Bloomsbury in Sussex: A One-Day Conference Marking 100 Years at Charleston

Final Programme Charleston

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Keynote: Victoria Rosner

Speakers: Alistair Davies, Laura Marcus, Theodore Koulouris, Peter Blee, Darren Clarke, David Herbert, Justine Shaw, Nanette O’Brien, Anna Fewster, Bárbara Gallego Larrarte, Frank Brouwer, Harriet Barratt Dorling, Hana Leaper, Nuala Hancock, Maggie Humm, Carolyn Trant.

Tuesday 19th July

Charleston at Firle was the Sussex home of the Bloomsbury Group. It was a place where artists, writers, and intellectuals conversed and created new work. Living nearby were Virginia and Leonard Woolf at Monk’s House, and also economist John Maynard Keynes and ballerina Lydia Lopokova at Tilton House. Visitors to Charleston included authors E.M. Forster, T.S. Eliot, Roger Fry, David Garnett, and Lytton Strachey. This one-day conference marked the centenary anniversary of the arrival of artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant to Charleston.

The first part of the day took place at the University of Sussex. Papers explored how Charleston, and the Bloomsbury set in Sussex, have been represented (in the house museum, in exhibitions, literature, film and online). What myths and memories have grown up around Charleston? What representations of the Bloomsbury set have been preserved by the heritage industry? Why has the Bloomsbury version of modernism remained popular?

We also thought about how different spatial contexts impacted on the work of the Bloomsbury group, and about the local and domestic dimensions of modernism (contrasting everyday encounters with art and craft with the display of artworks in museum contexts). How important was place to the Bloomsbury group? How does the rural setting transform ideas about modernism? What does the house tell us about the ways in which experimental creative practices intersected with the practice of everyday life?

At lunchtime we went to Berwick Church, the location of the Bell and Grant murals. We will then went on to Charleston itself. Speakers chose a room of the house each and gave short talks in their chosen room, interpreting objects and art works, reading spaces biographically, and exploring how their research might link with stories told about inhabitants and visitors.

Key to discussions in the morning and the afternoon were consideration of the significance for researchers of visiting the sites their subjects once inhabited, and of following in their footsteps. Why might the house museum, and its environs, be significant research resources?

The organiser of this event was Dr. Hope Wolf. For further information (

(Image credit: Phil Bartle. Creative Commons Licence).