Batemans; Kipling’s Sussex Country Retreat
Kipling angrily drew the curtains and heard a voice say, ‘How rude!’
Rudyard Kipling was born in India. When he was five and his sister was three, they were sent to England to receive an English education.
Kipling was boarded with a foster family until he was 10 or 11.
They treated him very badly and mentally abused him. They wouldn’t let him read, so he used to read under the bedclothes with a candle. Very dangerous!
Later in life, he blamed this for his poor eyesight.
In the holidays he used to stay with his Aunt Georgiana and her husband, Sir Edward Burrel-Jones in Fulham, known as Auntie Georgie and Uncle Ned.
He called it the House of Enchantment. As soon as he rang the doorbell he felt safe and happy. And when the house was demolished, Kipling begged to be given the doorbell!
When his parents took him away from his foster parents’ house, which he called the House of Desolation, he was asked why he hadn’t told anyone how miserable he was there. And he said, because he’d thought it was just how things were.
He went to boarding school until he was 16, then, as his family was too poor to send him to University, he returned to India and worked for a newspaper there.
In the 1890s he reported on the Boer War. And that’s where it all started.
Kipling soon discovered that the widows and families of Tommy, or Tommy Atkins as an ordinary soldier was known, got nothing when their father/husband was killed. So he wrote a poem called The Absent-Minded Beggar.
Like a pop song, it became a huge hit. It was also marketed on mugs, scarves, and many more things, probably becoming the first poem, song, etc to be used and sold printed on memorabilia.
Over £250,000 was raised to help the families of the Tommy.
He also wrote a collection of Barrack Room Ballads.
Kipling was offered a Knighthood and the title of Poet Laureate, and turned them both down. But he did eventually accept the Nobel Prize.
So Kipling was a celebrity when he was quite young.
There were regular coach parties (horse-drawn coaches) from Brighton to visit his house – without his permission or approval – and people would climb on his fence to stare over the top, or peer through the hedges.
In the end he and his American wife Carrie, with their two surviving children, John and Elsie, decided to move.
They discovered Bateman’s down a country lane in Burwash, then when they heard that it was for sale, they decided to buy it quickly.
‘That’s She! The only She! Make an honest woman of her – quick!’ said Kipling.
And he did.
But their car had broken down so they made their way there by public transport.
The owner asked them how they’d manage to travel to and fro, and Kipling said that they’d use their automobile. And the man replied, No, that won’t catch on!
It was a nice day for a change, but we were surprised to see how full the car park was at Bateman’s. Although it’s quite isolated, it’s a very popular place.
About half of the house is open to the public. The other half is lived in by staff, and used as offices.
Above the front door is carved 1634.
It was probably originally an ironmaster’s house, then a farmhouse.
After the Kiplings bought it in 1902, they hardly altered the original Jacobean property at all, except for the addition of electricity, which was at first generated by the millpond, and it gave enough power to supply light for around four hours a night.
Carrie Kipling was only 4’ 11” but was a formidable woman. She refused to have a housekeeper, and ran the estate herself.
If anyone turned up uninvited and rang the doorbell, the maid would answer it and Carrie would peer out of the inner window from her study. If she didn’t like who she saw she would give the maid a sign to send them away.
In the parlour, Kipling liked to play parlour games. He also liked dogs, especially West Highland and Aberdeen Terriers. The table legs all show signs of being gnawed!
Kipling’s study is above the parlour. Guests would hear him pacing up and down, and collapsing on his chaise.
He smoked 30-40 cigarettes a day, and wrote everything in longhand, then his secretary typed it out.
Apparently he was so messy that he was compared to a Dalmation due to all the ink spots over his arms!
Nobody was allowed in his study, except the secretary, and his good friend H Rider Haggard when he came to visit.
Imagine the conversations between the two writers. Kipling knew about India and Rider Haggard, well-known for the novel She, would talk about Africa.
The study is also a library, lined with bookshelves. Most of them are reference books, as Kipling was taught when he was a reporter, to check all his facts.
The West Bedroom was the guest bedroom. It’s light and bright as it has windows on two sides.
Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister, would often come with his family to stay. He was Kipling’s cousin.
Baldwin liked to go on walks, which were more like marches! Everyone else would puff along behind him.
One evening when he was asleep, Kipling pinned a note on the door. See photo.
The exhibition room, now full of glass cases, was the Kiplings’ bedroom.
When the National Trust acquired the property, Elsie Kipling, who never married, was still alive and she helped them with the authenticity of the house.
Most of the furniture is the Kiplings’ original furniture.
Sadly, tragedy struck again at Bateman’s. John, the son, died in WW1 a month after his 18th birthday. He shouldn’t even have been in the army as his eyesight was poor, like his father’s.
Kipling suffered from a duodenal ulcer, which got worse after John’s death. And it finally killed him when it perforated in 1936.
The dining-room has a fairly awful painting on the wall, of Jesus on the Madonna’s lap, and he’s staring into the future, and so it’s a portrait of a dying baby.
Elsie reckoned it was a present from a friend.
Carrie sat with her back to it because she couldn’t bear to look at it, and Kipling sat facing it as he couldn’t see it clearly.
Food was bland because of Kipling’s ulcer, although he must have loved spicy food after living in India. But it would have all been locally produced as they had a vegetable garden and owned three farms.
Guests said that the wine was wonderful, but the food was boring.
One wall is covered with Cordoba leather, with gold and silver, and stencilling. It looks like silk. Very beautiful!
Outside, the gardens are worth wandering around for the day, and the restaurant/tearooms serve good food, which I’ll write about in a separate article.
At the end of the grounds is the old mill. It grinds wheat twice a week, and you can buy a bag of stone-ground flour.
All the staff at Bateman’s are volunteers, and very knowledgeable and enthusiastic.
Nothing’s too much trouble. They make the visit extra-special!
Bateman’s Lane, Burwash, East Sussex, TN19 7DS
Telephone: 01435 882302
House 11:00 – 17:00
Garden 10:00 – 17:30
Restaurant 10:00 – 17:00
Shop 10:00 – 17:30
Mill grinds corn most Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2