Most of us know about Rudyard Kipling’s work which included The Jungle Book and Just So Stories, so what a privilege to have a chance to almost step into his shoes and walk round the house and garden that he loved.
Bateman’s is a 17th century house located in Burwash, East Sussex. Rudyard Kipling lived there from 1902 to his death in 1936
We were just in time for a talk from one of the volunteers about his early life in Vermont in the United States of America. What an inspiring woman she was. She has visited the house in which he lived in America. She brought knowledge and compassion to so many events that shaped his life.
Kipling’s wife Cassie was an American woman of considerable wealth. They had married in London where we learned that Rudyard Kipling always stayed in the same hotel in London. He loved the old time musical theatre in Villiers Street under the arches. But on marrying Cassie they decided to settle in Vermont where his wife’s feckless brother had a farm.
As well as enjoying Kipling’s considerable success there were also hardships, illnesses, including one that lead to the loss of his youngest daughter Josephine at six years old. Hence this charming portrait on the wall (left). The plaque in relief is of their second daughter, Elsie.
If you get a chance to hear this talk, jump at it.
The brochure about the house told us to discover the importance of the bell pull. We learned from another friendly volunteer that Kipling at six and his younger sister were sent from India to lodge in Southsea in England where he was mistreated and very unhappy.
His one escape was to visit his Aunt Georgina in Fulham from time to time. She had this particular bell pull and Kipling had it moved to Batemans as a symbol of his intention that no visiting child would ever feel as wretched as he once had.
There is a huge exhibition about the Great War in the house. Most of us know of the tragedy of the death of his son in this war and Rudyard Kipling’s desolation as a result. Not least having to face his own part in ‘pulling strings’ to get him into the army despite his son having been rejected because of his poor sight.
There is a windmill on Bateman’s land, but apparently the Kipling’s abandoned it. It was rebuilt after the Second World War and is working once again. to grind corn and the flour is often available for sale.
So much to see in this amazing house, but now it was time to wander the garden, to view the mill, the wild garden, the cemetery for lost pets and Kipling’s original headstone from Westminster Abbey where it was replaced with a larger one in Poets Corner.
It was also heartening to see that Bateman’s encourages picnics with rugs to borrow for the purpose. Of course there was a gift shop with many items at modest cost and also vegetables from the garden for sale, but I opted for this wonderful sunflower seed head.
I guess many of us try to piece together the lives of others. Today gave us a chance to piece together more of the Kipling jigsaw for ourselves.
However for a man who had lived in India, Vermont and travelled the world he must have loved the solitude and sheer expanse of the wonderful place that is Bateman’s.
He had once briefly rented a house in Rottingdean called The Elms. It is now privately owned but there is a reconstruction of his study from The Elms in The Grange Museum and Art Gallery.
Lastly just another tiny piece of the jigsaw on his desk, I leave you to discover it’s significance.