Charleston, photograph by Tony Tree copyright The Charleston Trust
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‘It is not so much a house as a phenomenon’ Quentin Bell once said of Charleston. It was in 1916 that the phenomenon came into being, as Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and David Garnett made the move from Suffolk to Charleston, where Clive Bell and Maynard Keynes were also to be regular visitors. As conscientious objectors Grant and Garnett were exempted from military service providing they continued to work on the land and both found employment on a nearby farm. It was Virginia and Leonard Woolf, who lived locally, who had originally spotted the late 17th century Sussex farmhouse situated at the foot of the South Downs and encouraged Vanessa to make the move. Over the next 60 years the house was decorated by Bell and Grant, they painted walls, doors and furniture and produced decorated ceramics and needlepoint designs for their home.

After the death of Duncan Grant The Charleston Trust was formed to preserve the house and its remarkable collection, it has been described as ‘One of the most difficult and imaginative feats of restoration current in Britain’.

Charleston now hosts an active range of other associated events . Amongst these are a summer school, an annual festival, the Charleston Gallery, the quarterly Canvas publication, the Crafts Council listed shop and the continuing activities of the Friends of Charleston (who are now 1,400 strong).

Venue Type:

Historic house or home, Museum, Heritage site

Opening hours

Wed-Sun & Bank holidays

Wed - Sat 1300 - 1800 (1200 – 1800 July & August)

Sun & Bank holidays 1400-1800
Last entry 1700

Closed: Mon Tues

Admission charges

Adults £7.50
Children (6-16) £5.00
Themed Fridays (not July & August) £9.00
Disabled £5.00
OAPs (Thurs only) £6.50
Students (Thurs only) £6.50
Unemployed (Thurs only) £6.50

Charleston is the only surviving complete example of the decorative work of Bell and Grant, with walls, doors and furniture painted in their exuberant style. The house shows an evolution in decorative style throughout its different rooms. Initially only Vanessa’s bedroom (now the library), Clive Bell’s study door and window and Duncan’s bedroom were decorated. Later the designs spread throughout the house, including the spare room in 1936 and the garden room in 1945.

Charleston not only houses an impressive collection of art by its inhabitants but also a varied collection of other artist’s work including sculpture by Renoir and Gimond and paintings by Fry, Picasso, Sickert and Derain.

The collection is continually developing - recent acquisitions include Duncan Grant’s ‘Self-Portrait in a Turban’ 1909 purchased with support from The National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, The National Art Collections Fund and The Pilgrim Trust and Duncan Grant’s copy of Piero della Francesca’s ‘Portrait of Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino’ 1904/5 (this purchase was the first project to be supported by the Quentin Bell Commemoration Fund founded in 1997). Amongst recent loans are ‘Flowers against Chintz’ by Duncan Grant, 1956, from the Arts Council Collection and a bronze bust of Lytton Strachey by Stephen Tomlin, circa 1930, on loan from the Keatley Trust. The Tate Gallery have lent two pictures to the collection each season since 1993.

Collection details

Archives, Costume and Textiles, Decorative and Applied Art, Fine Art, Personalities

Events details are listed below. You may need to scroll down or click on headers to see them all. For events that don't have a specific date see the 'Resources' tab above.

Indian Flower Painting

  • 6 July 2015 10am-4pm *on now

Small is beautiful. Learn how to draw and paint in this most seductive and elusive style, characterised by intricate and delicate brushwork, and strong jewel colours.

Learn and develop the techniques of opaque watercolour painting, colour filling, burnishing, outlining and shading using a single hair brush, and create a beautiful miniature of your own.

Suitable for


£100 (£90 Friends)


Life Drawing En Plein Air

  • 11 July 2015 10am-1pm
  • 15 August 2015 10am-1pm

Continuing the rich legacy of life drawing at Charleston, artist and teacher Silvia MacRae Brown leads a morning of drawing from a life model in the peaceful setting of the Charleston orchard.  Easels and all materials will be provided.

Suitable for


£40 (£35 Friends)


Pattern Design

  • 14 July 2015 10am-4pm

This workshop explores how to use pattern in striking and dramatic ways.

The day will begin with an overview of the history of pattern design, from geometry in Islamic Art to the Omega Workshops. This will be followed with a private tour, focusing on at the use of pattern in the House.

In the afternoon, discover how to use pattern in your own interiors – on walls, soft furnishings, to personalise stationary or scarves. Design your own motif, and create your own lino-cut printing block to take away.

Suitable for


£100 (£90 Friends)


Landscape Painting

  • 18 July 2015 10am-4pm

Walk from Charleston onto the open chalk Downland, a spectacular landscape that artist Julian Le Bas returns to in his work from season to season. In this inspiring and powerful setting, you will paint directly from the landscape. Tuition and guidance will focus on creating a unified composition, structure, and the handling of oil and acrylic paints. All abilities are welcome.

The group will walk for approimately 30 minutes, the ground will be uneven, and there will be inclines.

The class will try to continue, even if the weather is unfavourable, so please come prepared. If rain becomes heavy, the class will take place in the Barn at Charleston.

Suitable for


£100 (£90 Friends)


A Gay Outing

  • 26 July 2015 6-8pm

Body building magazines such as Physique Pictorial had a big influence on the output of British male homosexual artists working in the post second world war period.

Duncan Grant used British and American magazines as influence for a large amount of private homo-erotic work. Charleston’s curator, Dr Darren Clarke explores Grant’s responses to this source material and also considers those of a younger generation of artists including David Hockney, Keith Vaughan and Francis Bacon. Strictly over 16s.

Suitable for

  • Not suitable for children


£20 (£15 Friends)


Animation Summer School

  • 27 — 29 July 2015

A great, hands-on introduction to stop-frame animation for young people, covering every stage of the filmmaking process from planning to completion. Participants will script and storyboard an original short animated film and work in small groups to produce animated sequences. They will also be shown how to edit and add sound, create title sequences and export their finished films.

Suitable for


£175 (£150 Friends)


Young Bohemians: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

  • 17 — 21 August 2015

Years ago, performances of a Midsummer Night’s Dream were held on the banks of the pond at Charleston on summer evenings. 

All week, the Young Bohemians will create their own production of this enchanting comedy.

Set, props and costume will be made from scratch, parts learnt, friends made, all culminating in a magical end-of –week performances for families and friends.

Suitable for ages 8 - 14.

Suitable for


£275 (£250 Friends)


An Introduction to Drawing

  • 24 August 2015 10am-4pm

it is only by drawing often, drawing everything, drawing incessantly, that one fine day you discover to your surprise that you have rendered something in its true character.' Camille Pissarro

This is a day of pure drawing for beginners. We focus on technique, looking at line, tone, shape and form and colour, to discover that beautiful drawing is not magic but a learnt skill.

Suitable for


£100 (£90 Friends)


Stained Glass

  • 25 August 2015 10am-5pm

Hand craft a beautiful, leaded stained glass window panel.

Learn the traditional techniques of cutting, leading and soldering, cementing and polishing to create a decorative panel that will capture and colour the light as it streams into your home.

All tools and materials are provided.  Please wear old clothes and sturdy shoes!

Suitable for


£110 (£100 Friends)


Near Firle
East Sussex




Visitor Information

01323 811265

Group/ school bookings

01323 811626


01323 811628

All information is drawn from or provided by the venues themselves and every effort is made to ensure it is correct. Please remember to double check opening hours with the venue concerned before making a special visit.