Monk’s House – Sussex home of Virginia Woolf

We went to Monk’s House yesterday, the Sussex home of Virginia Woolf.  I’m not a great fan of Woolf’s writings but the house is not far from us, and it was such a beautiful May morning we decided to go across and look at the cottage set in its gorgeous gardens.

In one of her diary entries, Woolf wrote about Monk’s House,

Back from a good week at Rodmell – a weekend of no talking, sinking into deep safe book-reading; & then sleep: clear transparent; with the may tree like a breaking wave outside; & all the garden green tunnels, mounds of green; & then to wake into the hot still day, & never a person to be seen, never an interruption; the place to ourselves; the long hours.  DIARIES 1932

In those days, you had to go down a rutted cart-track to get to the house, a path beyond leading to the famous water-meadows where Virginia met her death by flinging herself into the slow-moving but deep River Ouse.  It shows the depth of depression she must have experienced, for the surrounding countryside and nearby coast with its chalk cliffs is spectacularly beautiful and (you might think) would refresh any soul.

Monk's House

Monk’s House

The house is now owned by the National Trust who have tried to restore it to how it must have looked when Virginia and Leonard lived there. The whole house is full of period books, piled high in stacks, lying around on tables, above the beds.  The rooms are full of  little set-piece displays like this corner of the living-room:



Or this bedroom, now furnished just as it would have been in the Woolf’s day.  The Trust have got so good at this sort of thing.


Leonard Woolf was a collector of cacti and the Trust have re-created the conservatory with a look that Leonard himself may have liked:

The conservatory at Monk's House

The conservatory at Monk’s House

The Woolf’s had a full-time gardener who provided them with most of their fresh produce when they were in residence.  The gardens are now largely run by a team of volunteers and what a fantastic job they make of it:

Monk's House garden with Rodmell church behind

Monk’s House garden with Rodmell church behind

The Woolf’s had many literary friends visiting them at Monk’s House and there is a display of photographs of various writers sitting in the house and gardens, including T S Eliot, Lytton Strachey, Roger Fry, Vita Sackville-West, Vanessa and Clive Bell and Maynard Keynes.  The National Trust have taken one group photograph and tried to recreate the exact location as it would have been on one languorous Sunday afternoon when the Woolf’s were in residence with some house-guests.

A quiet spot at Monk's House

A quiet spot at Monk’s House

I was amused to find that the National Trust have been able to retrieve Leonard Woolf’s old green house from a nearby garden and are reinstating it at Monk’s House.  I have no doubt that they will make a magnificent job of this and fill it with the plants that Leonard loved so much.

Leonard Woolf's old greenhouse

Leonard Woolf’s old greenhouse


Anyway, enough of poor Virginia.  For a useful overview of her life and significance I recommend Elizabeth Wright’s book, Brief Lives: Virginia Woolf.  Olivia Laing’s book To The River includes a fair amount about Monk’s House and Virginia’s death, but from the perspective of a Woolf aficionado.  I enjoyed reading the book Mrs Woolf and The Servants by Alison Light which gives a rather different perspective on the esteemed writer.

For another blog post on Monk’s House (with more photographs) by “Steerforth” on his blog The Age of Uncertainty click here.



My reading has gone all to pieces in the last month or so.  Far too many false starts, the worst perhaps being seven days wasted in Jo Nesbo’s new book, The Son.

After a couple of fairly serious history books I fancied a bit of a break so downloaded The Son to the Kindle. It was one of those books which wasn’t good enough to keep me happy, but not quite bad enough to abandon.  I finally got sick of it after 300 pages or so, suddenly thinking, “Why am I wasting my time on this?”  It’s not that it’s particularly bad, just that for the weight of the story, it’s far too long – like so many other Scandi-crime novels.

I will try to write a couple of more in-depth reviews before too long; I’m having a few days in Normandy soon when I hope to do get back into some more intensive reading.

14 comments to Monk’s House – Sussex home of Virginia Woolf

  • I don’t like Woolf either, but I love Charleston and Monk’s House. I like to visit them out of season, before the Bloomsbury groupies take over.

  • *wail*
    Here I am on a bleak rainy day on the other side of the world and all I want to do is be on a plane winging my way over to see this for myself!

  • Hi Lisa. I have been very quiet here lately but it’s not my intention to give up. Books seem to come and go these days. Perhaps my new camera and related software is taking up too much of my time.

  • Hi Lisa – does it rain in Australia then? Surely infrequently! It’s certainly a great place to visit but on a small scale.

  • Here I am in sunny (and hot) California and would love to be wandering those gardens.

  • Kat

    I do know that feeling of reading a book that is a waste of time, neither terribly good nor terribly bad, and you describe it perfectly. It isn’t till the past couple of years that sometimes I’ve flung books aside. Sometimes if I’ve read half and a classics call, I tell myself, “It’s reading like a bookseller.” (I’ve known many booksellers who read one-third to half of many books they don’t have time to finish; that way they still know enough about them to sell.) And so, Tom, read like a bookseller with the Nesbo!:) Only thank God you don’t have to sell it.

    I long to go Monk’s House. How gorgeous. Great photos, and I do like Virginia Woolf.

  • deebeee

    Thanks Tom for this lovely piece, a nice interlude in a mad weekend. I’m with you on the Nesbo, I think we have had his best work. There are too many good books to be read and not enough time to read them all so I have less patience for books I’m only half enjoying!

  • Hi Kat Thanks for visiting. Well, most Amazon uk reviewers don’t agree with me and have given it 5 stars. Nesbo is one of those authors who have a fanatically loyal following. I’ll take your advice to read like a book seller!

  • Thanks for visiting deebee. I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who feels Nesbo is past his best!

  • Hi Becky – thanks for visiting. At least you have the sun and warmth which is by no means certain over here in the UK

  • Brian Joseph

    Great pictures Tom. I tend to like visiting old houses of historical importance. If the historical connection is literary even more so.

    There is something about old bookshelves filled with old books.

  • Love your photos Tom … I was in sunny California when you wrote this and not checking emails. I love visiting authors places – and I do like Woolf, what I’ve read anyhow.

  • What a very lovely blog. I am lucky enough to be a room steward at Monks House which must be the best Gig in the world. Sitting in one of the most special locations in the world talking to the most wonderful visitors who pass through.

  • Hello Chris – sorry for the delay in replying to your comment. Glad to hear you enjoyed my blog and reading about one of your favourite places!

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