The bohemians of the 1920s who brought sex to Sussex

still with me It becomes even more complex as you dig deeper (the complicated love lives of Sackville West and her husband, writer and politician Harold Nicholson, for example, were detailed by their son Nigel Nicolson in his 1973 biography Portrait of a Marriage), but remarkable , most of these affairs seem to have ended relatively amicably.

Perhaps the atmosphere in Charleston was special. Vanessa Bell’s description suggests happy times: “The house seems to be full of young people in very good spirits, laughing a lot at their own jokes […] lying about in the garden, which is just a flickering firework of flowers and butterflies and apples.” Virginia Woolf’s suicide in 1941 was a somber moment, but marriages remained largely intact and lovers remained close. Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant remained together in Charleston until their deaths – Bell in 1961, Grant in 1978 – and are buried side by side in the nearby churchyard at Firle.

How to visit Sussex, from art to opera


Decorated by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, the farmhouse is one of the most atmospheric artists’ homes anywhere. Most of the doors, paneling and other woodwork have been playfully embellished by the artists and many of the paintings, books, furniture and memorabilia date from the 1920s and 1930s. The garden is particularly beautiful – designed by Roger Fry. It has recently been upgraded with new exhibition spaces in the former barns and a lively program of lectures and events. Visits to the house are by guided tour only and take place every 10 minutes, but you should book in advance ( The garden can be visited free of charge during opening hours.

Rathfinny Winery, Alfriston

If you need a refreshment while touring East Sussex, Rathfinny Estate is in the Chalk Highlands just above Alfriston and overlooking Cuckmere Haven, with one of the best locations of any English wine estate. It produces several types of sparkling wine and is exceptionally well set up for visitors, whether you want to eat, stay, taste or just tour the vineyards and winery (

Monk’s House, Rodmell

In this modest cottage on a side street in the village of Rodmell, Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard vacationed from 1919 and eventually lived permanently. Guests at the house, now owned by the National Trust, have included TS Eliot and EM Forster, and it is only 11 miles by road from Woolf’s sister, Vanessa, in Charleston. An atmospheric 1920s/1930s atmosphere has been retained in both the house and garden, where her wooden writing cottage survives, and it is only a few minutes’ walk across the nearby marshes to where Woolf found herself in the River Ouse drowned. Advance sales only – opening hours are very limited and tickets for the following four weeks go on sale every Thursday (

Towner Eastbourne

One of the leading galleries in southern England, Towner was founded in 1920 as a modest art museum for Eastbourne. It has come a long way since then: it will host the Turner Prize in 2023. The permanent collection focuses on modern British art and includes works by Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Eric Ravilious. Two exhibitions are being held this summer: A Life in Art, which showcases gallery owner Lucy Wertheim’s collection of mid-20th-century modern art, and Reuniting the Twenties Group, which showcases early work by artists such as Barbara Hepworth and Victor Pasmore. Both run until September 25 (


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