Repairing the studio blind

By Charleston’s Conservation Cleaner, Kathy Crisp

A birds-eye view of the studio at Charleston. Photo © Kathy Crisp.

While Charleston has been closed over the last few months, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we haven’t been working on our collections. However, gratefully funded by Historic England,  I have continued working to keep the house and collections safe and secure.

In November, the rest of the curatorial team, Darren and Emily returned from furlough and we were able to work together on an urgent project, fixing the studio blind. During October the nylon pull cord from the highest blackout blind suddenly snapped. There was now no way of closing it and keeping out the daylight which can be damaging to the collection. The challenge was, it was very high up. To reach it safely we had to move all the objects and furniture away from that side of the room so we could carefully bring in the enormous platform step ladder from the galleries.

Tables were set up for the purpose of moving the collection of objects and art materials off the newspaper-covered table under the studio window. Another sturdy table was used for the several large pots from the studio windowsill. We moved the painter’s table — which is actually screwed to the wall — so there was room to place the ladder. These movements then allowed for the inspection and cleaning of the floor beneath, and the walls behind.

Darren went up the ladder first and replaced the cord successfully. I was eager to get up there afterwards and vacuum several years’ accumulation of dust, dead flies and cobwebs. Subsequently, I cleaned those generous panes of glass which flood the studio with diffused north light.

This high vantage point gave me such an unusual view of the room, I had to take some photographs. It felt like I was looking down into a doll’s house version of Charleston!

Beneath the dust: two carpenters who signed their names at the top of the studio wall in 1984. Photo © Kathy Crisp.

When I vacuumed the thick layer of dust at the top of the wall, I uncovered some pencil writing from two carpenters who signed their names in 1984.  Probably done back when the windows were replaced during the restoration of the house.

The wonderful collection of large pots and vases were then checked over and tiny spots of fly and spider excrement were removed with a touch of water and a cotton wool swab. Many of the ceramics in the house were repaired during the 1980s which makes them extremely fragile. To avoid the risk of damage, we move them as seldom as possible.

The ladder needed all three of us to fold it down safely and slowly manoeuvre it out of the studio door into the garden and then back up to the galleries where it lives. The assortment of artist’s supplies was then cleaned and condition checked before restoring them to the newspaper-lined table.

The blinds are now working correctly, blocking out the light when the house is closed. Too much light, artificial or natural, even with the UV protection, can cause irreversible damage to the collection. The new cord should remain strong for many years to come.

When Charleston can finally welcome back visitors, my first morning task will be to open the binds and shutters, bringing the house to life.

Seeds of Hope: Autumn Garden News

By Charleston’s Gardener, Harry Hoblyn

Seedlings in Charleston’s greenhouse this autumn.

We have had few visitors to the garden this season, fewer still to the house. Yet, the promise of spring is gradually awakening at the forefront of any gardener’s mind, and the recent generosity of Charleston’s supporters, demonstrated through the favourable outcome of our Art Fund Art Happens campaign, signifies a change in fortunes. The house and its garden will be open to visitors again in April 2021.


The Bloomsbury Look

What is the ‘Bloomsbury Look’? Charleston’s former curator Wendy Hitchmough reveals how the Bloomsbury group generated its avant-garde, self-fashioned aesthetic through art, photography and dress in her captivating new book.  (more…)

Extraordinary gift of Duncan Grant’s private drawings given to Charleston

A week before Charleston launches a crowdfunding campaign to raise the final funds needed to reopen, an extraordinary gift of hitherto unknown drawings has been given to the charity as the current owner appeals to the public to ensure that Charleston can reopen its doors. 


The Great Potato Printing Society with Molly Mahon

This potato print by artist Rose Electra Harris is one of the 19 prints available in The Great Potato Printing Society auction which begins on 14 September.

Block printing extraordinaire Molly Mahon has launched #thegreatpotatoprintingsociety! Molly, and an incredible lineup of artists have each created a potato print for an online auction to raise funds for Charleston during these challenging times. 


Rare Duncan Grant bust enters Charleston’s collection and gives fundraising boost

Stephen Tomlin (1901-1937), Head of Duncan Grant (1885-1978), Bronze. Commissioned in 1924 and cast in 1925 Giovanni Fiorini’s Foundry in Battersea. Photos © Abbott and Holder Ltd.





A rare bust of artist Duncan Grant by sculptor Stephen Tomlin has entered Charleston’s collection, with an edition of 15 bronzes cast from the original to support the charity’s emergency appeal.


Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Siddal and the Famous Women Dinner Service

Today Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (25 July 1829 – 11 February 1862), or Lizzie as she was styled and commonly known, would be celebrating her 191st birthday.

Siddal was an English artist, poet, and artists’ model whose beauty, talents and life were recognised by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant in their playful, yet groundbreaking project: the Famous Women Dinner Service.


Duncan Grant’s nude portraits

It’s National Nude Day! A great opportunity to draw your attention to one of my all-time favourite paintings in Charleston’s collection — Standing Male Nude (c.1935) by Duncan Grant — and have a brief look at the trajectory that nude painting took in Grant’s oeuvre.


Omega Workshops, 1913-1919

Opening room of the Omega Workshops, 33 Fitzroy Square, London. © The Charleston Trust

On 8 July 1913 the Omega Workshops opened their doors at 33 Fitzroy Square in the heart of bohemian London.

Founded by painter and art critic Roger Fry (1866-1934), the Workshops employed some of the most radical avant-garde artists of the day, with Vanessa Bell (1879-1961) and Duncan Grant (1885-1978) as co-directors. Their anti-establishment approach paired with Post-Impressionist experimentalism produced modern designs and items for the home, from printed fabrics and textiles to ceramics, furniture and clothing.


Looking towards the future

Last week the government announced that museums can open again on 4 July; but there is a long way to go before Charleston can reopen, and significant funds still to raise.

The intimate experience of exploring the house’s interiors is something visitors normally cherish; but small, heavily furnished rooms make it impossible to create a socially distanced experience that would be safe and enjoyable for our staff, volunteers, and visitors. We have explored all other options, including just opening our galleries, café and shop, but with significantly reduced visitor numbers we simply cannot afford to reopen this year.

Charleston has survived this crisis thanks to thousands of donations from around the world to our Emergency Appeal, grants from Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, everyone who donated their Charleston Festival Tickets, and the extraordinary endeavours of artist Emily Maude who has raised over £55,000 through an artists’ auction on Instagram. The decision to remain closed has not been an easy one, but will enable us to build a stronger, more beautiful, more resilient, and more sustainable Charleston for the future. 

While our doors are closed, we will continue to share Charleston’s house, garden and collections with our audiences digitally, and our online shop will remain open. Following the success of Charleston Festival at Home, we will deliver more digital programmes including a weekend of talks and events to mark Small Wonder Festival, 25-27 September 2020. We are also working to open our beautiful garden in July as a place of creativity and wellbeing. We will share the full details shortly so please keep an eye on our social feeds, website, and e-newsletter.   

Thank you for your continued support and patience as we continue to navigate these challenging times.


Nathaniel Hepburn

Director and Chief Executive, The Charleston Trust

A spring clean of the kitchen

While Charleston’s doors are closed, our conservation cleaner Kathy Crisp continues her vital work looking after the house. Here she writes about a recent spring clean and an important find!

Following a flood in the house attic last year, significant restoration work has been undertaken to repair the damage to the areas of the house that were most affected. Fortunately, the costs of the restoration work have been covered by Charleston’s insurance.

As part of the project, just before Charleston closed its doors to visitors, the kitchen was repainted with Farrow & Ball distemper. Part of the ceiling and the central beam were badly stained by flood damage and the plaster ceiling has been reinforced by building conservator Ben, who is rebuilding the ceiling in the spare bedroom.

The tidy up then began! Volunteer Jane and I spent a long time removing all the decorating dust and finally mopping the floor. I then cleaned all the ceramics and polished the glass bead supports for the light shades. The plates and platters, bowls and jugs were all returned to their positions.

Grace Higgens’ cookery books were dusted and returned to the shelf. The cacti and spider plant were fed and placed back on the window ledge. I even discovered the lost knob from the coffee percolator, hiding in the dust at the back of the table drawer!

The room looks so fresh and clean. I hope everyone will be able to see it soon, when the house can spring to life with visitors again!










Charleston needs your help

As a charity that receives no public funding, our current closure is financially devastating for Charleston. Please consider making a donation to our Emergency Appeal to help secure the charity’s future. 

Henrietta Garnett’s love of the unkempt garden

The following is taken from the eulogy read at Henrietta Garnett’s funeral at St Peter’s Church Firle, on 24th September 2019 by Mark Divall, who gardened at Charleston for 16 years between 1985 and 2017…



Susannah Stevenson










We are excited to announce that Susannah Stevenson is joining Charleston as Artistic Director of the Charleston Festival, Small Wonder Festival and Literary Programmes.

Susannah is a literary programmer and arts producer who has worked at some of the UK’s most prestigious arts venues, including the British Library and the Southbank Centre, home of the London Literature Festival. As Cultural Events Producer for the British Library, she curated the literature programme and seasons such as the European Literature Focus, Food Season and Harry Potter: A History of Magic.

Susannah will lead on the artistic planning and delivery of the year-round books, discussion and debate strand of Charleston’s growing what’s on programme. The centerpiece of this strand is the interdisciplinary Charleston Festival of books, ideas and creativity, which runs over 10 days every May. Charleston Festival’s founder and Artistic Director, Diana Reich, stepped down after the 30th anniversary of this pioneering festival in 2019 but will continue to programme Charleston’s sister festival, Charleston to Charleston, which takes place in South Carolina every November.

Through Charleston’s literary programmes, Susannah will explore the relevance of the Bloomsbury group’s ideas and legacy in contemporary society to provide a forum for conversations and bring new work to enquiring audiences. Charleston’s existing portfolio of festivals also includes Small Wonder, the UK’s only festival dedicated to short stories, which has been running for 15 years and will return to the programme in autumn 2020. Her role will also support the discussion and debate strand of Charleston’s wider programme including new festivals for children and young people, Queer Bloomsbury, Music & Word and other spoken word events, both at Charleston and with partners in the region and further afield.

Susannah sits on the selection panel for the European Writers’ Tour and was the Founding Chair of the Gender Equality Network at the British Library. She is also a reviewer, editor and researcher, and was a Clore Emerging Leader in 2015.

Nathaniel Hepburn, Director and Chief Executive, The Charleston Trust, said:

“We are all really excited to welcome Susannah to Charleston, where she will become the custodian of our very special literary festivals and the innovator of new programmes. I look forward to working with her to build on Diana’s formidable legacy with Charleston Festival and Small Wonder, while also exploring new ideas for our year-round programme to attract new audience to experience extraordinary literature and radical ideas in the unique setting of Charleston’s Hay Barn. ”

Susannah Stevenson, Artistic Director: Charleston Festival, Small Wonder and Literary Programmes, The Charleston Trust, said:

“I am delighted to be joining The Charleston Trust as their new Artistic Director for Charleston Festival, Small Wonder and the wider literary programme. It is an honour to step into the rich tradition of literature and radical ideas which Diana Reich has established here in this unique and special place. It is a tradition embodied by the Bloomsbury Group, whose work and lives provide an endless well of inspiration and a call to challenge the status quo at every turn. I look forward to building on the incredible work that has come before me to explore and celebrate extraordinary ideas and voices, ensuring that Charleston remains relevant and loved by audiences old and new.”

Next year’s Charleston Festival will take place from 15 to 25 May 2020.

(L to R) Helen Bagnall, Grayson Perry and Philippa Perry at the 2019 Charleston Festival Image © Electric Egg

Bloomsbury portrait comes home: Duncan Grant’s painting of Vanessa Bell returns to Charleston

portrait of Vanessa Bell by Duncan Grant

Duncan Grant (1885-1978), portrait of Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), signed and dated 1915 © The Charleston Trust


We are thrilled to announce that a beautiful portrait of Vanessa Bell by Duncan Grant has entered Charleston’s collection through the Arts Council’s Acceptance in Lieu scheme, and will be on public display here at their Sussex home in the new year.

The full length portrait of Vanessa Bell was painted by Duncan Grant around 1916. It is a rare example of Grant’s use of collage and demonstrates his skill in using facets of bright, luminous colour to build up the picture surface. The abstract background is reminiscent of designs for Roger Fry’s Omega Workshops and adds a dynamism to the composition. The portrait is oil and collage on wood, possibly a table top or door. 

Grant completed three paintings of Bell wearing an evening dress made of red paisley fabric. In the version in the National Portrait Gallery, London, the pattern of the material and the construction of the dress have been recreated in paint, Grant echoing “the rhythm of the drapery,” emulating its folds and shadows. In a second version Grant introduces sections of the actual material that the dress was made from. The version to be displayed at Charleston recreates the design in paint and collage.

The long and at times intimate relationship between Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant can be charted in the numerous portraits they made of each other. This portrait comes from a particularly important period of that relationship, one that includes the beginning of their sexual relationship, their imminent move to Charleston and the setting up of a domestic and working space together.

The painting is quintessentially a Charleston painting. A portrait of an artist by an artist, of a friend by a friend and of a lover by their lover. Painted during the uncertainty of wartime, quite possibly at Charleston itself, it marks the development of a friendship into a love affair while defining the development of an artist’s individual style.

Nathaniel Hepburn, Director and Chief Executive, The Charleston Trust, said:

“This early portrait of Vanessa Bell by Duncan Grant is one of the most beautiful and significant works to enter Charleston’s collection. We are thrilled that it will be on public display for future generations to enjoy and are extremely grateful to the executors of Anne Olivier Bell’s estate, the Arts Council and the Acceptance in Lieu panel for choosing to allocate this wonderful painting to Charleston.”

Arts Minister, Helen Whately, said: 

“Vanessa Bell was an extraordinary artist and a leading figure in one of the most creative groups in Britain during the 20th century. It is great news that, thanks to the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, this important portrait will return to Charleston – a place that was so special to the sitter and artist.”

Edward Harley OBE, Chairman, Acceptance in Lieu Panel said:

“I am delighted to announce the allocation of this portrait by Duncan Grant of his fellow artist and lover, Vanessa Bell. This picture has numerous links to the Bloomsbury group, and it is most appropriate that it has been allocated to Charleston. I hope that this example will encourage others to use the Acceptance in Lieu scheme to continue to enrich public collections in the UK.”

The portrait will go on permanent display at Charleston, initially as part of a wider exhibition programme in February 2020 in the museum’s new galleries, before being hung in Clive Bell’s Library at Charleston. The Library was originally Vanessa Bell’s Bedroom and contains some of the earliest decorations in the house. It became Clive Bell’s Library when he moved to Charleston just before the Second World War.

The portrait was given to Anne Olivier Bell, who was married to Quentin Bell, by the artist in circa 1973.

