"for sheer beauty and a certain air of quiet, it would be hard to beat Sedlescombe",
said Rudyard Kipling
THE MOTOR CAR
Rudyard Kipling's love of the motor car is well-known. It was in 1899 that he was first invited to ride in "one of those motor-car things" by the proprietor of the Daily Mail and was immediately captivated. What was surprising was that, despite Kipling's great love of the motor car, he never drove one himself but was chauffeured around often with his aunt in the back. The first car that he hired was an 8-mile an hour, belt-driven motorised Victoria which he had for a season. He then bought a Locomobile which was an American steam-powered car which he used for the next two years. See below for link to a Kipling Website that has an article by Meryl Macdonald on "Kipling the Motorist" which includes a photo of Kipling in his Locomobile.
It was during this time that Rudyard and his wife Carrie drove all over Sussex and Kent looking for somewhere to live that would be quiet and remote. See extract from Martin Fido's book "Rudyard Kipling" published in 1974 for further details.
KIPLING'S PRAISE OF SEDLESCOMBE
Rudyard and Carrie were in 1901 very attracted to the village of Sedlescombe. He was effusive in his praise of the Village saying "I think that after extended surveys of the county of Sussex that for sheer beauty and a certain air of quiet, it would be hard to beat Sedlescombe". He also spoke about the "feng shui" of the place. The words "feng shui" have, I understand, various meanings but one that seems to fit the bill here is "being in the right place at the right time".
The Kiplings had friends here. For example Hercules Brabazon Brabazon of Oaklands Manor and we know that they visited Great Saunders in Hurst Lane as this is mentioned in one of a series of letters when he was searching for a house.
LETTERS TO BERTHA SYBIL PAPILLON
These letters were written by Rudyard and Carrie between 1901 and 1902 to Bertha Papillon whom they had asked to look out for a house for them. Bertha's father owned Crowhurst Park. We know Bertha Sybil Papillon married Reginald Grenville Eves at the end of 1903 and it is probably her proposed marriage that Rudyard was referring to when he congratulated her in one of the 1902 letters. Ten years later she was sketched by famous artist, John Singer Sargent, who was a friend of her husband and this charcoal drawing fetched more than £50,000 when it was sold in Sotheby's in New York in 2004. She looks a real beauty in the sketch.
So Sedlescombe was mentioned by name several times in these letters. Not only did Rudyard like Sedlescombe but he adored the "superb black and white house at the head of The Street" and vowed, if he could own or lease it, "to love and cherish it and oil and wax it and respect its diamond panes".
I believe the property the Kiplings coveted was Manor Cottages. You could think that Brickwall House might be the one but, for me, this is ruled out by a reference made in a small booklet called "Notes on the Life of H.B.Brabazon" written by Mrs Harvey Brabazon Combe in about 1910 in which she refers, in a page at the end, to "Other Objects of Interest in Sedlescombe". Here she lists both "The Old Manor House, so much admired by Rudyard Kipling" and also "Brickwall House, facing the head of the village...". Therefore these are two separate properties. In addition, Mrs Combe lists separately "The Stream, Sedlescombe, about a mile from the post office passing Church. A group of black and white houses.....". This group of black and white houses is currently known by its old name "Durhamford" and this house can, therefore, be excluded from those few black and white properties in Sedlescombe that fit Kipling's description.
Another reference to Sedlescombe is made in a letter to Bertha Papillon in May 1902 when he tells her his visit to Sedlescombe is delayed because "the motor is broken down again". Martin Fido in his aforementioned book says that "the steam Locomobile gave Kipling two happy years' un-faithful service"! It was an exciting time in the very early years of motoring and breakdowns were frequent and probably very frustrating.
As we do not have copies of the replies sent to Rudyard and Carrie, we can only guess why the Kiplings did not move into their favoured Sedlescombe house. Looking at the 1901 census, it is surprising to see only one family is listed as living in Manor Cottage. This was a carpenter journeyman called Albert Brackpool. It seems a big house for one family with a craftsman at its head and ten years earlier there had been four families. Maybe there was only one family left in 1901, because the owner wanted to sell the property and therefore the other families had been forced to leave. Who knows? Anyway, there was too much delay for the Kiplings and when, in July 1902, Bertha wrote telling the Kiplings the house was available, it was too late and they had bought Batemans at Burwash.
How different would Sedlescombe be today if the Kiplings had moved into this house?
RUDYARD KIPLING 1865-1936 - see more details link here.