Books about Rodmell
There are many interesting books about Rodmell, Virginia Woolf, her family and the so-called Bloomsbury Group. And there have been other writers associated with the village, as well as local residents who have written about various aspects of Rodmell and Sussex life. We’ve listed a few here, but it’s not a comprehensive list. Do you know of any books about Rodmell that you’d like to see mentioned here? If you do, please contact us and tell us about them.
Virginia Woolf’s Garden: The Story of the Garden at Monk’s House
Monk’s House in Sussex is the former home of Leonard and Virginia Woolf. It was bought by them in 1919 as a country retreat, somewhere they came to read, write and work in the garden. From the overgrown land behind the house they created a brilliant patchwork of garden rooms, linked by brick paths, secluded behind flint walls and yew hedges. The story of this magical garden is the subject of this book and the author has selected quotations from the writings of the Woolfs which reveal how important a role the garden played in their lives, as a source of both pleasure and inspiration. Virginia wrote most of her major novels at Monk’s House, at first in a converted tool shed, and later in her purpose-built wooden writing lodge tucked into a corner of the orchard.
Available from Amazon Books
The story of another remarkable garden in Rodmell is told in:
The story of a creative experience. This is a sort of diary with photos of Mr Drawbell and his Rodmell gardener making a garden out of the wilderness when he bought the house at the top of Mill Hill in the 1930s. Hardcover published 1970, now in short supply, but could be available from eBay
From a current local gardener:
Weeds, Weeding (& Darwin): The Gardener’s Guide
Whenever he is gardening William Edmonds – long-term resident of Rodmell – sees Charles Darwin as his mentor. Darwin was intrigued by the nature of variation in plants and how this related to which plants thrived and survived. From his minute observations we can understand how weeds can propagate and take over a garden.
Informed by Darwin’ s insights, and by over thirty years of gardening experience, Edmonds describes and illustrates one hundred significant garden weeds, arranged in the order in which they have evolved. For each there is a What To Do, and a further chapter sets out the pros and cons of twenty tried and tested approaches to weeding.
Learning to recognise, understand and deal with each weed will take you well on the way to coping in a relaxed – even enjoyable – tussle with these devilish despoilers. Weeds, Weeding (& Darwin) is an enlightening guidebook for every gardener.
Mrs Woolf & the Servants
‘An invaluable glimpse into the hidden history of domestic service in an absorbing narrative, beautifully written’ The Times. Penguin books paperback published 2008. With photos – including mentions and photo of their first gardener.
Virginia Woolf’s Women
The Bloomsbury group were noted for their convoluted personal relationships. Vanessa Curtis’s book details some of Virginia Woolf’s biography concentrates exclusively on Woolf’s close and inspirational female friendships with the key women in her life. Curtis looks both at the effect of these relationships on her emotional life and the inspiration that each woman provided for the female protagonists in her fiction.
Virginia Woolf’s Rodmell
Edited by Maire McQueeney.
An illustrated guide to a Sussex village. Paperback booklet published 1991, available from Amazon
For another view, there’s
Rodmell: a Downland village
By S B Publications,
Paperback booklet published 1999, available from Amazon,
Also, a little older
Jim Bartholomew, Guide to Rodmell (1985)
Julie Singleton: A History of Monk’s House and the Village of Rodmell
publ. Cecil Woolf: 2008
Strike while the iron’s hot.
Frank Dean and Susan Rowland
Frank Dean’s life as a blacksmith and farrier in Rodmell (the family forge only closed last year). Paperback booklet published 1994. Currently seems to be available to purchase only from USA, from https://www.abebooks.com/book-search/title/strike-irons-hot-deans/author/frank-dean/, though may appear in libraries here, such as the Regency Town House in Brighton. http://rth.org.uk/node/481
A local writer who has written a charming account of her life in Rodmell is
Rachel West, aka B.A. Hall, was born in London during WW2. She was evacuated as a baby with her mother to live with her grandmother in Rodmell, where she misspent her childhood and teenage years. Her memoir entitled Onwards and Downwards is the story of those years.
For over fifty years she was a busy married housewife, mother of five children, grandmother of seven, and has just welcomed her first great-grandchild into the 21st century. After becoming a widow she found she had time for reading and writing again and today she lives in Devon.