A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf

Asham, or Asheham House as it was originally called and named in Virginia Woolf’s diaries was near the village of Beddingham in Sussex. Between 1912 and 1919 while her sister Vanessa Bell was nearby at Charleston with Duncan Grant, Virginia and her husband Leonard Woolf stayed at Asheham for holidays and weekends before they moved to Monks House.

Legend has it that Asheham was both haunted and haunting. According to Leonard Woolf, it seemed as if each night two people walked from room to room, opening and shutting doors, sighing, whispering. In his autobiography he remarks:

‘I have never known a house which had such a strong character, a personality of its own — romantic, gentle, melancholy, lovely.’

It was Asheham and its spooky footsteps and whisperings that inspired Virginia Woolf’s short story, ‘A Haunted House’, which first appeared in her collection ‘Monday or Tuesday’ in 1921; and later in Woolf’s 1944 collection of 18 short stories which was produced by Leonard Woolf after her death, although in the foreword he states that they had discussed its production together.

The story tells the tale of a ghostly couple who glide through the rooms of their well-loved home at night. Read on (if you dare)…

Black and white photograph of Asheham House

Asheham House










A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf

Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting. From room to room they went, hand in hand, lifting here, opening there, making sure—a ghostly couple.

“Here we left it,” she said. And he added, “Oh, but here too!” “It’s upstairs,” she murmured. “And in the garden,” he whispered “Quietly,” they said, “or we shall wake them.”

But it wasn’t that you woke us. Oh, no. “They’re looking for it; they’re drawing the curtain,” one might say, and so read on a page or two. “Now they’ve found it,” one would be certain, stopping the pencil on the margin. And then, tired of reading, one might rise and see for oneself, the house all empty, the doors standing open, only the wood pigeons bubbling with content and the hum of the threshing machine sounding from the farm. “What did I come in here for? What did I want to find?” My hands were empty. “Perhaps it’s upstairs then?” The apples were in the loft. And so down again, the garden still as ever, only the book had slipped into the grass.

But they had found it in the drawing room. Not that one could ever see them. The window panes reflected apples, reflected roses; all the leaves were green in the glass. If they moved in the drawing room, the apple only turned its yellow side. Yet, the moment after, if the door was opened, spread about the floor, hung upon the walls, pendant from the ceiling—what? My hands were empty. The shadow of a thrush crossed the carpet; from the deepest wells of silence the wood pigeon drew its bubble of sound. “Safe, safe, safe,” the pulse of the house beat softly. “The treasure buried; the room . . . ” the pulse stopped short. Oh, was that the buried treasure?

A moment later the light had faded. Out in the garden then? But the trees spun darkness for a wandering beam of sun. So fine, so rare, coolly sunk beneath the surface the beam I sought always burnt behind the glass. Death was the glass; death was between us; coming to the woman first, hundreds of years ago, leaving the house, sealing all the windows; the rooms were darkened. He left it, left her, went North, went East, saw the stars turned in the Southern sky; sought the house, found it dropped beneath the Downs. “Safe, safe, safe,” the pulse of the house beat gladly. “The Treasure yours.”

The wind roars up the avenue. Trees stoop and bend this way and that. Moonbeams splash and spill wildly in the rain. But the beam of the lamp falls straight from the window. The candle burns stiff and still. Wandering through the house, opening the windows, whispering not to wake us, the ghostly couple seek their joy.

“Here we slept,” she says. And he adds, “Kisses without number.” “Waking in the morning—” “Silver between the trees—” “Upstairs—” “In the garden—” “When summer came—” “In winter snowtime—” The doors go shutting far in the distance, gently knocking like the pulse of a heart.

Nearer they come; cease at the doorway. The wind falls, the rain slides silver down the glass. Our eyes darken; we hear no steps beside us; we see no lady spread her ghostly cloak. His hands shield the lantern. “Look,” he breathes. “Sound asleep. Love upon their lips.”

Stooping, holding their silver lamp above us, long they look and deeply. Long they pause. The wind drives straightly; the flame stoops slightly. Wild beams of moonlight cross both floor and wall, and, meeting, stain the faces bent; the faces pondering; the faces that search the sleepers and seek their hidden joy.

“Safe, safe, safe,” the heart of the house beats proudly. “Long years—” he sighs. “Again you found me.” “Here,” she murmurs, “sleeping; in the garden reading; laughing, rolling apples in the loft. Here we left our treasure—” Stooping, their light lifts the lids upon my eyes. “Safe! safe! safe!” the pulse of the house beats wildly. Waking, I cry “Oh, is this your buried treasure? The light in the heart.”

A Haunted House Book Cover

First edition cover of ‘A Haunted House and other stories’, a 1944 collection of 18 short stories by Virginia Woolf. 


A message from Virginia Nicholson, President of The Charleston Trust

My cousin, Henrietta Garnett, died on Wednesday 4th September 2019.

On May 15th 1945, the day Henrietta Catherine entered the world, the parties thrown to celebrate the end of the Second World War were barely over. As the daughter of Angelica and David Garnett, she inherited a complex legacy of ambivalent loves and unconventional values. David Garnett and her grandfather – Duncan Grant – had been lovers. Later, David married Duncan’s daughter (by Vanessa Bell) Angelica, who was twenty-six years his junior.

Henrietta was the second of their four daughters. She was taken to Charleston for many a childhood holiday, and was the apple of her grandmother’s eye. She described being painted there by Vanessa – sitting behind her spindly and rickety easel – “mixing the colours on her palette, glancing first at me and then at the portrait, gently stabbing the canvas, so that one could see its back quiver from the impressions she made on it. The glances she sent across the room were extraordinarily intimate and reassuring: an observant nod, an amused smile, in order to encourage me to keep still.”

Henrietta grew up privileged, radiantly beautiful and precocious. Early on she wanted to be an actress – a career that would surely have suited her. “But” – as she once wrote to me – “I never received either one ounce of formal education or of mental discipline in my life.” As a child, I was in awe of my older cousin’s breathtaking loveliness and apparent sophistication. Everything about her, from the overpowering scent of Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue over breakfast, to the limitless Gauloises habit (contributing to the bewitching huskiness of her musically purring voice…); from her deft skill with rough-puff pastry, to her passion for the Victorian novel – exuded fascination.

Henrietta claimed that, from the age of ten, she had been always in love. Still a teenager when she married Burgo, the son of Ralph and Frances Partridge, she gave birth to their daughter Sophie in August 1963. She was only eighteen when, just four weeks later, she was widowed following Burgo’s terrifyingly sudden death caused by an aortic aneurysm. At the time, Sophie lay asleep in her crib, Henrietta was in the bath.

After this tragedy my cousin’s colourful life was to take many strange turns. There were the glamorous days, with the young widow rediscovering her joie de vivre among the peacocks, fashionistas, rock stars and artists of 1960s London. There were the vagabond days in Cumbria and Ireland with the aristocratic drop-outs (or “chequebook hippies” as she later called them), who took to the road in painted caravans. There were more love affairs, more marriages, an attempted suicide, a memorable appearance in a TV documentary about love at first sight, a relocation to the south of France, and an impressive self-reinvention as a writer. Her novel Family Skeletons was published to acclaim in 1996. This was followed by Anny: A Life of Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie (2004) – described by Dame Hermione Lee as ‘talkative, appealing… tender’ – and Wives and Stunners: The Pre-Raphaelites and their Muses (2012). But always, until robbed of it by advancing ill-health, it was Henrietta’s own stunning beauty that would make her the centre of attention. A friend who took her to a Cambridge May Ball in the ’70s described how crowds of party-goers clambered onto chairs and tables to get a better look at her.

Henrietta was kind, witty, mischievous, gracious and extraordinarily charismatic. But she was dealt an unlucky hand. In a troubled life, destabilised by illness, disability and excess, Charleston was a constant source of joy and fixity:

Charleston had the most powerful identity of any place that I had known. It reeked of itself: of turpentine and toast, of apples, damp walls and garden flowers. The atmosphere was one of liberty and order, and of a strength which came from its being a house in which the inhabitants were happy…

Her connection with the Trust has been one of mutual support, with Vanessa and Duncan’s oldest granddaughter always welcomed for her insights, generosity and thoroughly Bloomsbury spirit of playfulness and caprice. Many Friends of Charleston will recall her at the May Festival, stylishly adorned in gem-hued colours and beads, an intent presence among the front row audience, and sometimes on the platform too. Sometimes she tried our patience – especially after a glass or three of red wine – with her famously uninhibited interventions: a lack of reserve characteristic of her later years. Backstage in the Green Room, in the convivial familiarity of her grandparents’ house, she was usually the last to leave the party.

All of us who love Charleston will mourn her loss, and will never forget her.

Duncan Grant, Cressida Bell, Henrietta Garnett and Virginia Nicholson at Charleston 

Henrietta Garnett


At Charleston we’re thrilled to be named among the UK’s top places to visit by Lonely Planet in their #UltimateUKTravelist of the most memorable, beautiful, surprising and compelling experiences to be had across Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands. 

Duncan Grant’s studio at Charleston © Electric Egg

The only complete preserved Bloomsbury interior in the world, Charleston’s individually designed and hand-painted rooms were inspired by Italian fresco painting and the Post-Impressionists. Visitors can take a tour around the unique spaces and explore the stories and lives of the artists, writers and thinkers who made it their home. Alongside the house, Charleston runs a programme of exhibitions, workshops, talks and events throughout the year, as well as a portfolio of literary festivals.

Charleston is one of just 34 attractions from the South East of England to make the Lonely Planet’s ‘Ultimate United Kingdom Travelist’.

The UK’s four constituent countries and countless small islands comprise a powerhouse of history, culture and intrigue. Now for the first time, Lonely Planet’s community of travel experts have chosen the best sights and experiences and ranked them in order of their brilliance in Lonely Planet’s ‘Ultimate United Kingdom Travelist’.

Lonely Planet’s VP of Experience, Tom Hall, said:

“Lonely Planet’s ‘Ultimate United Kingdom Travelist’ brings together the UK’s most compelling sights and experiences, ranging from world-class museums and giant cathedrals to rollicking festivals, inky lochs and tiny pubs.”

To create Lonely Planet’s ‘Ultimate United Kingdom Travelist’, the Lonely Planet team compiled every highlight from the Lonely Planet guidebooks for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Every sight, attraction and experience that had caught their writers’ attention over the years were included. Everyone in Lonely Planet’s London office, plus 20 leading figures in the country’s travel sector, were then asked to reveal their favourite spots and experiences before the voting began. Everybody in Lonely Planet’s UK community was asked to vote for their top 20 experiences. With hundreds of votes cast, Lonely Planet ended up with a score for each of the 500 experiences in the book.  



14 September 2019 – 19 January 2020

100 years after the Omega Workshops closed their doors in the heart of bohemian London, a major exhibition exploring their radical approach to modern design and living is set to open at Charleston where the Workshops’ ideals found their most convincing expression.

Established by the painter and art critic Roger Fry in 1913, the Omega Workshops were a design enterprise that employed many of the most avant-garde artists of the day. Inspired by the new, vital spirit of Post-Impressionism they created thrillingly bold, colourful and abstract items for the home that challenged the social sensibilities of Edwardian Britain. In 1913, Fry remarked to a journalist:

“it is time that the spirit of fun was introduced into furniture and into fabrics. We have suffered too long from the dull and the stupidly serious”.

Opening room of the Omega Workshops, 33 Fitzroy Square, London. © The Charleston Trust

Collage, Duncan Grant, design for a fire screen panel, 1916, mixed media and gouache on board, framed, glazed, signed and dated. © The Estate of Duncan Grant. All rights reserved. DACS 2019 and The Charleston Trust.













Post-Impressionist Living: The Omega Workshops will feature the largest display of Omega objects in more than 30 years, with around 200 works on show. The exhibition traces the Workshops’ philosophy and beginnings through to their pioneering experiments in interior design.

Drawing on loans from the V&A, The Courtauld Gallery, a number of private collectors and Charleston’s own collection, the exhibition will showcase some of the finest examples of the Workshops’ furniture, ceramics, printed fabrics and textiles, including many works on public display for the first time. Works on paper that reveal the vision and design processes of the artists who worked at the Omega Workshops will also feature.

Fry viewed art as a necessary facet of everyday life and, through the Omega Workshops, sought to remove what he saw as the false division between fine and decorative art. This experimental moment in design history sparked a change in British taste and style that still resonates today. At its height, artists working at the Workshops included Paul Nash, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Frederick and Jessie Etchells, Nina Hamnett, Henri Doucet, Edward Wadsworth and Wyndham Lewis.

Well ahead of their time, the Workshops’ expressive, colourful and bold designs pioneered many of the trends which became wildly fashionable in the fabrics and ceramics of the 1920s and 30s. Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, W.B. Yeats and E.M. Forster; as well as high society figures like Lady Ottoline Morrell and Maud Cunard were among the customers at the Workshops’ premises at 33 Fitzroy Square, London. Even Gertrude Stein paid a visit.

As the former home of the Omega Workshops’ co-directors, Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, Charleston is a fitting setting for the exhibition. The House’s playfully painted interiors, brightly decorated furniture and embroideries make it the living embodiment of a Post-Impressionist inspired home. When Bell and Grant moved to Charleston in October 1916 they brought an array of Omega items with them, and today Charleston’s collection includes the tableware the Bloomsbury group ate with and the chairs they sat on.

Dr Darren Clarke, Head of Collections, Research and Exhibitions at Charleston who has curated the exhibition said:

“Roger Fry’s vision for the Omega Workshops was to bring the Post-Impressionist aesthetic into the home. Charleston is that living ideal; a place where art and design merge and live harmoniously. Still inspiring artists and creatives today, the Omega created exciting and radical designs, looking for honesty and integrity as well as beauty and mindfulness in the items people chose for their homes”.

Spanning the Wolfson, Spotlight and South Galleries, Post-Impressionist Living: The Omega Workshops is the latest exhibition to be staged in Charleston’s new galleries which opened last September. From Cubist-style lampshade holders and rugs to Fauvist-inspired textiles, the exhibition will give visitors a taste of what it must have been like to step inside the Omega Workshops’ studios and showrooms, with a diverse range of items being made and sold.

The Omega Workshops managed to stay open throughout the First World War, eventually closing in 1919. Although short-lived, this visionary group of design disruptors had a far-reaching influence and paved the way for more expressive forms of representation in decorative art that retained the artist’s touch.

Post-Impressionist Living: The Omega Workshops

14 September 2019 – 19 January 2020

Wednesday – Sunday/Bank Holidays: 10am – 5pm.




We are honoured to have won an award in the Public and Community category of the 2019 Sussex Heritage Trust Awards for the restored Barns and new Galleries at Charleston.

The judges praised the new spaces, which opened September 2018, saying that the “beautiful restoration of traditional Sussex barns juxtaposed with contemporary new gallery spaces has greatly added to this iconic centre of the Bloomsbury Group.”

The Sussex Heritage Trust Awards are designed to highlight excellence in architecture and conservation work in Sussex, representing the highest quality new build, conservation and rejuvenation projects.

