Charleston was the home and country meeting place of the writers, painters and intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group, who first arrived there over one hundred years ago. The interior was painted by the artists Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, and together with their collection forms a unique example of their decorative style. Today, as an internationally renowned museum, the house welcomes over 30,000 visitors a year, while a further 12,000 take part in Charleston's innovative public programme of workshops, talks, festivals and other events.
As granddaughter of Vanessa Bell, I spent my childhood holidays at Charleston. For me, Charleston was a holiday house. Until I was twelve our family spent part of every summer there with my grandparents and Duncan Grant. Duncan and Vanessa both painted my portrait in the studio, the housekeeper Grace Higgens allowed us to scrape out the bowl when she made rock buns, and we took her dog Blotto for walks on the Downs. The house was a place of uninhibited, messy creativity. There was always paint, clay, paper, glue and matches to play with. I grew up believing Art was something everyone could do.
I was also brought up to accept much of what Bloomsbury stands for: tolerance, reason, freedom of speech, non-violence, equality, friendship, internationalism. As I tried to show in my book Among the Bohemians, I continue to admire many of the values represented by my grandparents’ generation, and I believe them to have been pioneers. I think that Vanessa Bell, Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Roger Fry, Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey and their associates were in many ways ahead of their time, and in certain respects the world has still not caught up with their ideas.
Virginia Woolf died many years before I was born, but I am proud that my parents named me in memory of my great-aunt, and that I have continued in the family tradition of becoming a writer.
Until 2018 I served as a Trustee of Charleston. In September 2018 I was deeply honoured to be invited to accept the role of President of the Charleston Trust. I can’t imagine a more rewarding time to be involved with Charleston, which last year launched its new gallery and other public spaces. Thanks to these buildings Charleston is becoming ever more a place for innovation and a crucible for ideas, in the true spirit of the Bloomsbury Group, but relevant to our own times - and year round too.
Today, the vitality of Charleston as an organisation gives me confidence and hope. I believe my grandparents and their friends would have been astonished, but also delighted, to see how the house they created has been reborn, and how it continues to inspire the visitors who come here. This has been, for me, the realisation of a dream. Charleston’s future as a living artistic environment has never been of greater importance to me.