Rachel’s first attempt at writing was a fairy story set in London for a London magazine competition. Next she wrote several short stories for the Hubpages website. Since then she has published her second book, Dolly Dean of Denton Green, a fictional story about a Sussex village farming family during the early part of the 20th century and through two World Wars.
Her third book, Jack’s Journey: His Life and Loves is about a Sussex born Romany boy, his dysfunctional family, his life, adventures and loves.
Rachel West has a Facebook author page https://www.facebook.com/RachelWestWriter/
Rachel West’s memoir, Onwards and Downwards, is available from Amazon.co.uk here:
Another memoir, though not specifically of Rodmell, is:
To The River
‘To the River’ is the story of the Ouse. One midsummer week over sixty years later, Olivia Laing walked Woolf’s river from source to sea. The result is a passionate investigation into how history resides in a landscape – and how ghosts never quite leave the places they love. “Olivia Laing’s walk from source to sea along the Ouse in Sussex is a meandering, meditative delight” (The Guardian).
More about the river:
Sussex River; Journeys Along The Banks of The Ouse
3 volumes, Paperback – 1983,by
Diana Gardner: a resident during WW2
Diana Gardner, born in 1913, went to Bedford High School and Westminster School of Art and afterwards worked as a wood engraver and book illustrator. During the Second World War she lived with her father in a cottage in Rodmell in Sussex, where she knew the Woolfs and often visited Leonard after Virginia’s death. She had begun writing when very young, her first short story being published in Horizon in 1940. Her collection Halfway Down the Cliff (from which all but one of the stories in The Woman Novelist and Other Stories are selected) was published in 1946. After the war Diana Gardner returned to London and worked in publishing as a reader and editor. Her novel The Indian Woman appeared in 1954. From the 1960s onwards she was a full-time painter working mostly in pen-and-ink and watercolour: her work was frequently exhibited until the time of her death in 1997.
The Gardners – Diana, her brother and her widowed father, Major Gardner (ex railway engineer, Malaya) were neighbours in Rodmell during the war, but Virginia had little time for the local gentry and was quite cool towards Diana, and even complained in her diary on 9th January 1941 about finding herself in the same compartment as her on the train to Brighton. She was kind enough, however, to congratulate her on the pre-publication announcement of one of Diana’s stories.
Back in the 1920s a Scottish author named A G Macdonell wrote a light-hearted but affectionate book called ‘England their England’. It tells the story of a young Scotsman, back from the war and attempting to make his way as a writer, who is commissioned to write a book about England and the English, of which he has little previous experience. It became very popular, describing – and gently making fun of – many cherished English institutions including, in one memorable chapter, a village cricket match. The name chosen for the village was fictional, and Macdonell set it on the Kentish border. However, various non–local sources have claimed that the village it was modelled on was in fact Rodmell. Either way, it provides a particularly hilarious episode in what is throughout, a very amusing book.
The South Downs are a prime attraction for walkers, so there are lots of walking guides covering the Rodmell area and its surroundings.
The South Downs Way is possibly the most popular walking route in the country, so guide books are plentiful. Amazon has a good selection:
East Sussex is well covered here:
For those who need to know that their walk will end well:
Pub Walks in Sussex, by Mike Power
Below are two local favourites, though they are hard to find now:
The Sussex Ouse Valley Way by Terry Owen & Peter Anderson
This describes a number of walks with accompanying route notes and maps. Two of these involve Rodmell as start/end points.
New copies do not seem to be available at present, but second-hand ones can probably be found on eBay.
On foot on the East Sussex Downs by Ben Perkins.
This includes eighteen walks between Eastbourne and Brighton, divided into three categories, labelled Long Medium and Short.
Unfortunately, this book appears to be out of print.
The SDNP also publishes individual walking maps with notes, at least one of which includes Rodmell. You can also use their interactive Discovery Map
Birds in Rodmell is an annotated checklist of the birds of this rural parish in East Sussex. It was originally compiled by Michael Light in 1999 and has been revised in 2021 by Judith Bradbury, with some beautiful illustrations by Jo Mortimer.
It is sold in aid of St Peter’s church, Rodmell, and copies, price £2, can be obtained from the church or from Judith Bradbury, at firstname.lastname@example.org