Other winners included: Gravetye Manor Hotel in West Hoathly, a large new restaurant building and basement set within the underused asymmetrical yard of the world-famous Jacobean manor house (Grade I Listed); White Horse Inn at Sutton, a project to conserve and develop an historic, listed country inn; and the Volk’s Electric Railway, Aquarium Station and Visitor Centre in Brighton.

For a full list of Award winners and Highly Commended projects, go to


Chanya Button explains why Orlando is important to her and an inspiration behind the bold retelling of her new film, Vita & Virginia. To coincide with the film’s release, Charleston and the Depot in Lewes are holding a Q&A session with Chanya and Charleston’s Reader in Residence, Holly Dawson, following the film’s 17:30 screening on Friday 5 July. Tickets available here.

Before I loved Virginia Woolf, I was transported by Greek mythology. Aged 7, I precociously interrupted a tour guide during a school trip to the National Gallery, to share with my bewildered classmates, my (strong) views on the narrative behind Titian’s portrait of Bacchus and Ariadne. Unsurprisingly, the incident did not do much to improve my chances of survival on the unforgiving social battlefield of the under 10s. However, the embryonic feminist fury I felt, aged 7, at Ariadne’s powerlessness – deserted by her lover on a remote island, with her only hope of rescue offered by the grace of a nubile male god – did crystallise something for me about the explosive potential of history, and myth. In turn, this shored up my conviction that Virginia Woolf is the nimblest of assassins. Orlando both honours history, and disrupts it; as it too honours and disrupts its subject, Vita Sackville-West. Re-appropriating the terms of ancient social contracts as tools of satire, Woolf empowers artists who march behind her to use the bonds that confine them as weapons to fight back. It is Woolf herself, in that sense, who offered me the tools with which we made Vita & Virginia. Tools with which we both honoured her history, and challenged perceptions of her. In the pages of Orlando the details of history become arrows, shot from Woolf’s bow at the contemporary reader, to provoke, and to challenge injustice. Woolf simultaneously surgically re-orders a conventional approach to biography, and crystallises Vita Sackville-West’s deepest truths, without ever writing a word about her. We too, attempted to re-order an approach to the bio-pic, empowered by Woolf’s own expressionistic approach. On one of my first trips to Knole, Vita Sackville-West’s family home, I noted a photo of Vita as a child with a warm conspiratorial glow. Pictured in the gardens of a house she will never inherit, this mournful but vivid child somehow summons a glower that embodies centuries of exhausted disapproval. This is the look I remember wearing as I stared, with impotent solidarity, towards a naked, stranded Ariadne. Perhaps Virginia Woolf saw this photo too, and perhaps it planted a seed of empathy for the young Vita, whose sex alone constituted the reason she could not inherit her ancestral home. A novel in which Woolf captures the essence of a woman who beguiled and intoxicated her, whilst taking an exacting blade to the boundaries between gender and power, using humour to denounce them as arbitrary. By way of Ariadne, Vita Sackville-West and my 7 year old self – standing in the National Gallery bewildered by centuries of female disempowerment – we arrive at Orlando. In Orlando Woolf offers us a potent fuel; a fuel we burned brightly in the making of Vita & Virginia.

Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf at Monk’s House, August 1933.

Orlando makes a case for Woolf as one of literature’s inaugural punks. With its time-travelling gender-fluid protagonist, Woolf’s novel boldly projects into a future where science fiction would take shape. Woolf’s Orlando and David Bowie’s androgynous alter-ego Ziggy Stardust share more  with each other than Virginia’s hero, who turns into a heroine, does with other protagonists thrust into the literary landscape of 1928. Despite its telescopic focus on the future, I believe it is no mistake that the 16th Century is where Woolf’s novel explodes into life. It is an era rabid with fascination around the rebellious poetry of myth; a language with which Woolf’s readers would have been familiar. Orlando begins with a languid, androgynous Elizabethan courtier whose simultaneous exhaustion with, and thirst for, a life outside the bounds of his own experience catapult him through time — setting him on a collision course with the contemporary reader – one in which our protagonist lands as a bold, Edwardian woman. One wonders what grammatical gymnastics Woolf could have performed if she had been here for the pro-noun revolution; would Orlando have been he, she or they? Perhaps Orlando would have revelled in performing and exploring all three? One wonders the same about Vita Sackville-West, whose relationship with Woolf signals the deep roots of her androgyny. Were Vita able to shake off the shackles of the aristocracy, would she have been empowered to take up arms against the confines of male and female, in moving between pronouns herself?

Orlando is rooted in the past, hurtling with adrenalised forward motion into the future. A future which holds the potential to free the woman who inspired it, from the confines her gender and class constructed around her. Like Orpheus who, as he led his lover Eurydice out of the underworld, kept his eyes locked forward lest he look back and lose his love forever, Woolf moves unflinchingly forward, leading Vita out of the darkness towards an imaginative plane where she can live and love in whichever way she pleases. What a contemporary audience has most to gain from Orlando is in plugging in to this powerful forward motion, and celebration of boundary defying androgyny. That’s why I am utterly convinced of its value as a work that remains vividly resonant, and relevant today. It is progressive in form, in theme, and in process. It honours the conventions it simultaneously disrupts. Virginia could have written a biography of Vita, but she didn’t. She was surrounded by biographers; her Father Leslie Stephen was the first Editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, and Woolf admired her close friend Lytton Strachey’s developed theory of biography across his works, including Eminent Victorians. Rather than engage with the genre on pre-established terms, she chose to eschew its focus on the facts and fragments that make up the things that happen to a person, and instead chose to try and distill Vita’s deepest truths. It is therefore Virginia the literary rebel, who shares traits with all great rebels – an eye trained on the future; the future of form as well as content. What Virginia saw in Vita was “the strength of a man, and a woman’s grace”. She saw a woman with the softness and empathy we associate with femininity, with the sexual appetites we more traditionally associate with masculinity. To use contemporary terms, Woolf’s understanding of gender fluidity and creative eye staring unblinkingly ahead, mean that as an artist I would argue she has more in common with David Bowie, than she does with Charles Dickens. Dickens wore history like a cape around his shoulders, using its detail to embroider and enrich his narratives – embedding them even further into the moment in which he lived and wrote. Woolf uses history and convention as rocket fuel to blast her up and out of the time into which she was born. She is always looking forward; in theme, in form, in process. Bowie and Woolf also seem to share an understanding of their intuitive approach to writing. Perhaps Bowie shared Woolf’s view that “once the mind gets hot it can’t stop”; saying in an interview in 2002 – of his songwriting – “it’s an odd feeling, like something else is guiding you ”. Woolf answers; “how extraordinarily unwilled by me but potent in its own right, by the way, Orlando was! As if it shoved everything aside to come into existence”. Indeed, Woolf also commended that To The Lighthouse was written in “a great, apparently involuntary, rush. One things burst into another”.

In writing Orlando, Woolf purged herself of an experience that threatened to overwhelm her. Vita’s relentless pursuit of Virginia, one which resolved in Virginia giving herself to Vita emotionally and sexually, came to its conclusion when Vita’s attentions fell on another – Mary Campbell. Whilst everyone around Virginia was braced for Woolf to disintegrate in response to Vita’s betrayal, Woolf performed a rescue on herself. Her profound genius arrived to rescue her, as she used her pen to exorcise the intoxicating intensities of her relationship with Vita. In the end, this allowed Virginia to understand with the greatest empathy Vita’s deepest truths, and allowed their relationship to last for the rest of Woolf’s life. Vita wrote in 1927;

“I have come to the conclusion that solitude is the last refuge of civilized people. It is much more civilized than social intercourse, really, although at first sight the reverse might appear to be the case. Social relations are just the descendants of the primitive tribal need to get together for purposes of defence; a gathering of bushmen or pygmies is the real ancestor of a Teheran Dinner Party; when the wheel comes full cycle, and your truly civilized person wants to get away back to loneliness. If all my life went smash, and I lost everybody, I should come an live in Persia, miles away from everywhere, and see nobody except the natives”.

Gemma Arteton and Elizabeth Debicki in Vita & Virginia.

Understanding Vita as the child who grew up alone at Knole, betrayed by the confines of her sex, allowed Virginia to empathise with Vita’s need to forever isolate herself. Perhaps it also offered an explanation for why Vita pulled away from Virginia. This was not the first time Woolf used her craft as a form of psychological digestif. In A Sketch of the Past, Woolf speaks about the process of writing To The Lighthouse, as an intuitive means of grieving for and purging herself of the spirit of her Mother; “I suppose I did for myself what psycho-analysts do for their patients. I expressed some very long felt and deeply felt emotion. And in expressing it I explained it and then laid it to rest”. I would argue that the way in which Woolf engaged her craft is also representative of a revolutionary attitude towards managing mental health, one that she and her husband Leonard shared. Together they constructed a routine within which Woolf could live and work, in defiance of her emotional and psychological challenges. I think it is no co-incidence that the Hogarth Press were the first to publish Freud’s work in the English language; their understanding of mental health was detailed, and incredibly progressive in some ways. The very existence of Orlando is proof that Virginia is a survivor of profound emotional and psychological challenges. She used her genius to survive, for as long as she possibly could. She is not someone who succumbed without a fight. She was not someone who was conventionally fragile.

Woolf did all of this whilst retaining an essential unknowability herself. Two of the portraits Vanessa Bell painted of her sister were faceless, speaking to Woolf’s a deep ineffability. Stephen Finer’s 1994 portrait of David Bowie shares that quality too: a faceless figure, alive in technicolour oils, more texture than likeness. Both Woolf and Bowie seem to be pointing their successor towards capturing a deeper kind of truth, one she searches for in Orlando:

“The trumpeters, ranging themselves side by side in order, blow one terrific blast: — ‘THE TRUTH! at which Orlando woke. He stretched himself. He rose. He stood upright in complete
nakedness before us, and while the trumpets pealed Truth! Truth! Truth! we have no choice left but confess — he was a woman”.

The facts of Virginia Woolf’s life have been forensically documented. In making Vita & Virginia, an expressionistic exploration of the story behind Orlando, I have come to feel that a shred of a diary entry, a flying fragment of a letter alone – cannot allow us access to Virginia Woolf’s essential truth. That is a deeper pursuit, and in Orlando, Virginia perhaps gives us a code for how to perceive that truth. It is in looking under the surface, and keeping our eyes trained on the future.


We were honoured to receive a visit from our Patron, The Duchess of Cornwall today (Thursday 16 May) who officially opened our restored barns and new galleries following the completion of the Charleston Centenary Project and iewed Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s Famous Women Dinner Service which has returned to Charleston following our ‘adopt a plate’ campaign. The visit took place on the eve of the 30th Charleston Festival – an annual celebration of books, ideas and creativity.  The Duchess met Diana Reich, the Festival’s founder and Artistic Director with 2019 marking Diana’s last Festival.

The Duchess of Cornwall has been Patron of the Charleston Trust since 2013 and hosted a tea for the supporters of the Charleston Centenary Project in March 2017. The Charleston Centenary Project was launched to safeguard Charleston’s heritage, and marked the centenary of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s arrival at Charleston. On 8 September 2018, Charleston opened its doors to a new exhibition, events space and café/restaurant. This 570m2 development has enabled Charleston to present exhibitions for the first time and to open all-year-round. The exhibition space is housed in a new building, while the events space and café/restaurant is situated in two 18th-century farm buildings which have been restored.

Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s Famous Women Dinner Service is a unique set of 50 plates depicting famous women throughout history, from Cleopatra to Mary Queen of Scots, Jane Austen, Greta Garbo and Elizabeth I. There are 50 plates in the set, with the final two depicting Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, the only man in the series. The Dinner Service was commissioned by Kenneth Clark in 1932 and was made by Bell and Grant during their time at Charleston. After this the plates disappeared from public view and their whereabouts were unknown until recently.

One of the plates has been adopted in The Duchess’s honour.  The plate depicts Jane Austen.  The plates were purchased by The Charleston Trust with generous grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and Art Fund; as well as donations from a circle of remarkable women.

The Famous Women Dinner Service will be on public display in Charleston’s Outer Studio from June 2019.



Charleston Festival takes place annually in the gardens of Charleston, the rural Sussex home of the Bloomsbury group, and draws inspiration from the radical artistic and intellectual legacy of its past visitors including Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes and Roger Fry as well as its inhabitants Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

This year Charleston Festival celebrates its landmark 30th anniversary with a line-up of exceptional speakers. Running from 17-27 May, the festival of books, ideas and creativity will explore themes from feminism and identity to international politics and Brexit, political art to scientific progress:

  • Gina Miller on lessons learnt from standing up for justice and for herself
  • The Challenge of Climate Justice, a lecture by Mary Robinson, recipient of the 2019 Charleston John Maynard Keynes Prize
  • Caroline Criado Perez and Cathy Newman on gender gaps in data and in history
  • Naomi Wolf discusses her new book Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalisation of Love
  • Director of BBC News Kamal Ahmed on prejudice and growing up in ’70s Britain
  • The Godfather of pop art Peter Blake
  • And appearances by: Vanessa Redgrave, Eileen Atkins, Alan Bennett, Melvyn Bragg, Simon Callow, Lionel Shriver, Andrew Motion, Tina Brown, Michael Palin, Bonnie Greer, Jeanette Winterson, Bettany Hughes, Martin Rees and Costa Book of the Year award winner Bart van Es.

Nathaniel Hepburn, Director and Chief Executive of Charleston said: “The original inhabitants of Charleston – painters, writers and thinkers – met around the dining room table to discuss and interrogate art, literature, ideas and contemporary society. These conversations, stimulated by 30 years of thought provoking Festival events, have continued to resonate in Charleston’s packed events marquee and beautiful walled garden.”

Campaigner and businesswoman Gina Miller will kick-off the 11-day event. She came to prominence by successfully challenging the UK government’s attempt to trigger Article 50, and will discuss the consequences of standing up for justice and whether her campaign can inspire those trying to make a difference in other contexts.

Former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, has been announced as the winner of the fifth Charleston John Maynard Keynes Prize. In the spirit of John Maynard Keynes’ work, life and legacy, this global prize recognises Robinson’s outstanding contribution to society. Mary Robinson said:

“I am delighted to have been awarded a Prize which pays tribute to John Maynard Keynes.  In 2019 we are marking the 100th anniversary of the Paris Peace Conference at Versailles post World War One. Keynes played a crucial role in warning that punitive reparations would lead to disaster rather than justice. His humanitarian advice was rejected and World War Two followed.  We are at a similar turning point today. We need the nations of the world to come together to take necessary action to avert the global catastrophe of climate change. We need to show the same spirit of solidarity that John Maynard Keynes displayed in his time.”

Diana Reich, Artistic Director of the Charleston Festival said: “This 30th anniversary Festival is a culmination of the values that have threaded through the Charleston Festival programme since its inception: openness, originality and interrogation. We are particularly delighted to announce that the Charleston John Maynard Keynes Prize will be awarded to Mary Robinson for highlighting the danger of climate change in the developing world.” 

