Kipling's Sussex fairy tales at Bateman's

A study at Bateman's in East Sussex decorated for Christmas

For over a century, Kipling's Sussex fairy tales have captured the imagination of readers of all ages. This year, Christmas at Bateman's too is inspired by these enchanting collections, 'Puck of Pook's Hill' and its sequel, 'Rewards and Fairies'. The endearing stories provide the theme for decorations, talks and storytelling throughout December.

Rudyard Kipling took his children Elsie and John on many fantastical adventures at Bateman’s. They loved to play together on the river. In fact, Kipling wrote them a charter to be ‘free to come and go and look and know - whether shod or barefoot’.

They also had ‘rights’ over the birds, bees, reptiles, fishes and insects. In their secluded haven tucked into the Sussex Weald, it must have seemed idyllic at times.   

The fun they had inspired some of Kipling’s books, including his much-loved Sussex fairy tales. These are at the heart of our Christmas celebrations at Bateman’s this year.

Mid-Summer beginnings

The very beginnings of these stories come to light in a letter from Elsie. She writes:

" One summer in the early 1900s, we children and my father acted scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Our stage was an old grass-grown quarry and there my brother as Puck, myself as Titania and my father as Bottom, rehearsed and acted happily."
- Elsie Kipling, in a letter recalling life at Bateman's

Published works

Puck of Pook’s Hill was published shortly after their summer’s day escapades in 1906. Rewards and Fairies followed in 1910. They feature two Sussex children Dan and Una, living near a ‘Pook’s Hill’, as they perform Shakespeare in a fairy ring on Midsummer Eve.

There they meet an ancient fairy named Puck, who weaves magical stories with characters from history. Afterwards, he removes Dan and Una’s memory of the adventures they shared.

Mini books on a shelf at Christmas at Bateman's in East Sussex
Mini books on a shelf at Christmas at Bateman's in East Sussex
Mini books on a shelf at Christmas at Bateman's in East Sussex

Sussex fairy lore

Sussex has a long history of fairies and fairy tales. Legend has it that it was the last place in England inhabited by fairies before they left forever.

Kipling’s Sussex fairy tales are deeply rooted in the county’s fairy lore; 'Puck' or 'Pook', is believed to derive from the Saxon word 'Puca', meaning a Goblin (Smith, A.H: English Place-Name Elements, Vol. 2 Cam. U.P. 1956 p.74). There are many place names still across Sussex which feature these words.

With their fantastical prose and enchanting story collections, it’s no surprise that the tales are as popular as ever. New editions have been recently published by Pan Macmillan, ready for the next generation to enjoy.

Kipling's Sussex fairy tales have inspired Christmas at Bateman's
A bookshelf at Bateman's in East Sussex decorated for Christmas
Kipling's Sussex fairy tales have inspired Christmas at Bateman's

Christmas at Bateman’s

The story collections provide the inspiration for Christmas at Bateman’s this year. You’ll find handmade decorations and glowing doors of fairies hiding in the books on Kipling’s bookshelves.

There is also a trail for little ones to look forward to. So settle in and let yourself be enchanted by the myth and mystery of Kipling’s Sussex countryside.

Open daily from 2 December to 1 January, 11.30am to 3.30pm, excluding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Normal admission charges apply.