Rudyard Kipling

Extracts from book by Martin Fido published in 1974


EXTRACTS FROM BOOK "RUDYARD KIPLING" BY Martin Fido published in 1974

"A Home in Sussex"

.... In 1899 the proprietor of the Daily Mail came to Rottingdean to see Kipling, and a friend called through the Kiplings' door, "Mr Harmsworth has just brought round one of those motor-car things. Come and try it!"
The words could hardly have been more fateful if uttered to Toad himself. Rudyard came, and saw, and the motor-car conquered. He hired an eight-mile-an-hour top-speed, belt-driven motorised Victoria, and drove it for the remainder of that season in England. The next year he bought a Locomobile: An American motor-car that ran on steam power.

This was an era when all motoring was pioneering excitement; when there were no petrol pumps or service stations along the roads; when the driver and chauffeur might have to act as their own untutored mechanics at a moment's notice. The harnessing of steam power to an unreliable petrol burner (with a flame that always went out in cross-winds, and never lit with the same explosion twice running) was an interesting creation of hazard. Not surprisingly, the steam motor-car did not survive into the second motoring generation. But the steam Locomobile gave Kipling two happy years' un-faithful service.

It was followed by an early Lanchester..... Named by the family 'Jane Cakebread Lanchester' and evidently loved.....

Kipling made such a fuss about motoring, both in and out of print, that it sometimes surprised his friends to discover that he did not drive himself, but always relied upon a chauffeur.

The main use Kipling made of the car in the years at the turn of the century was in travelling over Sussex and Kent to look for a suitable home to settle in. The Elms was quite unsatisfactory. Apart from memories of Josephine (young daughter who had recently died), there was an increasing incursion of trippers into Rottingdean, and the slow spread of hideous suburbia from Brighton, covering the downs. Kipling wanted a remote house; a beautiful house; a house with enough land of its own to let him put down roots.

He found it just outside Burwash, a village in East Sussex, a couple of miles from the Etchingham railway station. A very steep narrow lane ran down from one end of the village, through woods into an open valley. There on the right, stood an old Jacobean ironmaster's house, with minimal eighteenth century additions and a double oast-house bulging from the back. It was utterly secluded, utterly peaceful, and, lying in gardens that the current owner was setting in delightful order, utterly beautiful. Without a moment's hesitation, Rudyard and Carrie exclaimed, "That's her!" There was only one snag about Batemans. It was already let.

Deeply disappointed, Rudyard and Carrie returned to Rottingdean, and spent another year driving around the countryside in search of something suitable. Aunt Georgie, who thoroughly enjoyed coming with them on these adventurous runs, was probably less sorry than they that they could not yet move. But within a year Batemans was back on the market, and the Kiplings obtained it. As soon as the contracts were exchanged, the retiring owner revealed the house's major snag as he saw it; the steepness of the hill literally killed carriage-horses. Rudyard optimistically pointed to Jane Cakebread. 'Oh! Those things haven't come to stay,' was the vendor's response. But of course, they had, and the hill gave motors no difficulty. Years later Kipling discovered that his confidence in the future of mechanical travel had won him his house at half the purchase price that would have been demanded if the owner had suspected that steep inclines were a drawback of the past."


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