Also, marking the 100th anniversary of the Paris Peace Conference and the 75th anniversary of the Bretton Woods conference, historian Margaret MacMillan, who gave the 2018 Reith Lectures, will deliver a specially commissioned talk: Learning from the Past?

As Charleston was the home of artists, the Festival has sessions devoted to art, ranging from Leonardo da Vinci and the Pre-Raphaelites to graphic art and the Surrealists. Painter, sculptor, draughtsman and printmaker, Peter Blake, will whisk us back to the heady days of ’60s pop art and Maria Balshaw, director of Tate, will lead a discussion with sculptor Hazel Reeves on popular culture and protest.

Reflecting the Bloomsbury Group’s legacy of progressive gender politics, the Festival looks at the achievements of remarkable women past and present. Feminist activist Caroline Criado Perez will discuss her new book, Invisible Women, a powerful and eye-opening analysis of the gender politics of knowledge, and Helena Kennedy will address discrimination in the legal system. Cathy Newman explores the pioneering woman left out of the history books, and Tina Brown one of journalism’s legendary figures will discuss The Vanity Fair Diaries, an irreverent account of her years as editor-in-chief of one of the world’s best-known glossies.

Naomi Wolf, the bestselling author of The Beauty Myth and Vagina, illuminates the dramatic consequences of the Obscene Publications Act 1857. Her Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalisation of Love reveals how this single English law had long lasting reverberations, including the creation of the modern concept of ‘obscenity’ and the consolidation of homophobia.

Editorial Director of BBC News Kamal Ahmed will talk about his memoir, The Life and Times of a Very British Man, describing what it was like to grow up as part of the first generation of mixed-race children in 1970s Britain in the wake of Enoch Powell’s incendiary 1968 “rivers of blood” speech – a candid contribution to the ongoing conversation about race and identity in the UK.

Newsnight’s Mark Urban, who interviewed Sergei Skripal at his home in Salisbury just prior to the near-fatal poisoning which dominated news headlines, will recount the gripping, topical story of the double agent’s career as a spy in Russian military intelligence, his recruitment by MI6, imprisonment in his homeland and eventual release to the UK.

Some familiar faces will be back to celebrate 30 years of the Festival. Distinguished actor, author and director, Simon Callow introduces and presents a dramatic reading of Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading GaolMelvyn Bragg re-imagines the legendary romance between Héloïse and Abelard – one of history’s most passionate true love stories. Alan Bennett provides an irresistible mixture of readings from his plays and prose. In an exceptional double act, two of our most renowned theatrical actors Eileen Atkins and Vanessa Redgrave perform the parts of Vita and Virginia, a play they starred in on Broadway in 1994. Closing the Festival will be author and intrepid traveller Michael Palin.


Climate justice champion Mary Robinson has today been announced as the winner of the fifth Charleston John Maynard Keynes Prize.

Robinson is the first women to be honoured with the prize, given in the spirit of John Maynard Keynes’ work, life and legacy. This global prize recognises an outstanding individual contribution to society. Each winner exemplifies one or more of Keynes’ great achievements: an outstanding gift used in the service of humanity, original thinking to solve global challenges, talent for communicating complex ideas and an ability to bridge the divide between the arts and social sciences. Previous winners were Sir David Attenborough, Professor Stephen Hawking, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen.

Mary Robinson is the president of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, and has previously served as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Change. She is the former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In 2018, Robinson released the book Climate Justice, highlighting the work of her foundation which promotes the urgent need for innovation, global solidarity and empathy in the turbulent and troubling times in which we find ourselves. Through Climate Justice Robinson explores the profound injustice of climate change – that the vulnerable in our society will suffer most, those who are marginalised, poor, women and indigenous communities. Robinson is fighting for nations to address the imbalance and ensure that we leave a safer and fairer world to future generations.

On receiving the prize Mary Robinson said: ‘I am delighted to have been awarded a Prize which pays tribute to John Maynard Keynes.  In 2019 we are marking the 100th anniversary of the Paris Peace Conference at Versailles post world war one.  Keynes played a crucial role in warning that punitive reparations would lead to disaster rather than justice. His humanitarian advice was rejected and the second world war followed. We are at a similar turning point today. We need the nations of the world to come together to take necessary action to avert the global catastrophe of climate change. We need to show the same spirit of solidarity that John Maynard Keynes displayed in his time.’

Robinson will give the annual John Maynard Keynes Lecture at the Charleston Festival on Friday 24 May. The full programme for the 2019 Festival is now available at: Other luminaries in the Festival programme include Gina Miller, Kamal Ahmed, Peter Blake, Simon Callow, Tina Brown, Martin Rees, Maria Balshaw, Naomi Wolf, Alan Bennett and many more.

Dame Liz Forgan, chair of the Charleston John Maynard Keynes Prize advisory panel, said: If globalisation has many downsides it has one rare but wonderful consequence:  it calls up exceptional individuals with the vision and moral courage to match its challenges. Mary Robinson is one of those individuals whose work for human rights has been a force for good on a global scale in her native Ireland, the UN, Africa and the parts of the world suffering worst from the effects of climate change.

The advisory panel comprises Dame Liz Forgan, former Chair of the Scott Trust and of Arts Council England; Professor Simon Keynes, great-nephew of John Maynard Keynes; Anne Morrison, until recently Chair of BAFTA; currently Chair of BAFTA’s International Committee, board member of Women in Film and Television and a Trustee of The Charleston Trust, Professor Michael Proctor, Provost of King’s College, Cambridge and Lord Robert Skidelsky, Emeritus Professor of Political Economy, politician and award-winning biographer of Keynes.

Keynes wrote The Economic Consequences of the Peace while staying at Charleston and subsequently moved to Tilton, just a stroll across a field away. Keynes embodies the radical and interdisciplinary nature of the Charleston milieu. His The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was recently voted the most influential academic book that has shaped our times.

‘Questions of Ultimate Concern’ by Layla AlAmmar

About the author

Layla AlAmmar grew up in Kuwait. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh. Her debut novel The Pact We Made will be published in March 2019 by the Borough Press and her short stories have appeared in the Evening Standard, Quail Bell Magazine, and Aesthetica Magazine where her story ‘The Lagoon’ was a finalist for the Creative Writing Award 2015. She currently works as an English Instructor at a private college in Kuwait.

She was Charleston’s 2018 Small Wonder festival writer in residence, wanting to show how a new generation of Arab-Anglophone writers are working to claim their own voice, their own ‘space’, and to bring their experiences and truths to a western audience.


In my debut novel, The Pact We Made, the main character, Dahlia, is saddled with a demon, a malevolent creature of Arabian folklore. He comes in the night—a weight on your chest, a vise on your lungs, a pressure on your heart. Hooking sharp talons between your ribs, he squeezes you like an accordion. He is a profound terror, a black hole, a certainty of impending death. Science calls the experience Sleep Paralysis, but we in the Arab world know him as the yathoom.

Dahlia suffers from one, as I have off and on for years. And like others in such situations, she thinks she’s alone in her suffering until one day standing in a museum she comes face to face with Henri Fuseli’s The Nightmare. Here, Dahlia, for the first time, comes to a realization one would hope all people would come to, which is that we are all connected. In the book, she feels…

“… for the first time, the unbroken thread of history. For the first time, I felt like I was more than a collection of matter floating in empty space. I felt part of something larger, my experiences no longer my own, but shared with others. I remember staring at it for hours: the woman stretched out on her back, in that position which the yathoom finds so inviting; the wide-eyed incubus, that demon, mounted on her ribs; her hand droops, lifeless, to the floor. He’s killing her. Every night, he kills her.”

It was a case of Creative Writing 101, a case of write what you know. Not much in the novel, despite what people will think, is drawn from my own life, but how Dahlia’s anxiety manifests itself does have some correlation with my experiences. I put her in a museum, but my own moment of realization was much more mundane. I’d gone down a Wikipedia rabbit-hole of art one day—I often find myself going down internet rabbit-holes—and came across Fuseli’s work. Seeing The Nightmare, I was thrown into an uneasy quiet. Here was this Anglo-Swiss, an ordained priest, from the late 18th century (which is about as far away as one could get from my reality as a half Arab/half American woman living in modern-day Kuwait), and he’d managed to capture, in one image, what I had felt on more nights than I can remember. The uncaring weight on the chest, the featureless eyes in the dark, the draping of oneself at the wrong end of the bed (in what can be nothing but an effort to confound the demon), it was all there. It was a message from 1781, one that had traveled 237 years to tell me I wasn’t alone.

I came to Charleston looking for connections.

It’s what writers (artists, in general) do, search out those elements that bind us to one another. We look for ways into a new perspective, a crack to wedge ourselves into, something to break apart and put back together. That’s what life is, after all, a breaking apart and putting back together of things—careers, relationships, selves. Our concerns center around such inquiries as: How did we come to be? Why are we here? How are we meant to be with each other? What is it all for?

We bear witness to what it means to be human. We are observers first: of people and places, of cultures and rituals, of days and nights and minutes and hours. We see the woman on the bus contemplating the non-identity of motherhood or the lovers kissing noisily in their seats. We hear the drunken men laughing at their own stupid jokes outside the pub. We sit with the old woman on the bench while she spins out the story of her life like yarn on a loom. We learn the enduring sadness and ecstatic highs of what it means to be human.

We also learn what it means to be inhuman.

Six-year-olds shot in their classrooms. Jailed writers and murdered journalists. Men locking up girls in sheds for untold years. The legislation of identities and bodies. The desperate turned back at borders, arrested at borders, shot at and spat on at borders. Children in cages. Black people shot for the crime of being black. Animals hunted as though we had a surplus of them. Proxy wars where the number of dead has crossed a threshold after which the mind can no longer conceive of them as real people.
To quote Libyan poet, Khaled Mattawa, from Fifty April Years, it is,

as if the world had stopped calling,
as if we had emerged
from the whirlpool of its demands
with a wild mixture of cowardice
and courage to say unto others
“I wish you did not exist.”

We are a mystery to ourselves.

Humans spend their lives delineating themselves and the world around them, forging identities and religions and nations, constructing imaginary borders, building and tearing down walls—where do you end and I begin?—as though the world were nothing more than a set of neatly-labeled pigeonholes for us to slot ourselves into.

The world is a frightening place. Smaller now, and perhaps all the more frightening for it. The internet, social media, ease of travel, they’ve all made it so that it feels as though we are occupying a tighter and tighter area on this little rock hurtling through space. Yes, it’s great that I can find some obscure artist in Brazil at the click of a few keys, and I can stream a Beck concert as it’s happening, and I can follow my favorite writers and see what they’re thinking every day. But it also sometimes feels as though we’re trapped in this tiny room with screens on every wall screaming the world’s tragedies at us all the time. We become desensitized to it, feel powerless against it, scroll past it to the next story.

I channel it into fiction. Frustrated by the limitations and hypocrisies of my society, I attempted to work through them in The Pact We Made. Heartbroken by the war in Syria, disgusted by the rise of Islamophobic/xenophobic rhetoric, and horrified by the refugee crisis, these elements form the central axis around which the second book I wrote pivots. In fiction I can find some resolution to seemingly insurmountable problems. I can address issues no longer (or never) spoken of.

It’s the purview of fiction, to hold a mirror up to society, to the world, showing its failures and realities. It provides the means to view all the fragmented intricacies of life from a multitude of angles. It creates in the mind the capacity to hold opposing thoughts while retaining, as Fitzgerald said, the ability to function. It is, in short, a conduit of, and for, empathy.

I came to Charleston looking for an eradication.

Home and haunt of key members of the Bloomsbury set, Duncan Grant, Clive and Vanessa Bell (sister of Virginia Woolf) settled here to escape society and the war. I came for an escape of my own, to walk their gardens, breathe their air, and see the world through their windows. This is where they lived and loved and wrote and painted and threw themselves into as many shapes as they could conceive of—all of it done without malice, without judgment, without fear.

What I found was a place distinctly unbordered, a place with no lines in the sand, a place unstuck in time and space—where Orlando, ninety-years-old now, still gamboled across the downs like some Shakespearean sprite, where Zanele Muholi’s series of Faces and Phases of black LGBTQIA+ lives in South Africa could sit comfortably beside Bell and Grant’s 1932 collection of dinner plates depicting notable women, from the Queen of Sheba to Emily Brontë. Here, Sylvia Plath could, for one night, return from the dead to let a hushed audience in on an unhappy marriage. It is a place for writers, artists, poets, and great minds to sit around a kitchen table discussing narrative and publishing and censorship and the frustrations of academia, and where I, a Kuwaiti author, could trudge across yellowed fields (with only a map to guide me) to a tiny village where the largest concern revolves around a newly-installed and deeply unpopular traffic light.

It’s a place of magic, whose ethos I wish I could bottle and export.

In lieu of that we could construct little Charlestons of the mind. Little rooms of our own where we approach the world through lenses of plurality, tolerance, and humanity. In Kuwait, already, there are pockets of Charleston, private spaces where there is freedom to be and think. But I’m reminded always that it’s not enough. It’s not enough until the 4,500-plus books that have been banned in Kuwait in the last five years are unbanned. It’s not enough until everyone, regardless of gender or sexuality or religious affiliation, enjoys civil liberties. It’s not enough until we can say what we want without the prickle of fear that maybe we’ve crossed a line we never knew existed. We have a moral obligation to fight suppression, to resist assaults on our intellectual freedom, to live and breathe our principles so as not to be dragged into battles that have already been fought.

I carry Charleston with me. It’s a part of me now—a dream, a comfort, an answer.


Virginia Nicholson announced as President of The Charleston Trust

Virginia Nicholson has today been announced as President of The Charleston Trust.

Virginia Nicholson is the granddaughter of Vanessa Bell and elder daughter of Quentin Bell and former Charleston President, the late Anne Olivier Bell. Virginia spent her childhood holidays at Charleston, and for a number of years has been a trustee of the House. She is also the author of a series of acclaimed social histories and in September 2018 a new edition of her first book, Charleston: A Bloomsbury House and Garden, (1997, co-authored with her father) will be released.

Virginia Nicholson, President of The Charleston Trust said: “I’ve known and loved Charleston all my life, and my most treasured memories go back to my childhood holidays spent here with Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. With Charleston entering the most exciting phase of its history, I can’t think of a more rewarding time to be stepping into the role of President. It’s an honour to succeed my dear mother, and I’m grateful to the trustees for their faith in offering me the Presidency of the Trust.”









The announcement of Virginia’s presidency coincides with the 8 September launch of Charleston’s new exhibition space, events space and restaurant. The 570m2 new development will see Charleston open all-year-round and enable it to present major exhibitions for the first time, as well as talks, performances and its existing programme of literary festivals and events.

