Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Kipling, Kim and The Elms

I think its unfashionable nowadays but my favourite book is still Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. I usually reread it every Christmas – last year was no exception and I’m still not bored by the book. I’ve visited Kipling’s best known home – Batemans – in Sussex many times and it's always beautiful. The National Trust now own the property and you can stroll around the house and gardens looking across Pook’s Hill and the surrounding inspirational landscape.

However, Kipling finished Kim not at the well known Batemans but at his previous and lesser known Sussex house, The Elms at Rottingdean. And so passing through Sussex I thought I’d better have a look. It's a nice house, originally built in 1745 and situated on the green and opposite the church. Kipling knew Rottingdean as his aunt, Georgina Burne-Jones, owned North End House as a holiday home. This house which also faces the green, was formed in 1880 by joining together Prospect House and Aubrey Cottage and was originally inhabited by the famous pre-raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones.

Kipling and his family moved to Rottingdean in 1897. They rented The Elms for three guineas a week. Kipling's study was on the ground floor to the right of the entrance. He was appalled when the horse-drawn bus from Brighton began stopping by the high flint wall of the garden to allow the trippers to stare into the famous writer's garden. Once a woman wandered into their garden and stared into Kipling's study where he was writing. When he drew the blind, she exclaimed "How rude!"

Kipling had started writing Kim during his sojourn in Vermont, America but he finished the book while living in the Elms Rottingdean in 1901. Not sure what visiting Rottingdean does for my appreciation of Kim, but it was nice to have a good look at the village and house all the same.


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