Monks house, the country abode which Virginia Woolf shared with her husband Leonard is a fascinating window into the life of one of the world’s most celebrated authors.Located just 3 miles outside of Lewes in the tiny village of Rodwel the house was previously owned by the University of Sussex but is now maintained by the national trust and open for the public to enjoy.Virginia had a well-documented struggle with depression for much of her life and Leonard, her husband, purchased Monks house as a place for her to escape from the stresses of London. It was intended to be a sanctuary for Virginia where she could take solace in calmness of the countryside and write undisturbed.
It took time for Virginia to adjust to the basic amenities of the house, having become accustomed to city-life luxuries such as running water and electricity; but she grew to love the peaceful surroundings and wrote many letters to her sister Vanessa Bell describing how happy she felt there. Visiting the charming cottage and glorious gardens it’s easy to understand why she fell in love with the place and how it became such an important source of inspiration for her work.
While Virginia herself was not a keen gardener, Leonard developed into a talented horticulturist and the garden boasts fig trees, plum trees, apples, artichokes, courgettes, lettuces and even bee hives, which he carefully cultivated. These have all been lovingly preserved as Leonard planted them and walking through there is a strong sense of following in the footsteps of Virginia and the other members of the Bloomsbury group. Nestled within the garden is Virginia’s writing studio, still set up with the very desk at which she wrote some of her most famous works.
Much like Charleston Farmhouse, Monks house recreates as closely as possible the life that the Bloomsbury group inhabitants enjoyed there. The interior of the house is filled with personal artefacts that Virginia and Leonard used; ceramics made by Quentin Bell, the mismatched furniture they chose and even the so called ‘fish hospital’ – a fish tank in which Leonard nursed sickly fish from their pond back to health.The bold choice of lively green paint adorning the living room was laughed at by her sister Vanessa, but does lend the space a remarkable sense of tranquillity and helps to bring the atmosphere of the garden inside.
Doing some further reading after my visit I learned that the ashes of both Virginia and Leonard are buried in the garden of Monks house. I found this quite poignant and in some way it does feel as though a part of Virginia lives on in the home she made here. The atmosphere of Monk’s house needs to be visited in person to be fully appreciated and I would thoroughly recommend making a trip there for an inspiring day out. Details including opening times and directions can be found on the website of the National Trust.