Michael Farthing, Chair of The Charleston Trust said: “I and the other Charleston Trustees are delighted that Virginia has responded with such enthusiasm to our invitation to follow her mother, Olivier, as our President. Her background, knowledge and incredible drive to continue Charleston’s development make her a perfect fit for the role. The next few years will bring exciting times to Charleston and we all look forward to working together as a team to maximise its potential.”


This autumn Charleston will launch its first exhibition space, as well as an events space and new restaurant. This 570m2 new development will enable Charleston to present exhibitions for the first time and see it open all-year-round. The exhibition space will be housed in a new building designed by Jamie Fobert Architects, while the events space and restaurant will be situated in two 18th-century farm buildings, restored and redeveloped by Julian Harrap Architects.

The development will launch on 8 September 2018 with the inaugural exhibition ‘Orlando at the present time’, which will present a contemporary response to Virginia Woolf’s renowned novel Orlando: A Biography. The exhibition will be accompanied by two additional displays, ‘Zanele Muholi: Faces and Phases’ and the first museum showing of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s Famous Women Dinner Service.

The building of the new exhibition space and the restoration of the barns have been made possible thanks to £2.44 million of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) – thanks to National Lottery players, £650,000 from Coast to Capital LEP, £250,000 from Arts Council England and major grants from the Wolfson Foundation, Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement, the Monument Trust, the Foyle Foundation and The Ashley Family Foundation, as well as a group of generous individuals.

The Sussex home of artists Vanessa Bell (1879–1961) and Duncan Grant (1885–1978), Charleston farmhouse is the only completely preserved Bloomsbury interior in the world and is considered one of the Bloomsbury group’s finest works of art. Since opening to the public in 1986, its delicate painted interiors and eclectic collection of furniture, textiles, books and ceramics have been enjoyed by over half a million visitors.

The ideas and radicalism of the artists, writers and intellectuals of the Bloomsbury group will be at the heart of Charleston’s new programme, which will interrogate the contemporary relevance of those who lived and worked at Charleston over 100 years ago. Through a mix of contemporary and historic exhibitions, new programming will explore their experimental and international creativity, which pioneered controversial ways of living and of making art. The scope of the group’s specialities, encompassing novelist Virginia Woolf, biographer Lytton Strachey and economist John Maynard Keynes, will allow for a naturally broad range of themes including gender and sexual politics, pacifism and internationalism, interior design and fashion.

The opening exhibition will bring together contemporary artistic responses to Virginia Woolf’s landmark novel Orlando: A Biography and will mark 90 years since its original publication. Works by artists including Kaye Donachie, Paul Kindersley, Delaine La Bas and Matt Smith will be shown alongside rarely seen letters, photographs and objects pertaining to the original publication of the novel. Orlando’s innovative use of a protagonist who appears to change gender has made it an important reference point for those interested in gender and feminist theory and its re-examination at Charleston this autumn will connect both with the Bloomsbury group’s queer history and the ever-increasing interest in discussions about gender.

‘Orlando at the present time’ will be accompanied by two further displays. ‘Zanele Muholi: Faces and Phases’ will present a selection of black-and-white photographic portraits from the artist’s well known series documenting black lesbian and transgender individuals from South Africa and beyond. The works on show in this iteration of the series have been specially selected by the artist in response to ‘Orlando at the present time’, in which two of Muholi’s works from the series will also appear.

Also on display will be the first museum showing of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s Famous Women Dinner Service. This unique set of 50 plates depicts famous women throughout history, from Cleopatra to Mary Queen of Scots, Jane Austen, Greta Garbo and others. The dinner service was commissioned by Kenneth Clark in 1932 and was made by Bell and Grant during their time at Charleston. The plates will be shown alongisde a number of prototypes and drawings from Charleston’s collection.

The new building by Jamie Fobert Architects has been constructed in cross-laminated timber, making reference to the wooden structure of Charleston’s historic barns yet employing modern fabrication techniques. The building will house a suite of galleries and a retail space. The three cubic galleries echo the proportions of the main living spaces of Charleston farmhouse, communicating a sense of balance and familiarity between the old and the new.

Using traditional techniques, Julian Harrap Architects has restored two adjoining 18th-century farm buildings which were substantially damaged by fire in the 1980s. The Hay Barn will become a flexible events space, which will enable Charleston to present talks and performances, as well as its existing programme of literary festivals and events. The other, the Threshing Barn, will house a new restaurant of that name.

New contemporary farmyard courtyards, allowing visitors to Charleston and the South Downs National Park the opportunity to eat al fresco, have been designed by Tom Stuart-Smith Ltd, who will also oversee the landscape construction over the coming months.

Nathaniel Hepburn, Director and Chief Executive of the Charleston Trust said:

“These new facilities will make Charleston into a public centre for thinking, making, writing and working. Much like the artists who lived here, our programme will be radical, unconventional and international.”

Further information on the opening exhibitions

Orlando at the present time Wolfson Gallery 8 September 2018 – 6 January 2019

Orlando: A Biography is considered one of the most progressive and formally inventive works of fiction of the 20th century. A satirical biography, it describes the adventures of a fictional poet named Orlando whose fantastical travels span four centuries, from the Renaissance to the 1920s. Inspired in part by Woolf’s close friend and lover Vita Sackville-West, who was gender non-conforming, Orlando sees its protagonist change gender from man to woman halfway through the narrative. The novel’s resultant exploration of identity and gender – and its implicit challenge to rigid identity binaries – has made it a crucial reference point in gender theory, from its publication to the present day. First published in 1928, this year marks 90 years of Orlando’s influence.

‘Orlando at the present time’ will explore Virginia Woolf’s problematisation of gender, as well as the continued contemporary relevance of the gender issues raised by the novel and its other themes, such as colonialism and exoticism. New works of visual art responding directly to the text have been commissioned from Paul Kindersley and Delaine La Bas, whilst other works offering thought-provoking reflections on the novel’s concerns will also be on display, by Kaye Donachie, Matt Smith and Zanele Muholi.

Unusually for a novel of this period, Orlando incorporates a series of illustrations and a number of the new commissions respond directly to them. Also on display will be photographs by Annie Leibovitz taken at Monk’s House, Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s country retreat, and Sissinghurst, the home of Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson.

The exhibition will also examine the history of the novel itself, its controversial reception and its relation to Virginia Woolf’s own life. Nigel Nicolson, son of Vita Sackville-West, called it the ‘longest and most charming love letter in literature’, whilst Vita Sackville-West’s mother attempted to besmirch Orlando in order to quell rumours of an affair between her daughter and Virginia Woolf.

Zanele Muholi: Faces and Phases South Gallery 8 September 2018 – 6 January 2019

‘Faces and Phases’ (2006– ) is an ongoing series of black-and-white photographic portraits by Zanele Muholi, commemorating and celebrating black lesbian and transgender experience. Muholi embarked on this project in 2006, taking portraits of women from the townships of South Africa. In 2008, after the xenophobic and homophobic attacks that led to the mass displacement of people in that country, Muholi decided to expand the series to include photographs of individuals from different countries. Collectively, the portraits can be seen as an act of visual activism.

Describing the project, Muholi has said that ‘Faces and Phases’ is an “insider’s perspective that both commemorates and celebrates the lives of the black queers I have met in my journeys. I set out to establish relationships with them based on a mutual understanding of what it means to be a black member of the LGBTQIA+ community today.”

The Famous Women Dinner Service Spotlight Gallery On display until summer 2019

Charleston will host the first museum display of Vanessa Bell and Duncant Grant’s Famous Women Dinner Service since it was created for Kenneth Clarke in 1932. After this the plates disappeared from public view and their whereabouts was unknown until very recently. The plates were created by Bell and Grant when they lived at Charleston and each plate depicts one famous woman, featuring figures as various as the Queen of Sheba, Sappho, Nell Gwyn, Emily Brontë and Elizabeth I. There are 50 plates in the set, with the final two depicting Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, the only man in the series.


The line-up for the 15th Small Wonder Festival, the UK’s only festival dedicated to short stories, is announced today. Running from 28 – 30 September in the bucolic landscape of Charleston in Sussex, the festival features a mix of home-grown and international authors, poets and artists. Small Wonder is a part of Charleston’s burgeoning programme of exhibitions, events and festivals. The ideas and radicalism of the artists, writers and intellectuals of the Bloomsbury group will be at the heart of Charleston’s new line-up, which will interrogate the contemporary relevance of those who lived and worked at Charleston over 100 years ago.

This year’s Small Wonder hinges on the idea of transformation. Reflecting this theme, the Festival will be housed in Charleston’s newly restored 18th century Hay Barn, opposite a brand new suite of galleries. Highlights include recent works which resonate with dualities and transitions by short story writers Sarah Hall, Eley Williams and Lucy Wood, plus playwright, director and author Neil Bartlett.

In the year we celebrate the 90th anniversary of the publication of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A biography, writer Olivia Laing (author of Crudo) and performance artist La JohnJoseph will read Laing’s Small Wonder commissioned composition, The Something-Nothings, a passionate dialogue with Woolf’s seductive, shape-shifting text. This will be followed by a conversation, together with artist Sarah Wood, about how the gender-defiant novel still crackles with radical possibilities nearly a century on.

Charleston is giving audiences a sneak peek of The Something-Nothings. From 8 – 23 September Olivia Laing and Sarah Wood’s collaborative installation ‘An Artist’s Bed’ will be on display in the Hay Barn. The installation, based on Duncan Grant’s bed in the farmhouse, encourages immersive interaction. Visitors can lie back and enjoy whisperings of The Something-Nothings recited by poets and performers. Above them, projected from the ceiling will be a film created by Sarah Wood.

Olivia Laing

Seventy years since the arrival of Empire Windrush, author and historian of Caribbean Studies Colin Grant presents a session looking at writing from the perspective of migration. Grant is joined by poets Daljit Nagra and Kate Clanchy. On Saturday, Booker Prize winning novelist Ben Okri explores the power of poetry as a vehicle of protest and will read from and discuss the impact of his compilation ‘Rise Like Lions: Poetry for the Many’

Ben Okri Small Wonder 2018

Ben Okri

On Sunday the focus shifts; author and former journalist Tom Rachman’s latest short story collection provides an early literary look at Trump-era America. He is joined by author and journalist Lionel Shriver who will be discussing her first collection of short stories – Property, which examines both senses of the word: real estate and material belongings. 

Lionel Shriver

Chiming with the unique Charleston history and the anniversary of the first steps towards women’s suffrage, we celebrate a diverse troupe of women’s voices. Imogen Hermes Gowar presents her gender-charged parable of Georgian London, AL Kennedy performs a dramatic female voiced monologue in partnership with champion of women’s writing MsLexia. We commemorate our glorious female forebears, Muriel Spark in her 100th year and Sylvia Plath as the second volume of her Letters hits the press. Kicking off the Festival, author Kate Mosse discusses the new anthology I am Heathcliff, her curation of 16 short stories examining the romance and pain of the infamous literary anti-hero. Mosse is joined by contributors Juno Dawson (activist and author of seven novels including current bestseller Clean) and Louise Doughty (Black Water and number-one bestseller Apple Tree Yard).

I am Heathcliff panel – Juno Dawson, Kate Mosse and Louise Doughty


The BBC National Short Story Award, the UK’s most prestigious short story award, returns to Small Wonder with exclusive readings from previous winners and some of this year’s shortlisted authors plus insights from former judges into how prize juries really make their decisions.

For the fourth year running, Charleston and the British Council are welcoming an international writer to soak up the inspiration and respond to Small Wonder. This year Layla AlAmmar from Kuwait, whose debut novel The Pact We Made will be published in March 2019, will be joining events and responding to the festival in writing. Layla AlAmmar said: “I’m thrilled and honoured to have been chosen as the 2018 British Council International Writer in Residence at Small Wonder. The world will never stop needing stories, and Small Wonder consistently brings together some of the most scintillating storytellers of our time. I’m eager to share and learn with my fellow writers and readers.”

The Charleston-Bede’s Award for a Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction.

Charleston is delighted to announce the distinguished author AS Byatt as recipient of the 2018 Charleston-Bede’s Award for a Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction. Now in its sixth year, the award celebrates writers with a strong track record in publishing short stories of outstanding quality, previous recipients being William Trevor, Edna O’Brien, Jane Gardam, Ali Smith and Penelope Lively. On hearing the news, AS Byatt said, “I am very happy to be about to receive the Charleston-Bede’s Award for Short Stories. I have always had a great admiration for the Small Wonder Short Story Festival and it is wonderful to be honoured by it. Thank you all very much.”

Diana Reich, artist director of Small Wonder said: As Small Wonder celebrates its 15th birthday, we rejoice in the fact that the short story form is receiving far greater recognition from writers, publishers and readers than when the festival was launched. In order to draw attention to the long-standing creativity of the form, we launched what is now the Charleston-Bede’s Award for a Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction to mark Small Wonder’s 10th anniversary. We are delighted that this year’s recipient is the internationally renowned author Dame Antonia Byatt, whose short stories exemplify the vigour of the form. We are proud that Small Wonder has been in the vanguard of stimulating renewed interest in the history and contemporary impact of the short story.”

AS Byatt

Small Wonder Fringe

The Festival runs a wide programme of workshops and events supporting new generations of writers. Activities for 2018 include; creative writing workshops with BBC National Short Story Award winner KJ Orr; BBC Producer Liz Allard on Writing for audio; acclaimed novelist Benjamin Markovits leading a creative workshop focused on structure. The Small Wonder SLAM and Reading Group returns for 2018. New for this year are the Courtyard Readings, a chance for writers to read their own short fiction aloud to the friendly festival crowd.


Tickets go on sale on Thursday 19 July. See the full line-up here.

Charleston Festival 2018: Full programme revealed

Highlights include:

Charleston’s heritage is one of artistic innovation and pioneering thinking, an ethos mirrored in this year’s Festival programme. Responding to the current social and political climate, it looks in particular at the achievements and legacies of remarkable women past and present.

In uncertain times there remains much to be celebrated, including 100 years since women first received the vote. Lyndall Gordon discusses her group biography Outsiders, which links five female novelists (Shelley, Brontë, Eliot, Schreiner and Woolf), while Jane Robinson and Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, mark #Vote100.

The paths of feminist writers old and new meet at this year’s Festival, which includes a personal tribute to Virginia Woolf’s Orlando from contemporary author Jeanette Winterson. Vita Sackville-West and Woolf’s decade-long love affair is explored by the former’s granddaughter, Juliet Nicolson, and actress Gemma Arterton who plays Vita in upcoming film Vita and Virginia. They are joined by the film’s director Chanya Button. Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s The Famous Women Dinner Service is adapted by writer Ali Smith, who transforms it from decorative ceramics into a work of creative prose.

The centenary of the Representation of the People Act isn’t the only anniversary marked at Charleston Festival 2018, the work of Mary Shelley is also celebrated with biographer Fiona Sampson, cultural historian Christopher Frayling and chemist Kathryn Harkup, two hundred years after the publication of Frankenstein. In the 50th year of The Man Booker Prize the Festival hosts a special debate between three former judges, granting rare insight into the mechanics of judging the UK’s premier literary award.

