“If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!”
— excerpt from “If” by Rudyard Kipling
BURWASH, England — The first Disney film remember seeing in the cinema was “The Jungle Book.” I must have been eight when the film was released. I remember my father consoling me as I wept when Baloo the Bear died (I was sure there was no way back for the loveable scamp). I remember being scared by the malevolent tiger, Shere Khan and mesmerized by Kaa the snake. It was an early introduction to the works of Rudyard Kipling
Later, when I was in secondary school, we city kids were shipped off to Burwash, some 30 miles from my hometown of Brighton, to experience the countryside. The first night none of us slept due to the deafening sounds of crickets and animals — ironic, considering I lived on the main road and was comfortable with 18-wheelers thundering past my window all night. I am to this day uncomfortable in the “peace” of nature, but I digress.
Burwash is also home to Bateman’s, the home of Rudyard Kipling. The Nobel laureate’s house is part of the National Trust, and is a must visit when one is in the Sussex countryside.
When Kipling first saw the house in 1902, he reportedly said, “This is she! Let’s make a good, honest woman of her quick.” The author and his wife, Carrie, were living in Rottingdean, on the outskirts of Brighton, but after the death of their oldest daughter, Josephine, at age six in 1889, the looked for a house that could give them some peace and allow them to escape the prying eyes of fans looking for a glimpse of the famous writer.. He stayed at the house for 34 years until his death. In accordance with his wished to “leave a little bit of England” to the nation, it was passed to the National Trust on Carrie’s death in 1939. He is appropriately interred in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner.
The 17th-century Jacobean house offers a glimpse into the lifestyle of one of Britain’s most beloved authors. For even the most nominal bibliophile (if I have to give you a definition, you ain’t one) will love the study where Kipling worked in the mornings. It is the sort of old-style library that has a lived-in quality. The fairly rudimentary desk sits in front of the window and one imagines Rudyard, in a pensive moment, turning to look out on the gardens while he waits for inspiration to strike. The study is deliberately a little unkempt, as if he had just stepped out for a moment, complete with papers in waste basket waiting endlessly to be emptied — although by all accounts, the floor is remarkably free of paper and clutter, which apparently was not the case while the author was at work.
One room features, according to the docent, the oldest working clock in the National Trust’s holdings, dating to the 1580s.
The estate comprises 300 acres, including tenant-farmed land, and the 12-acre garden was designed by Kipling so the house fits into its surroundings “like a lovely cup on a matching saucer,” and features an orchard, the Pear Allée and the Mulberry Garden, as well s the Formal Garden, the Lily Pond, the Rose Garden and so much more. There is even a vegetable garden which supplies the tea house.
Visitors must follow the path past the pond to the “Wild Garden” before crossing the bridge to the Park Mill — the bridge crosses the banks of the river Dudwell with the most amazing plant I have seen on its banks. The Gunnera manicata, or Brazilian giant-rhubarb, has leaves which grow from four to 10-feet across, making any photo look like an optical illusion.
By the time he moved to Bateman’s, Kipling had already written “Captains Courageous” and “The Jungle Books,” and was considered to be the “People’s Laureate,” and his time at the house produced “Puck of Pook’s Hill” and “Rewards and Fairies” which contained the poem “If.” He declined many awards, including the Poet Laureateship, a knighthood and the Order of Merit. However, he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, and the medal is proudly displayed in the house.
Kipling’s place in the pantheon of British literature is assured, both for the quality of his prose, and his ability to spin a yarn. Disney has sealed his place in history with “The Jungle Book” movies, and many others have translated his work onto celluloid — my personal favorite is John Huston’s magnificent 1975 epic, “The Man Who Would Be King,” featuring in-their-prime performances by Sean Connery and Michael Caine.
Many a vacation is a whirlwind of activity, but a visit to Bateman’s is worth a day trip to take in the peace and tranquility of a quintessential English country house and garden — Kipling’s little piece of England.
Bateman’s is open daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (gardens 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Admission to the house and garden is 10 pounds for adults, children are 5 pounds, and 25 pounds for families (two adults, three children).
For more information, visit nationaltrust.org.uk/batemans.