanging beside her. Although she was a traditional English cook, Grace’s cooking was also influenced by French cuisine as she often travelled with the family on their extended visits to France. Grace at Charleston, a book of Grace’s recipes and stories about her life is available in the gift shop.
Admire The Decorative Ceramics
As you tour the house, you’ll see decorative ceramics as well as paintings. On the circular dining table painted by Vanessa Bell around 1952, there’s a tea set on display that was recently bequeathed to the house. It was designed by Duncan Grant for Foley and sold in Harrods. On the Venetian side-table, there are plates he designed for Clarice Cliff in 1934 and soup bowls designed by Vanessa’s son, Quentin Bell,
Drink Bloomsbury Brown Ale
Both drink and conversation flowed at the house. Duncan Grant was partial to dark ale and there are a few strategically placed bottles in the dining room to serve as a reminder. He received regular deliveries from Harvey’s Brewery in Lewes who, to commemorate the company’s long association with Charleston, now produce Bloomsbury Brown. It can be purchased from their excellent shop in the town or from the Charleston Farmhouse gift shop.
Eat a Light Lunch in The Café
If you’re feeling peckish after touring the house and its lovely garden, Charleston Farmhouse has a delightful little café with a small courtyard serving simple, freshly prepared food. Choose from a light lunch of homemade soups, quiches and salads or enjoy tea and a slice of cake. The elderberry and gooseberry sponge cake is especially good.
Picnic in the Garden
If it’s a sunny day, buy local Sussex cheeses, freshly baked bread and local sparkling wine from Middle Farm at the end of the lane and enjoy lunch in the picnic garden next to the house.
- The kitchen is used for lots of activities so do visit on a Friday to be sure to see it
- Look out for the programme of special events on the Charleston website – they sometimes have a pop up pizza van and cocktails in the garden
- For an alternative picnic spot, visit nearby Monk’s Farm, former home of Virginia Woolf. Now a National Trust property, it has gorgeous views of the Sussex Downs
They tell me that Assistance Dogs are welcome but they kindly ask that you call in advance to let them know.