Making sense of today’s world is also high on the agenda: authors Amanda Craig and Meg Wolitzer dissect current gender and power dynamics, and Misha Glenny and Luke Harding attempt to navigate the realms of corruption, nationalism-fuelled violence and fraud. Playwright Michael Frayn and political commentator John Crace discuss farce and political satire in a time when the relevance of each cannot be overstated, while themes of inequality and prejudice are tackled by Kamila Shamsie, author of Homefire, and Neel Mukherjee, author of A State of Freedom.

This year’s Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize winner Sir David Attenborough, recognised for his outstanding contribution to society, will deliver an illustrated talk addressing the divisive question of whether or not some animals can be described as artists.

Founded by Bloomsbury group artists Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, art remains a key focus for Charleston.  In this year’s Festival, V&A Director Tristram Hunt will be in conversation with RIBA Stirling Prize-winning architect Amanda Levete on the stories behind the historic institution’s new Exhibition Road Quarter. Also featuring is Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid, who will discuss her ‘wilderness years’ and what she still hopes to achieve, while classical music and art collide in a conversation between leading arts broadcaster Clemency Burton-Hill, and James Hamilton, whose biography of Thomas Gainsborough has made waves in the art world.

Nathaniel Hepburn, Director and Chief Executive of The Charleston Trust, comments:

“The Charleston Festival is always a highlight of the cultural calendar and this year proves to be no exception. The 2018 programme is challenging, entertaining, innovative, radical and rigorous. I am very much looking forward to attending the talks at this, my first Festival since joining Charleston and meeting our festival-goers both loyal devotees and those attending for their first time.”

Diana Reich, Artistic Director of Charleston Festival, comments:

“Charleston was always associated with political and social engagement as well as animated conversation.  Therefore it is no surprise that this year’s Festival includes many events in which the state of the nation and the world is refracted through the prism of fiction, non-fiction, debate and humour. “

Tickets are on general sale from 19 February. The full Festival programme can be viewed at from 6 February



For further information, please contact:

Truda Spruyt or James Douglas at Four Colman Getty

020 3697 4248 /

020 3697 4267 /

Sir David Attenborough – 2018 winner of Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize

The naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough has today, Tuesday 6 February, been announced as the winner of the fourth Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize. In the spirit of John Maynard Keynes’ work, life and legacy, this global prize recognises Attenborough’s outstanding contribution to society.

From the 1960s as Controller of BBC2 television Sir David Attenborough has brought both nature and the arts to millions. His latest series, Blue Planet II was a cultural event in 2017, achieving the highest viewing figures of any programme that year. Through his broadcasting Attenborough continues to play a vital role in raising awareness of the human impact on the planet, warning against the consequences of climate change and pollution for the natural world and the species that inhabit it.

Attenborough will deliver the annual Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Lecture at Charleston Festival on Monday 21 May. With a nod to the artistic heritage of Charleston, Beauty and the Beasts sees him make use of new video evidence to answer the divisive question of whether some animals can justifiably be described as artists.

Dame Liz Forgan, chair of the advisory panel, comments: “The Keynes Prize recognises outstanding individuals who have used their genius in the service of humanity. 

“David Attenborough’s exceptional gift of communication has made it easy for us all to share his deep understanding of the natural world. He has been our trusted guide and teacher in the air, under the sea, in desert, tundra and jungle with humour, colour, imagination and good science. If our grandchildren inherit a sustainable planet he will deserve their gratitude.”

The winner, Sir David Attenborough, comments: “I am greatly honoured that the Charleston Festival has awarded me its Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize. Please give my grateful thanks to those who made the decision.”

Anthony Cooke-Yarborough, CEO EFG Private Bank, comments: “We are delighted that Sir David Attenborough has been chosen as the recipient of the Charleston EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize. Throughout a long and illustrious career, Sir David has followed and shared his passion for the planet. He continues to bring a huge amount of can-do energy to his role. The breadth of his expertise and the depth of his influence are very much in the spirit of Keynes’s life and legacy.”

Following his win, Attenborough will receive a sum of £10,000 with the suggestion that he might use it to commission a work of art in any form; Maynard Keynes was a patron of the arts and founder of the Arts Council. Sir David will also give the annual Charleston-EFG Keynes Lecture at the Charleston Festival on Monday 21 May. The full programme for the 2018 Festival is now available at: Other luminaries in the Festival programme include Ali Smith, Alan Hollinghurst, Lubaina Himid, Jeanette Winterson, A C Grayling, Kamila Shamsie and Robert Webb.

The advisory panel comprises Dame Liz Forgan, former Chair of the Scott Trust and of Arts Council England; Simon Keynes, great-nephew of John Maynard Keynes; Professor Michael Proctor, Provost of King’s College, Cambridge; Lord Robert Skidelsky, Emeritus Professor of Political Economy, politician and award-winning biographer of Keynes; Helen Park-Weir, Head of Marketing UK at EFG International.

Keynes wrote The Economic Consequences of the Peace whilst staying at Charleston and subsequently moved to Tilton, just a stroll across a field away. Keynes embodies the radical and interdisciplinary nature of the Charleston milieu. His The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was recently voted the most influential academic book that has shaped our times.




For further information, please contact

Truda Spruyt or James Douglas at Four Colman Getty on:

020 3697 4248 /

020 3697 4267 /  



Nathaniel Hepburn is appointed as the new Director of Charleston

Nathaniel Hepburn - Director of Charleston

Nathaniel Hepburn – Director of Charleston

The Charleston Trust has today announced that Nathaniel Hepburn has been appointed to the position of Director (Chief Executive) of Charleston, succeeding Alistair Burtenshaw after almost 5-years of leadership. We would like to thank Alistair for his tireless efforts in bringing to fruition the long-awaited Centenary Project, and we wish him well in his new role as Director of Watts Gallery Trust in Surrey. Nathaniel will take up his new position in October 2017.

Professor Michael Farthing, Chair of Trustees at Charleston, said:
“We are delighted that Nathaniel will be joining us at Charleston in October. He is an experienced museum director and curator and has already worked closely with Charleston in the collaboration, Sussex Modernism, earlier this year. The Trustees were confident during the appointment process that Nathaniel has the vision, ambition and energy to take Charleston to the next exciting stage of its development.” 

In his three years as Director of Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, and previous 10 years as Curator of Mascalls Gallery in Kent, Nathaniel Hepburn has established a reputation for programming a diverse range of high-quality exhibitions developing a specialism in Modern British Art. Nathaniel has curated over 50 exhibitions which have been shown at some of the best museums and galleries across the country including Barbara Hepworth: The Hospital Drawings (with The Hepworth Wakefield and Pallant House Gallery), William Gear (with Towner, Eastbourne and City Art Centre, Edinburgh) and Cedric Morris & Christopher Wood (with Norwich Castle Museum and Falmouth Art Gallery). At Ditchling, this has extended beyond exhibitions to include developing the exciting Big Steam Print and The Village of Type programme, introducing a programme of residencies for artists, makers, designers and writers, as well as leading the nine Sussex museums and galleries, including Charleston, in bringing Sussex Modernism to Two Temple Place.

Nathaniel also was the recipient of the ‘Businessperson of the Year’ at the Lewes District Business Awards 2017 last night.

Nathaniel Hepburn said:
“Charleston is one of the world’s most important artists’ homes and, in itself, a real work of art. I am honoured to take up the baton to work with Charleston’s staff and Trustee team to preserve and share this treasure. I am similarly thrilled to have the opportunity the new buildings offer us to develop a wide-ranging and world-class programme of exhibitions, talks, events and residencies, as well as a learning programme which shares Charleston with future generations who will love and be inspired by this remarkable Bloomsbury home in the way that I and so many others do.”
During 2018, Charleston will open the latest phase of the ambitious Centenary Project with a large and flexible barn for diverse artistic, literary and arts programming, a new 80-100 seater café and restaurant and beautiful purpose-built new galleries, collection store and archives by Jamie Fobert Architects. The final stage of the capital development, the development of a purpose-built Learning Studio as well as refurbishment of offices and retail spaces, will be completed in the coming years subject to funding.
Notes to editors
Situated in the heart of the South Downs, Charleston was the home of Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. Pioneers of early 20th century British art, Bell and Grant created a hub of artistic and intellectual activity at Charleston with visitors including Virginia and Leonard Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E.M. Forster and many others. Charleston is a unique example of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s decorative style within a domestic context and represents the fruition of over sixty years of artistic creativity, from 1916 to 1978.

Alistair Burtenshaw, Director of Charleston to join Watts Gallery as Director

 Wednesday 19th April 2017

Alistair Burtenshaw, Director of Charleston to join Watts Gallery as Director

Alistair Burtenshaw, Director of The Charleston Trust which runs Charleston, and its renowned programme of festivals, creative workshops, events and prizes will step down as Director on 3rd September to take up his new role at Watts Gallery Trust.

Alistair Burtenshaw said:

“It has been a privilege to lead The Charleston Trust during such a momentous period in its history. I am delighted that recent years have seen increased national and international interest in the art and ideas of the Bloomsbury Group, whose values continue to speak to us so vividly.  That my time at Charleston has included vital restoration of the house, two new international prizes, greatly increased artistic programming, expanded learning and community engagement work, the cataloguing, digitising, conservation and interpretation of 8,000 works on paper, a new international literary festival with our partners in Charleston, South Carolina and a desperately needed new access road and car park is a source of pleasure.  That Charleston’s centenary year in 2016 saw a new centenary garden, construction of our new galleries and collection and research studio and the restoration of our grade II listed barns as a 200-seat performance space and expanded café, due for completion later this year, gives me great faith in Charleston’s ability to remain a source of creative inspiration for generations to come. None of this could have been achieved with out the superb team of staff, trustees, volunteers and supporters, whom I thank wholeheartedly”.


Chair of the Trustees, Michael Farthing said:

“Alistair Burtenshaw has been an outstanding Director of Charleston. His vision and leadership have helped Charleston to thrive artistically, engage new audiences and play an increasing role in our national cultural discourse.  Alistair leaves Charleston, recently named number 13 in Britain’s Top 25 Small Museums by The Times, in great shape for the opening of our beautifully conceived new galleries and historic barns in early 2018.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank Alistair for his superb work over the last four years and wish him every success at The Watts Gallery. The Trustees will recruit a new Director over the summer and believe there is an exciting opportunity for Alistair’s successor to continue his work and lead Charleston as it prepares to open its expanded new facilities in the coming months”.






Formerly Director of The London Book Fair and Chair of Booktrust, Alistair has led the Charleston Trust’s £9.3 million Centenary Project to renovate the Grade II listed barns at Charleston and construct new galleries by architect Jamie Fobert since becoming Director in March 2013. During this time Alistair has overseen the Heritage Lottery Fund-backed scheme which includes a project to catalogue, conserve, digitise and interpret the 8,000 works on paper that make up the Angelica Garnett Gift; developed the reach of its artistic programmes and strengthened and increased its learning and community engagement work. Alistair has also led a significant development in the Trust’s renowned Charleston Festival and Small Wonder international short story festival, as well as being instrumental in the foundation of the new Charleston-to-Charleston Literary Festival in Charleston South Carolina, its Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize, most recently awarded to Professor Stephen Hawking, and Charleston Lifetime’s Excellence Award in Short Fiction, awarded in 2016 to Ali Smith as well as a new British Council International Writer in Residence programme. During his time as Director, Charleston has loaned works to an extensive range of high profile exhibitions in the UK and overseas, including ‘Vanessa Bell 1879-1961’ at Dulwich Picture Gallery, ‘Sussex Modernism” at Two Temple Place and ‘Queer British Art’ at Tate Britain, all currently on in London. Alistair is also Chair of the Trustees of Arvon, the UK’s leading creative writing charity.

About Charleston

Located in the glorious South Downs in East Sussex, Charleston was, from 1916, the home of Bloomsbury group artists Vanessa Bell (sister of Virginia Woolf) and Duncan Grant. Pioneers of early 20thcentury British art, Bell and Grant created a hub of artistic and intellectual activity. Home also to art critic Clive Bell, frequent guests included John Maynard Keynes, Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, T.S. Eliot and E.M. Forster. Charleston is now open to the public and provides the stunning setting for the Charleston Festival and the international short story festival Small Wonder.

About Charleston’s Festivals

Charleston has always been a place of dissent and debate, as well as creativity and conviviality. The Festival, now in its 28th year, has always tried to reflect these values. The Charleston Festival 2017 will take place at Charleston, near Lewes in Sussex, between 19th and 29th May 2017.  In 2015, The Charleston Trust launched the Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prizes, presented annually at the Charleston Festival to honour recipients whose work is in the spirit of Keynes’ life and legacy. Previous recipients include Professor Amartya Sen and Sir Tim Berners-Lee. This year’s recipient is Professor Stephen Hawking. The full festival programme can be viewed at:

Charleston also runs a dedicated short story festival, Small Wonder, each September, which launched a new award to mark its 10th Anniversary in 2013: The Charleston-Chichester Award for a Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction. The recipients have been William Trevor, Edna O’Brien, Jane Gardam and Ali Smith. Small Wonder 2017 runs from 27th September to 1st October:

In January 2017, The Charleston Trust and Charleston Library Society in Charleston, South Carolina, launched a new literary festival, Charleston-to-Charleston with events with screenwriters and novelists Julian Fellowes and William Nicholson. The festival takes place on 3rd to 5th November 2017 in Charleston, South Carolina.

Ali Smith wins Charleston Small Wonder Short Fiction Award

Ali Smith named as recipient of the Charleston Small Wonder Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction Award 2016

Author, Ali Smith CBE FRSL, has been announced as the 2016 recipient of the Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction Award, as part of the annual Small Wonder Short Story Festival which runs at Charleston in Sussex from 28 September to 2 October. The award recognises Ali’s prolific and outstanding contribution to the short fiction genre.

Awarded a CBE in 2015 for her distinguished and innovative contribution to literature, Ali Smith is a previous winner of the Bailey’s, Costa, Whitbread and Goldsmiths Prizes, amongst others, and has been shortlisted for multiple literary awards including the Man Booker Prize and the Folio Prize. The acclaimed Scottish writer’s numerous novels and short story collections include How to be Both, The Accidental, Hotel World and Free Love and Other Stories. Born in Inverness, Ali Smith now lives in Cambridge. She writes regularly for The Guardian, The Scotsman and The Times Literary Supplement, and was described, by Patrick Flanery, author and professor of creative writing, as being ‘among Virginia Woolf’s most gifted inheritors’ which makes this Charleston prize particularly apt.

