Grace Higgens, Charleston's housekeeper of over 50 years, was originally employed by the family as a domestic servant when she was 16 years old.
The artist Duncan Grant referred to Grace Higgens as ‘the angel of Charleston’, and her memorial plaque in the kitchen describes her as ‘a good friend to all Charlestonians’. Employed by the family as a domestic servant at 16 years old, Grace Germany – as she was then- eventually retired in 1970 after over 50 years of service. After marrying her husband, Walter Higgens, in 1934, Charleston became her home and she lived in the quarters above the kitchen with her husband and, later, her son. Walter Higgens also worked for the family. She had a particularly close relationship with Vanessa and Clive Bell’s two sons – Julian and Quentin – who were young boys when she was employed, and grew up with her. In fact, the plaque in the kitchen was created by Quentin Bell in her memory.
Higgens followed the family from London to Charleston, as well as on their holidays and international trips. She fit right in with the progressive household and was always encouraged to join in the conversation and share her thoughts and opinions. After frequent holidays to France, Grace learned a little of the language, made friends with the local woman, and became, by all accounts, an excellent cook of French cuisine. Many of these new recipes made their way on to the menu here at Charleston.
Her relationship with Vanessa Bell was one of mutual respect and dependence. When Bell first moved here in 1916, Charleston had neither electricity nor running water. Running a home was a full time job, but Bell was able to afford household staff to help her and free up more of her time for painting. They became close over the years and Bell’s painting of Higgens hangs in the kitchen at the end of the first floor passage.