Sussex

New life for Bloomsbury Group's Charleston farmhouse

Restoration work Image copyright Charleston
Image caption Restorer Suzanne Penrose tackles a wall in one of the rooms at Charleston farmhouse

New life is being breathed into a countryside retreat that was once home to an influential set of writers, artists and intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group. Photographs show how painstaking work is being carried out to restore the rooms at Charleston farmhouse to their former glory.

An "eruption of mould" in the library is just one of the disasters averted by a £32,000 conservation effort to salvage the interior of the country house in the village of Firle in East Sussex.

A leaking gutter had threatened to ruin its decor - a feature synonymous with the building bought by artist Vanessa Bell, and fellow painter, Duncan Grant, in 1916.

Frequent visitors to the property near Lewes included Bell's sister, author Virginia Woolf, and her theorist husband Leonard; writers EM Forster and Lytton Strachey, and artist Roger Fry.

Many of them helped make their mark on its appearance, decorating the walls, doors and furniture in styles inspired by Italian fresco painting and the post-impressionists.

Image copyright Charleston
Image caption Paper is being removed and replaced in order to repair the wall in the library
Image copyright Charleston
Image caption Parts of the spare bedroom were damaged by a leak from the room above
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Vanessa Bell, left and Virginia Woolf were both part of the Bloomsbury Set

But after years of wear and tear, the house became in desperate need of restoration, prompting a fundraising appeal to save its elaborately decorated rooms in time for its centenary year.

The Charleston Trust, which owns the property, said conservation work has been taking place in the library and one of the bedrooms and has enlisted the help of conservator Gordon Grant, who spent 40 years preserving Brighton Pavilion.

His focus has been on removing the mould in the library, which involved repairing a wall, and will eventually recreate the paint finish, reinstate a bookcase and re-point the exterior wall.

Image copyright Charleston
Image caption The artists designed the garden with mosaics, box hedges, pathways and ponds
Image copyright Charleston
Image caption Conservator Gordon Grant has removed paper to repair the library wall
Image copyright Charleston
Image caption Leaking guttering led to an "eruption of mould" in the library

Restoration work will continue through the winter until 22 March when the donors will be welcomed in to see the finished work.

The farmhouse will then open to the public - for its centenary year - the following day.

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