Nestled in the South Downs near Lewes, Charleston is the former home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and the Sussex home of the Bloomsbury group (including Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E.M. Forster, Roger Fry and Clive Bell). Charleston’s Small Wonder Festival (28 September to 2 October) continues the Bloomsbury ethos of fostering creativity and ideas by celebrating the short story genre and other short forms of writing which were fostered by the Hogarth Press, founded by Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

Diana Reich, artistic director of Small Wonder, said she was delighted that Ali’s contribution to the short story had been recognised. “She is one of our most innovative and imaginative authors, writing in the experimental tradition of Virginia Woolf,” said Diana. “Ali is one of the publishing world’s most original authors, equally at home with short fiction and the novel.”

Now in its fourth year, the Charleston Small Wonder Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction is awarded to writers with a strong track record in publishing short stories of outstanding quality. Previous recipients are William Trevor, Edna O’Brien and Jane Gardam. This year’s prize will be awarded to Ali Smith on 28 September, the opening day of the Small Wonder Festival. On hearing the news about her award, Ali Smith said, “I am over the moon to find myself and my stories on such a list.”

The full Small Wonder Festival programme has also been revealed today and includes a stellar line-up including Eimear McBride, Lionel Shriver, Kevin Barry, Lisa McInerney, Kei Miller and Petina Gappah.

Held in the beautiful grounds of Charleston, the themes of fluidity and mutability weave through this year’s programme, with events looking at the refugee experience, the alpha and omega of sex and death, and changing fashions within the short stories. Small Wonder will also feature interactive and participatory sessions such as Literary Death Match and a Story Slam. The anniversaries of Roald Dahl and Charlotte Brontë are also celebrated and there is an imaginative rendezvous between Hercule Poirot and Jules Maigret.

In addition to the Charleston Small Wonder Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction Award, the festival also hosts the BBC National Short Story Award. The festival finale sees Juliet Stevenson reading Poems that Make Grown Women Cry.

Tickets for Small Wonder will go on general sale on Tuesday 19 July. See the full Small Wonder programme at:


Notes to Editors:

For further information, speaker and festival images please contact:
Jacqui Graham
T: 020 8450 2924 | M: 07973 884 290  | E:

About Charleston
Located in the glorious South Downs in East Sussex, Charleston was, from 1916, the home of Bloomsbury group artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. Pioneers of early 20th century British art, Bell and Grant created a hub of artistic and intellectual activity. Home also to art critic Clive Bell, frequent guests included John Maynard Keynes, Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, T.S. Eliot and E.M. Forster. Charleston is now open to the public and provides the stunning setting for the Festival.

About Small Wonder
Supported by the Arts Council, Small Wonder is Charleston’s annual short story festival. This year’s festival runs from 28 September until 2 October at Charleston, Firle, near Lewes. It is packed with lively readings, discussions, workshops and performances by innovative national and international writers. Our generous sponsors and Associate Partners include EFG International, Hurstpierpoint College, Rathfinny wine estate and the University of Sussex.

About the Charleston Small Wonder Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction Award
Now in its fourth year, the prize will be awarded to Ali Smith on 28 September. Previous recipients are William Trevor, Edna O’Brien and Jane Gardam. The prize is awarded to writers with a strong track record in publishing short stories of outstanding quality. The judging panel comprises: Cortina Butler: Director of Literature, British Council, Alison MacLeod: Professor of Contemporary Fiction, University of Chichester and award-winning novelist and writer of short stories, Patrick Cotter: Administrator of the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award, Cathy Galvin: Co-founder of the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award and founder of the Word Factory, Ra Page: CEO of Comma Press (which specialises in publishing short stories), Diana Reich: Artistic Director Charleston Festival and Small Wonder Short Story Festival, Di Speirs: Editor, Books, BBC Radio and originator of the BBC National Short Story Award.

Small Wonder Festival booking information
In person:
Brighton Dome, 29 New Road, Brighton, BN1 1UG
By phone: 01273 709709

Chairman-Designate Appointed to Charleston’s Council of Trustees

The Charleston Trust is pleased to announce that Professor Michael Farthing, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sussex, will take up the position of Chairman of The Charleston Trust on 17th June 2016 as Nigel Newton’s six years as Chairman of Charleston end on that date. Michael was recently elected as Chairman-Designate by the Trustee Council.

Prior to his role at the University of Sussex, Michael Farthing, a physician and medical researcher, was Principal and Professor of Medicine at St George’s, University of London. He is also the former President of the British Society of Gastroenterology and a member of the General Medical Council.

Nigel Newton is Founder and Chief Executive of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. He is also Chairman of the British Library Trust and President of Book Aid.

Commenting on Michael Farthing’s appointment, Nigel Newton said

“Michael Farthing has served as a trustee and member of our Building Committee since March 2014 and, along with his wife Alison McLean, a member of our Appeal Committee, has been deeply involved in the life of Charleston for many years – including chairing a number of events at the Charleston Festival.  As Vice Chancellor of the University of Sussex, Michael has had a profound and positive impact on Higher Education and on life in Sussex, including the recent opening of the Attenborough Centre for the Arts, which he led.  I am pleased to be handing The Charleston Trust into Michael’s capable hands.”

Director of Charleston, Alistair Burtenshaw, said

“I would like to welcome Michael as our future Chairman. I would also like to thank Nigel Newton for his leadership as Chairman of Charleston. Charleston’s long term financial and artistic sustainability have grown during his Chairmanship. In particular, Nigel has successfully led the delivery of Charleston’s Centenary Project, which, following the completion of a new access road and car park in 2015, gets underway this Spring with the commencement of building works to the new galleries and remedial works to the Grade II listed barns. During his terms as Chairman, considerable conservation projects have been undertaken in the House and Gardens, both Charleston Festival and the Small Wonder Festival have significantly grown and developed in terms of their artistic remit and two new international prizes – to celebrate individuals whose work has been in the spirit of John Maynard Keynes, and for a lifetime’s achievement in short fiction – have been launched.  I would like to add my thanks to Nigel for his guidance and vision. Thanks to his leadership, The Charleston Trust enters 2016 on a strong footing for the future.”

Virginia Nicholson:

Virginia Nicholson, Deputy Chairman of the Trustees steps down as a trustee on 17th June 2016 after the completion of her term of office.

Nigel Newton, Chairman of the Trustees commented:

“Virginia Nicholson has had a profoundly important effect on Charleston over many decades, most recently as a Trustee and Deputy Chairman of the Trust, and one that I very much hope will continue over the coming years. I would like to thank Virginia for her dedication, passion and commitment to Charleston, which she first visited as a young child, when it was home to her Grandmother, Vanessa Bell, and Duncan Grant. Virginia’s unique perspective and in-depth knowledge of the art, ideals and lives of the Bloomsbury group have made her contribution even more important”.

Alistair Burtenshaw, Director of Charleston said:

“It has been a personal privilege to work in such close partnership with Virginia Nicholson over the last three years and I very much look forward to working with her in the months and years to come as trustees and staff continue our vital work to safeguard Charleston, the Bloomsbury Home of Art and Ideas. As a renowned social historian focused on the twentieth century Virginia understands perfectly Charleston’s wider context. As a daughter of the Bloomsbury group, Virginia has had an incredibly positive impact on life at Charleston – not least its art, literature, and values. Her encyclopaedic knowledge of the house and its occupants and warm, welcoming and passionate advocacy has proved absolutely invaluable to all aspects of our work – from conservation all the way through to fundraising”.

Other Trustee Council Announcements:

The staff and trustees of The Charleston Trust would like to thank Mark Harwood, who stepped down as a Trustee in February 2016 having played a key role in overseeing the financial management of the Trust in recent years. We are particularly grateful that Mark has agreed to continue as Chair of the Business and Finance Committee, a role he has fulfilled to great effect in recent years.

The Trust would also like to thank Gillian Wolfe, CBE, one of the UK’s leading museum learning specialists, who stepped down as a trustee in November 2015 after completing two full terms of office. Renowned throughout the museum learning sector for her transformational work at Dulwich Picture Gallery over many years, Gillian played a crucial role in developing Charleston’s Public Programmes and Learning activities and the plans for its new Creative Learning Studio in the soon-to-be-rebuilt Granary. This key part of the Centenary Project has already secured considerable funding from trusts and foundations such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and Garfield Weston Foundation.
The Charleston Trust is also pleased to welcome two new trustees to its Trustee Council this year – Dame Pippa Harris and Jon Snow. Dame Pippa is a renowned film and TV producer who established Neal Street Productions together with Sam Mendes and Caro Newling and has produced films and TV shows including Starter for Ten, Stuart a Life Backwards and Call the Midwife on the BBC. She is also on the board of BAFTA. Historically, Pippa connects to Bloomsbury through her grandmother, Noel Olivier, who knew many of the group. TV presenter and journalist, Jon Snow, is best known for presenting Channel 4 News. He has served on the Boards of Britain’s National Gallery, and Tate Gallery and for thirty years as Chairman of the New Horizon Youth Centre, a London day centre for homeless and vulnerable teenagers. In 2015 was awarded the prestigious BAFTA Fellowship.

Charleston’s Iconic Painted Surfaces – Saved!

Three months ago we set out to raise £25,000, money that would help restore some of Charleston’s wonderful painted interiors. Thanks to generosity of all of our donors we achieved 130% of our target, an incredible £32,554.

In conjunction with the Art Fund and their #arthappens crowd funding platform, several levels of donation ranging from £5 to £995 were available. In return, supporters will receive rewards which range from postcard sets with Charleston’s iconic design motifs to mounted fragments of wallpaper from the Library to an exclusive patterned scarf and tote bag designed by Cressida Bell. Vanessa Bell’s granddaughter.

The key restoration work can now be carried out by March 2016 and will include the paintwork around the window in the Spare Room, the wallpaper in the Library and the Vanessa Bell painted doors in the House Kitchen.  The additional money will all go to ensuring that the restoration, decorations and collection are kept in the best possible condition by the installation of a new state-of-the-art climate control and monitoring system.

Alistair Burtenshaw, Director of The Charleston Trust said

“The Art Fund were tremendously supportive, and we are delighted that the Charleston campaign was their most successful to date, with the largest number of donors and largest percentage of target exceeded to date on the Art Happens platform.  Proving that Charleston and its appeal is as relevant as ever.”

Nigel Newton, Chairman of The Charleston Trust said

“This crowd funding campaign in conjunction with the Art Fund was a new initiative to find new supporters for Charleston. We are thrilled that the campaign exceeded its target. I am particularly grateful to Margaret Atwood for pointing us in the direction of crowdfunding in a conversation we had following her event at the Small Wonder Short Story Festival at Charleston a year ago. We hope to continue to inspire visitors to Charleston with its fine art for generations to come, particularly in our centenary year of 2016 when this restoration work will be completed.”

Carolyn Young, Director of Marketing, the Art Fund, said

Charleston were fantastic to work with on this project and we are over the moon that they not only smashed their target so impressively, but also were able to raise extra funds towards further protecting the building’s extraordinary painted surfaces.  The demand and interest in the project is testament to how crowdfunding can be an excellent fundraising tool for museums, and a huge thank you must go to Charleston’s supporters, and other art-loving members of the public who all so generously supported this campaign.”

Fashion label Burberry credits Charleston as the inspiration behind its autumn/winter 2014 collection, the Bloomsbury Girls, and this summer, BBC2 broadcast a three-part series, Life in Squares. Filmed partly at Charleston, Life in Squares tells the story of Vanessa Bell and her sister, the writer Virginia Woolf, and has brought record numbers of visitors to Charleston this summer.

The Charleston Trust would also like to thank the broadcaster Jon Snow who helped Charleston and the Art Fund launch the crowd funding campaign in July to help restore these key painted surfaces in the House – the only complete Bloomsbury interior in the world – which are in desperate need of restoration and conservation.

Charleston continues to be a hub of creativity and artistic inspiration for the thousands of visitors and contributors each year.  The House and Gardens are open to the public until 1 November 2015 and re-open to the public on the 23 March 2016 for its centenary year, when the restored decorated interiors will be on full display.

For more details on the project, rewards and the restoration project updates this winter – visit:

Question and Answer with Barbara Jenkins

Question and Answer with Barbara Jenkins, our Small Wonder International Writer in Residence 2015.

In anticipation of her residency she told us about coming to writing later in life and the hottest Caribbean books around now…

  • Can you tell me when and why you started writing?

‘Writing’ as opposed to say, writing personal letters to put in the post and setting unusual exam papers for my geography students, came late, very late – in my late sixties. Two friends, teachers of English literature, wanted to start writing fiction and memoir and felt a third person would round out the group. I agreed to join out of curiosity and idleness. We met at one another’s homes every week for a few months and shared little stories we’d written. I loved the experience of writing, the challenge of a deadline, the novel experience of having to recall and make sense of things that had happened to me, in words, not just in unexamined feelings. I guess it was the confessional nature of the experience and the catharsis it brought that I valued at the time. The group disbanded when one member went back home to London, but by then I was completely smitten with writing. I submitted a short story to the Commonwealth Short Story Competition in 2009 and it was shortlisted; two more won the Caribbean Region Prize in 2010 and 2011. In 2010, I enrolled at The University of the West Indies for the MFA graduating in 2012. All of which is fine and could have remained low key and marginal if it were not for the biggest stimulus to making me feel I could be a writer. This came with the Bocas Lit Fest, Trinidad and Tobago’s literary festival, now five years old, as old as I am as a writer. Through Bocas I met well-known Caribbean and diasporean writers as well as writers from the many heritages that Trinidad claims. My publisher, Jeremy Poynting of Peepal Tree Press, first heard me read at the Bocas New Writers Showcase. Through Bocas Lit Fest I am able to attend workshops, hear talks, be introduced to new books, all of which make the world of writing and writers real, present and relevant.

  • What do you find is the most creative environment in which to write?

I’m tempted to say, ‘Peace and Quiet’, and I have written loads when in rustic settings away from internet and phone, but I’ve also squandered time in many such places, producing little of worth while in, for example, Balandra on the north coast of Trinidad, The Hurst in Shropshire and Bon Accord in Tobago, all totally conducive to worry-free creativity, yet there I could and did as easily slip into torpor and indolence as write. For me, I think it’s the environment in my own head that matters most. When my head is receptive, anything can be the spark to fire up a story – a person passing by, an event, a news item, a casually overheard phrase. I can write anywhere then. But all that said, once the first draft is done, I do need to be in a place where there is no ordinary domestic life to distract me if I want to hone the story. No noise but the ambient sounds of nature, preferably breaking waves, bird song, whistling frogs, creaking bamboo.

  • Which Trinidadian / Caribbean authors would you recommend to curious readers?

Such a rich treasure trove to mine, it’s hard to choose just a few. Plus there’s the difficulty of identifying a writer as Caribbean. Is that to do with birthplace, usual residence or heritage? VS Naipaul, Trinidad born and raised there to young manhood does not consider himself a Trinidadian/Caribbean writer; Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Cartagena, Colombia, refers to himself as a Caribbean person. Where also to place Edwidge Danticat (Haiti/USA), Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua/USA), Olive Senior and Lorna Goodison (Jamaica/Canada) Austin Clarke (Barbados/Canada) Lawrence Scott (Trinidad/UK), Junot Diaz (Dominican Republic/USA) and Caryl Phillips (St Kitts/ UK/ USA)? All writers of internationally acclaimed literary work straddling the Caribbean, the UK and North America; all writers living and working outside the Caribbean.

