Rudyard Kipping was smitten with Bateman’s from the moment he clapped eyes on the place. In a letter from 1902, the year he and his family moved into the Jacobean manor, he describes ‘a grey stone lichened house […] beamed, panelled, with old oak staircase, and all untouched and unfaked. It is a good and peaceable place. We have loved it ever since our first sight of it’.What it lacked was electricity, running water above the ground floor, and a bathroom. But along with 33 acres and a mill, it provided privacy and a badly needed retreat from the fans who’d begun peering through the window of his home in Rottingdean, along the coast from Brighton.
Kipling would call Bateman’s home until his death in 1936 and, nourished by its landscape, he produced some of his best-known works, including ‘If’, ‘The Glory of the Garden’ and Puck of Pook’s Hill. His book-lined study remains largely as he left it: the tools of his inky-fingered trade laid out on the 17th-century walnut refectory table set beneath the window, his pipe still waiting to be lit.
The Nobel Laureate did a lot of living there, too. During the Great War, he farmed the land, and several of his Guernsey cows even won prizes at the Tunbridge Wells Cattle Show. And he mourned the death of his 17-year-old son at the Battle of Loos.
The Jungle Book, his most enduring work, was published in 1894. Motivated by the birth of his child, Josephine, it was written in America but traces of its inspiration are strewn through the house, from the oriental rugs that cover the floors to his collection of Indian art and artefacts. His bookplate depicts a small figure reading atop an elephant.
So what should expect from a visit to Bateman’s? Not a Jungle Book theme park, thankfully, though on our visit, a special Jungle Book Trail had been set for keen-eyed small ones captivated by Kipling’s wild boy and his animal pals.
There’s a beautiful garden with an orchard (look out for Apple Day in October), herb patch, pond and wildflower filled meadow. Stroll along the river and you’ll find the working watermill with farmland walks stretching beyond. Free range hens pecked, following us back over the bridge and up to the stone house.
The children in our group were aged eight months to five years old, and we found plenty to engage and amuse them all, from giant board games on the lawn and a life-sized Shere Khan peering out from beneath a bush to an actor playing the role of the author (“He’s not the real Kipling”, a docent whispered, apparently anxious lest the imposter overhear her. “We had some people through the other week who thought he was. Americans, they were”).
Don’t miss the shelf of antiquarian children’s books in the ubiquitous National Trust gift shop. We spotted vintage Enid Blyton and Robert Louis Stevenson – the perfect memento of a day well spent.