“Behold us,” Rudyard Kipling enthused in 1902, “lawful owners of a grey stone lichened house–AD 1634 over the door–beamed, panelled, with old oak staircase, and all untouched and unfaked.” After years of transiency and travels, the Bombay-born author of The Jungle Book and other tales had found “a real house in which to settle down for keeps” in the English countryside. Kipling went on to live in the sprawling Jacobean manor, known as Bateman’s House, until the time of his death thirty years later.
As my book club is in the midst of reading Kim, set in colonial India and considered to be his masterpiece, I thought it would be fitting to journey down to Sussex and report back to the group what I’d gleaned about the domestic life of the beloved English author. Although I’ve visited dozens of author houses while researching Novel Destinations, Kipling’s home immediately became one of my favorites, perhaps because of its sheer splendor and old age or the fact that its original Jacobean decor (stone doors, 17th century oak panelled walls and floors, Inglenook fireplaces, etc.) remains remarkably intact. Equally interesting were the house’s austere, medieval-era furnishings, which, I learned, earned the Kiplings a reputation for having an “uncomfortable hard-chaired home.”
Bateman’s remains almost exactly as the Kiplings left it, and among the many items that fascinated me were the bronze plaster wall hangings depicting characters from The Jungle Book, created by the author’s ceramicist father. Although it was a rainy, blustery day, my husband and I enjoyed a walk around the multi-acre grounds to see Kipling’s pristine 1928 Rolls Royce and take in the pond and rose garden he designed himself and paid for with his 1907 Nobel Prize winnings.
Prior to residing at Bateman’s, Kipling and his American wife lived for a few years in Dummerston, VT, in a custom-built home they christened “Naulakha“, a Hindi word meaning “jewel beyond price.” Today, the house (which is chock-full of its original furnishings, including Kipling’s pool table), can be booked as a vacation rental.
For deep-pocketed Kipling fans visiting London, I recommend a stay at Brown’s Hotel, built in 1837 by Lord Byron’s valet. The author penned portions of The Jungle Book during stays at the luxe hotel, and sadly, the Kiplings were lodging at Brown’s when the writer suffered a hemorrhage and was rushed to the hospital. He died of a perforated ulcer six days later on January 18, 1936, the day of his forty-fourth wedding anniversary.–JR