Does the curious reader want literary works that reveal the history, sociology, politics, the geography of a place through memorable characters and events? Then Earl Lovelace (Trinidad and Tobago). Salt and Is Just a Movie are two of his titles. Leave out the geography and go for all the rest plus racing contemporary plot and sharp characterisation and read Marlon James (Jamaica). His latest, A Brief History of Seven Killings, is the hottest Caribbean book around now. There’s Oonya Kempadoo (Guyana/Tobago/Grenada) All Decent Animals and Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw (Trinidad and Tobago) Mrs B, and so many other writers.

Short stories? This year Peepal Tree Press published beautifully crafted and totally contemporary debut collections by two Trinidadian women – Rhoda Bharath, The Ten Days Executive and other stories and Sharon Millar, The Whale House and other stories. Read both, they’re different.

As for poetry, such an excess of richness. Derek Walcott. Any collection by the Nobel laureate will transport the reader to another plane. Try the epic, Omerosor White Egrets. Then there are the Jamaicans: Kei Miller, The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, Tanya Shirley, The Merchant of Feathers and Edward Baugh, Black Sand; the St Lucians: Vladimir Lucien, Sounding Ground and Kendel Hippolyte, Night Vision; the Trinidadians, Nicholas Laughlin, The Strange Years of my Life and Andre Bagoo, Burn – those are just the ones on my bookshelf and all were published in the last couple years.

  • What are your hopes for your time as International Writer in Residence at Small Wonder?

It’s the first time I’ll be at a festival dedicated solely to the short story, my absolute favourite form. I’m devoted to Alice Munro’s work above all, but I’ll just as happily read and reread Chekov in translation or Carver or Welty. So it’s a thrill to know I’ll be completely immersed in short stories and short story writers for a long weekend. If I’m not too overawed, I’m gonna have me the time of my life. Then there’s Charleston House and its ghosts to investigate. I’m particularly interested in Vanessa Bell’s daughter, Angelica Garnett, and her bittersweet relationship with the house and its history.

  • Stories on a shelf: ghost story, love story, adventure story, real life story. Which do you choose?

That’s ticklish. Actually I wouldn’t choose any strictly genre novel. Speculative fiction, romance, adventure, don’t appeal to me. If by ‘real life’ you mean memoir, not auto/biography, then that’s what I’d choose. I loved Michael Ondaatje’s amusingly revealing Running in the Family.

About Small Wonder:

Small Wonder is a festival dedicated to short stories that takes places in Charleston, located in the South Downs in East Sussex. From 1916 Charleston it was the home of Bloomsbury group artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, whose long-term guests included Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, T.S. Eliot and E.M. Forster.

This opportunity for an International Writer in Residence has been made possiblethrough a partnership between The Charleston Trust and the British Council, and is also supported by Bocas Litfest, Trinidad. As writer in residence, Barbara will attend all the events at Small Wonder and then produce a piece of work arising from the festival.

Restoration work in the Walled Garden – Spring 2015

Restoration to key items in Charleston’s Walled Garden funded by the Pebble Trust.

We have taken advantage of the closed winter season to carry out some important and much-needed restoration work in the Walled Garden, which is one of the main attractions at Charleston. These projects have very generously been funded by the Pebble Trust.

The Pebble Trust very generously awarded a grant of £2,000 towards the conservation and restoration of some of the key items in the Walled Garden, including the Quentin Bell Pond, the Piazza and a life-sized bust by David Garnett. This generous grant directly addressed the water ingress of the Quentin Bell Pond and its central core mosaic back plate, which included re-grouting and re-sealing the water system. The mosaic Piazza required re-pointing of fissures and cracks and careful cleaning of surface dirt and biological growth. The David Garnett bust needed delicate attention with de-ionised water and soft bristles to clean its surface. The work was carried out by Ben Bosence, building conservator, with whom Charleston has worked with before.

2015.03. Charleston winter garden work. photo- p.fewster-3 2015.03. Charleston winter garden work. photo- p.fewster-7David Garnett bust 2 Piazza detail4

Piazza 1 David Garnett bust 4 2015.03. Charleston winter garden work. photo- p.fewster-12Quentin Bell fountain Quetin Bell pond 2


Photos (c) Penny Fewster and Grace Towner on behalf of Charleston Trust, 2015



Amartya Sen announced as winner of Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize 2015

Indian economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has tonight, Monday 9 February, been announced the winner of the inaugural Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize. In the spirit of John Maynard Keynes’ work, life and legacy, this new global prize recognises Sen’s outstanding contribution to society.

Regarded as one of the world’s foremost thinkers in the field of famine, poverty, social choice and welfare economics, Amartya Sen’s ground-breaking work has not only been academically influential, but has also had a profound impact on the formation of development policy worldwide. Currently a Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University, Sen has been a Professor at the London School of Economics and until 2004 was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge.   His books have been translated into more than thirty languages.

Sat 23 May 7.30pm Thumb    JMK Logo cmyk

Dame Liz Forgan, chair of the advisory panel, comments:

“The aim of this prize is to honour individuals from around the world who continue to embody Keynes’ extraordinary attributes.  The remarkable Amartya Sen couldn’t be a more worthy winner in this inaugural year.  Philosopher, economist, teacher, moralist, his tireless commitment to the cause of ending inequality and deprivation by bringing a penetrating intelligence to bear on their causes is truly exceptional.  On behalf of my fellow judges I would like to congratulate Professor Sen on his outstanding achievements.”

The winner, Amartya Sen, comments:

I feel deeply honoured by the news of this award. The world in which we live today has been made much more secure by the economic wisdom that Keynes brought to us during the dark days of the Great Depression. When that wisdom is partly or wholly ignored in the making of economic policy, large numbers of people are made to suffer unnecessarily. I am afraid we have seen several depressing examples of that in the recent years, especially in Europe, with a huge human toll. Keynes was a great path finder, and it would have distressed – if not surprised – him to see how well-identified paths can be comprehensively neglected by policy making that draws more on ideology than on well-reflected reasoning.”

The Prize was announced by Dame Liz Forgan during a reception at the Royal Academy on Monday 9 February. Following his win, Sen will receive a sum of £7,500 to commission a work of art and will also give the annual Charleston-EFG Keynes Lecture at the Charleston Festival on 23 May 2015.

This year’s lecture is titled ‘The Economic Consequences of Austerity’ and the full programme for the 2015 Festival is now available.

This year’s advisory panel, who will continue to serve the Prize for a further two years, comprised Dame Liz Forgan, Chair of the Scott Trust and former Chair of Arts Council England; Keith Gapp, Head of Strategy and Marketing at EFG International; Simon Keynes, great-nephew of John Maynard Keynes; Nigel Newton, Chief Executive of Bloomsbury Publishing and Chairman of the Charleston Trust; Professor Michael Proctor, Provost of King’s College, Cambridge; and Lord Robert Skidelsky, Emeritus Professor of Political Economy, politician and award-winning biographer of Keynes.

The impulse to celebrate and commemorate the work and legacy of John Maynard Keynes initially came from Keith Gapp, Head of Strategy and Marketing, EFG International, who studied Economics at King’s College, Cambridge, which was closely associated with Keynes from his student days into his adult life. This desire coincided with the aspirations of the Charleston Trust, which was seeking a way to pay tribute to Keynes, one of the most influential members of the Bloomsbury Group and to launch a new initiative to coincide with the 25th Anniversary of its annual Festival last year.

Keynes wrote The Economic Consequences of the Peace whilst staying at Charleston and subsequently moved to Tilton, just a stroll across a field away. He embodies the radical, interdisciplinary nature of the Charleston milieu. The Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize was jointly conceived by Keith Gapp and the Charleston Trust. EFG has a long standing relationship with Charleston and sponsors its two literary festivals as well as many other projects across the globe.



Winter Conservation – Part 2

As soon as the House closes to the public each year, a team of volunteers and specialists start on the conservation programme taking them through the winter.

Once the pictures, ceramics and painted furniture are cleaned and stored, the team move onto the textiles.  The edges of the curtains for instance suffer from light exposure.

Charleston. winter conservation. clive bell's bedroom curtains. photo p.fewster.small 90. 11-14

The curtains in Clive Bell’s bedroom (above) are being carefully stitched with very fine netting to make them stronger and safer. They are then laid over the bed covered in acid free tissue to rest for the winter.

Even the fabrics around lampshades need repairing and careful cleaning.  Despite our best efforts, the nature of the outside of the building creeps in during the summer, with a number of insects ready to find a warm place to breed.  The Collection is inspected annually and any interlopers dealt with!

Charleston. winter conservation. dining room lampshade. photo p.fewster.small 90. 11-14-2

Rugs and carpets are also carefully vacuumed through protective gauze and repaired where necessary. They are then layered with acid free tissue, rolled top side out on large acid free tissue covered tubes (which opens the weave allowing more dust to escape) and finally covered in a dustsheet.

Bedspreads, French cotton squares and cushions are also carefully cleaned and mended where needed, then covered in acid free tissue paper and stored for the winter.

Charleston conservation. intern Alice. 11- 2014. photo  p.fewster-2

The hours that the team spend over the winter soon adds up, some 450 hours a year are donated by our volunteers maintaining the contents in a suitable condition.

This winter there will also be additional work done on the repair of Clive Bell’s study – the ceiling of which needs attention – we’ll keep you informed of the progress of this over the coming weeks.

For the inside track on what it was like to join this team of volunteers – see our Curatorial interns blog from the Charleston Attic.

Don’t forget that nearly all of this work is done by our specialist teams and volunteers, who dust, clean and mend.  Please support the Charleston Annual Fund in anyway you can which helps us continue this work and maintain many of the smaller items in the House which can be tricky to get individual funding to support – Find out how you can donate here

Part 1 of this series can be viewed here

Winter Conservation 2014 – Part 1

As soon as the House closes to the public each year, a team of volunteers and specialists start ‘putting the House to bed’ for the winter.

As part of this process, the team closely examine the House and the Collection for wear and tear which has been caused over the year, and assess which items need urgent conservation and restoration. Although the house is presented in the era of the 1950’s, many of the items in the house are much older but even the ‘recent’ additions to the House are now decades old.

putting the house to bed, Garden room. Dec 2012. photo p.fewster. 72dpi

The team start by cleaning and covering everything by hand in the house.  This includes,

  • Pictures – all the pictures are firstly checked, the frames cleaned using pony hair brushes and then covered with acid free tissue paper, that is pinned to still allow air flow but prevents the dust from touching the paintings.  Remember, Charleston is on a working farm, in the chalky airs of the South Downs.

putting the house to bed.M.K's room 3. Nov. 2012. photo p.fewster. 72dpi

  • Ceramics – are all cleaned, wrapped in acid free tissue paper, some are stored away, and some remain in position in the house with their tissue hats making them look very quirky in their own right undercover!

putting the house to bed. studio. 03.11. photo p.fewster. 72dpi

  • Painted Furniture – is again dusted with pony hair brushes, covered with a layer of acid free tissue paper and then dustsheeted and pinned – making sure the covers are neat and to size – our rooms look just as beautiful covered as uncovered. No just throwing over the dustsheets like you see in films of grand houses being put to bed!

putting the house to bed, the spare room. Dec 2012. photo p.fewster. 72dpi

Then the team move onto textiles – which we’ll explore in Part 2 – coming soon…..

For the inside track on what it was like to join this team of volunteers – see our Curatorial interns blog from the Charleston Attic.

Don’t forget that nearly all of this work is done by our specialist teams and volunteers, who dust, clean and mend.  Please support the Charleston Annual Fund in anyway you can which helps us continue this work and maintain many of the smaller items in the House which can be tricky to get individual funding to support – Find out how you can donate here

Announcement: Charleston’s new Royal patron

The Charleston Trust is delighted to announce that HRH The Duchess of Cornwall has agreed to become Charleston’s first Patron and also the appointment of Alistair Burtenshaw as our new Director.

Please click on the links below to download the press releases or contact Megan Wright on or 01323 815 143.

HRH The Duchess of Cornwall Press Release

Alistair Burtenshaw, Charleston Director Press Release

Angelica Garnett: 25th December 1918 – 4th May 2012

The Charleston Trust is sad to announce that Angelica Garnett died in France on the morning of Friday 4th May 2012 after a short illness.

Angelica was born at Charleston on Christmas day 1918, the daughter of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell. Charleston was her home until she married in 1942. She was the mother of four daughters. She trained as an artist with the Euston Road School, and then as an actress. She is the author of Deceived with Kindness and The Unspoken Truth

 After Duncan Grant’s death in 1978, she returned to live at Charleston, and was actively involved in the acquisition and restoration of the house and its contents. The appearance of the house and collection today is the result of her generosity and that of her brother and sister-in-law Quentin and Olivier Bell.

Throughout her life she was a passionate supporter of Charleston, most recently donating over 8000 works by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell to The Charleston Trust. Her most recent visit to Charleston was in April 2012 when she attended the opening of an exhibition of her recent work donated to support the Charleston Centenary Project. She was actively engaged in writing her autobiography at that time.

Angelica Garnett was an extraordinary woman who remains an inspiration.

An obituary for Angelica Garnett, written by Frances Spalding and published in the Guardian, can be seen here.

Charleston awarded £2.4 million from Heritage Lottery Fund

HLF South East

News ReleaseHome of the ‘Bloomsbury Set’ wins £2.4million Heritage Lottery Fund grant

The Charleston Trust – keepers of the Grade II* listed Charleston Farmhouse, the vibrant independent house museum and former Sussex retreat of the renowned Bloomsbury group – has been awarded a grant of £2.4 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) towards its Charleston Barn Project. (more…)

The barn at Charleston

Giles Waterfield, Chairman of the Trustees, brings us up to date with the Barns Project.

In the August 2007 edition of Canvas, Colin McKenzie told Charleston’s Friends for the first time about the possibility of the Charleston Trust acquiring the magnificent Sussex barn adjacent to the house. Since then much has been happening behind the scenes to develop the Trust’s vision for what it could achieve through this acquisition and the Trustees and Director are keen to bring Charleston’s Friends and supporters up to date with progress. The Trust has a rare and not to be missed opportunity to acquire and preserve a vital and beautiful part of Charleston’s historic site, something that has been one of the Trust’s charitable objectives since its first creation. It is clear, however, that acquiring and making full use of the barn is every bit as important to the Trust’s ability to thrive in the future as its preservation. As a result of the support we have received from the Firle Estate for our plans and their willingness to sell Charleston a long lease on the barn and adjacent spaces, we are at the start of an exciting new chapter in Charleston’s history which will ensure that this important and historic building is removed from risk, preserved for the future enjoyment of all Charleston’s visitors, and given new uses that will help the Trust to continue to thrive.