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History of Bateman's

The stone frontage and six chimneys of Bateman's, East Sussex
The stone frontage and six chimneys of Bateman's, East Sussex | © National Trust Images/John Miller

From 17th-century beginnings to a welcoming family home, Bateman’s has sat in the countryside of the Sussex Weald for nearly 400 years. Its most famous resident was author Rudyard Kipling, who found sanctuary and inspiration in the Jacobean manor and garden.

In the beginning

Bateman’s was built, extended and renovated over a long period of time, and parts of the house are even older than the 1634 date above the front door.

The record of previous owners is not complete and is complicated by stories invented by Kipling. Through time the house has been occupied by a variety of people including parsons, farmers and tradesmen. There is no record of anyone living at Bateman’s called ‘Bateman’.

The Kiplings move in

Rudyard and Caroline Kipling bought Bateman’s in 1902. Kipling continued the process of renovating and commissioned his cousin Ambrose Poynter to undertake work. This included the installation of a turbine at the mill to generate electricity for the house, as well as eventual installations of bathrooms and central heating.

‘We have loved it ever since our first sight of it… We entered and felt her Spirit – her Feng Shui – to be good. We went through every room and found no shadows of ancient regrets, stifled miseries, nor any menace, though her new end was three hundred years old… A real house in which to settle down.’

- Rudyard Kipling

A place to call home

The Kiplings fell in love with the house at first sight and it's still easy to see why. The soft warm colour of the local sandstone, the oak beams and panelling, the terraced lawn and walled garden make for a beautiful house, nestled in the Sussex Weald. The romance and the sense of history appealed to Kipling as a vision of unchanging England.

Bateman’s also offered privacy. Kipling was in his late 30s and a renowned author when he moved in. Plain Tales from the Hills and the two Jungle Books had been internationally successful, and he published Kim in 1901 to critical acclaim. The 33 acres around Bateman’s helped keep the curious at bay, and over the years Kipling gradually acquired more and more of the surrounding woods and fields.

A view across the water of the lily pond at Bateman's with the surface reflecting the blue sky and pink roses between clusters of lily pads
The lily pond at Bateman's, East Sussex | © National Trust Images/John Miller

The history of the garden

When Kipling saw Bateman’s it was the retreat from the outside world he had been looking for. He set about enhancing the garden by making an orchard, planting yew hedges and creating a kitchen garden within the walls of what is known as the Mulberry Garden – because of the tree Kipling planted there. The rose garden by the lily pond was designed by Kipling. His drawing is on display in the house.

'Kipling "designed it having in mind the house fitting into its surroundings like a lovely cup on a matching saucer".'

- Elsie Bambridge (Kipling’s daughter) on the garden

For the Kiplings' surviving children, John and Elsie (Josephine, the eldest, had died aged only six in 1899) the garden became a setting for an idyllic childhood. They acted out plays in the old quarry, visited the mill by the river or boated on the lily pond – events that would find their way into Kipling’s writings.

National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel
Rudyard Kipling's desk in the study at Bateman's | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Life at Bateman’s

Bateman’s was a sanctuary, but Kipling was never a recluse. He was a keen motorist and enjoyed exploring Sussex by car. He took visitors to Bodiam Castle, visited his friend Henry James at Lamb House, and kept in touch with the Hussey family at Scotney Castle.

The study was the heart of the house. Here Kipling wrote Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies, directly inspired by the landscape. His daughter Elsie later recalled: ‘When writing verse, he usually paced up and down the study humming to himself.’

After Kipling

Elsie was Rudyard and Caroline’s only surviving child. Their eldest daughter Josephine had died aged only 6 of pneumonia, while their son John lost his life in the First World War. Elsie married George Bambridge in 1924 and they eventually bought Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire. Rudyard Kipling died in 1936 and Caroline left Bateman’s to the National Trust on her death in 1939.

Elsie Kipling's sitting room at Bateman's, East Sussex, with blue and white china in a glass-fronted cabinet, on a carved wooden mantelpiece and on a table

Bateman's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Bateman's on the National Trust Collections website.

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