This National Trust property is not far from me, in the pretty East Sussex village of Burwash. I’ve been meaning to go for ages, but was prompted by the recent Jungle Book movie.
It’s a magical place, gifted to the National Trust by Kipling’s daughter and left on request exactly as it was when her father lived there.
I had known a little about Kipling’s history before I went – how he was born in India, a country he loved, before his parents sent him off to England for his schooling. Initially he lived with a foster mother, who was cruel to him. When his family found out eventually he was removed and sent to a boarding school, where he started to flourish.
He was always an anxious soul, prone to periods of melancholy and it’s not that surprising when you consider not just his childhood, but also his later life and losses. His beloved daughter, Josephine, died at the age of six, from pneumonia and then his son John also perished years later, in the First World War.
This background knowledge is useful when you visit the house. The many years that Kipling lived here were some of the happiest and most stable of his life, apparently, yet there is also a tangible air of sadness about the place.
I got even more information from one of the helpful volunteers who worked there. He also told us some rather racy stories about when Kipling and his wife first met, tempered slightly as Master and Miss Gallivant were with us, ears aflapping!
The house is interesting to tour – it’s smaller and less grand than most National Trust properties and you get a real sense of the Kipling family having lived here, with their furniture, trinkets and possessions, dotted around, including John’s school uniform poignantly hung up in his bedroom.
Outside, Kipling’s rather splendid Rolls Royce sits in the garage, and there are lovely gardens which he had designed himself. Wander through them to the old watermill and there are also 300 acres of estate to explore, although it was all a little too muddy on our visit.
At the end there’s a bookshop with books about and by Kipling. I bought Master Gallivant a copy of The Jungle Book (he has declared it ‘a lot darker than the film’) and Miss Gallivant the Just So stories. They were surely the perfect souvenir.
For more information on the house, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/batemans. Ticket prices are £11 per adult (including Gift Aid), £5.50 per child, £27.50 per family. Entrance free for National Trust members.