A visit to Bateman's 18 June 1999

by Michael Smith

The "house of the Magician" as David Maxwell called it in his book A Detective in Sussex was at its perfect best - striped lawns trim, pleached limes brilliant green in orderly perfection and a pond positively inviting someone to fall in. Above all the lightly iron-stained sandstone glowed in unending sunlight. There was time for a chat in the walled garden before being called into the newly refurbished restaurant for an excellent and ample lunch. Fifty-four members and their guests enjoyed the meal and were joined by another dozen picnickers for the entertainment on the lawn by the "Quarter- Deck".

The Secretary introduced the programme by explaining that we were reverting to a long established tradition of the Society in drawing on "in-house" talent. He opened the afternoon with an "averter of the evil-eye", a Kiplingesque ploy to ensure good weather - which worked, the letter to C.E.Norton describing the effect of bitter mid-winter cold "a venemous snowing blowing frost " during which "all the birds of the woods have come to beg rations". Then John Radcliffe read The Way through the Woods, which was inspired by a meeting Rudyard had in the garden of 'The Elms' with Josephine's friend, Christabel Macnaughten. This John followed with Puck's Song - English history epitomised in the countryside around Batemanís. Next came Tonie and Valmai Holt. Tonie set the scene and Valmai, with affection for a beautiful bronze of the little Field Marshal, gave us a characterful performance of Bobs. Tonie followed this with Lord Roberts , a paean at his death in France in 1914. Military followed military as Roger Ayers presented us with amusing extracts from Candied Peel, the autobiography of Kinsey Piele, in which he recounted how, having sought Kipling's permission to dramatise The Man Who Was was invited to Batemans. Permission was granted. A further encounter involved adapting Kipling's work for Sarah Bernhardt to which our man 'Objected on the grounds that it would mean creating a female part for that imperious and absorbing personality" where there wasn't even a female. Permission was withheld.


From Army to Royal Navy when Norman Roake, Secretary of the H.M.S.Kipling Survivors Association movingly described the last few days in the life of the destroyer, with which the Society was, and happily still is, so closely connected. All of us recognised the dedication, bravery and endurance which typified the spirit of the fighting forces. (see Michael Smith's piece on H.M.S.Kipling) (see also RK's poem - Destroyers)
Norman was followed by Peter Merry who amused with Kipling on our Champions of English Pastimes which appeared in a sports paper of 1902 over the signature "Cricket Rhymster". This was a response to Kipling's The Islanders, objecting specifically to '...the flannelled fools at the wicket, or the muddied oafs at the goals...'.

Professor Tom Pinney, spending the last of a few months in England before returning to California, gave us a glimpse below stairs at Bateman's. His inimitable dry humour entertained and informed of the lives of those who served, and was greatly appreciated.

John Radcliffe returned to read Harp Song of the Dane Women which reflects the roving impulse Kipling felt - a counterpoint to his desire to create a safe haven at Bateman's.

Michael Smith brought this part of the day to a close with three stanzas of Alnaschar and the Oxen, explaining the allusion to "the dreamer of dreams" in the Arabian Nights. Love for his herd of Sussex cattle is so perfectly expressed in the description of their day in the pastoral peace of the Dudwell valley. A varied and absorbing afternoon enjoyed by a rapt audience.

Jan Wallwork-Wright, Bateman's Property Manager, to whom very special thanks are due, then introduced the volunteer guides who would conduct our several parties to Mill and House.

Michael Smith, June 1999