Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Guest Writer Mike Biles – A Bit About Britain – Kipling’s House

Delighted to welcome Mike Biles, author of A Bit About Britain’s History as a guest writer until the end of the year. In his first post, Mike visits the home of author and poet Rudyard Kipling.

Bateman's, Jacobean, house, Kipling

We travelled to Bateman’s, Rudyard Kipling’s Sussex home for 34 years, through the impossibly pretty village of Burwash, all whitewash and weatherboard. You reach the house down what Kipling described as “an enlarged rabbit-hole of a lane” to arrive in what is now a car park. I wondered how it had all looked when the Kiplings first saw, and fell in love with, the place.

“At very first sight the Committee of Ways and Means (Kipling and his wife, Carrie) said: ‘That’s her! The only She! Make an honest woman of her – quick!’ We entered and felt her Spirit – her Feng Shui – to be good. We went through every room and found no shadow of ancient regrets, stifled miseries, nor any menace, though the ‘new’ end of her was three hundred years old.”

Joseph Rudyard Kipling is a controversial literary figure. Described by George Orwell as a “prophet of British imperialism”, Kipling was probably all that Orwell implied, including a racist; he was also a satirist, a master story-teller and, in my humble opinion, a fascinating egotist. Born in Bombay (now Mumbai) on 30th December 1865, though educated in England, Kipling was in many ways a product of the British Raj and, inevitably, a man of his time; why should he be otherwise? Judge Kipling with narrow political correctness and you are not only missing the point but also bound to come away disappointed.

The man brought us so many familiar characters – Mowgli, the man-cub, Akela, the great lone grey wolf (and scout leader), Baghera the black panther, Baloo the bear and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the brave mongoose – the tales of the ‘Jungle Book’ (written for his daughter, Josephine), ‘Just So Stories’, ‘Kim’ and ‘The Man Who would Be King’. Where would Walt Disney and Michael Caine be without Kipling? Then there was his poetry – ‘Gunga Din’, ‘White Man’s Burden’ and ‘If’, written for his son, John. ‘If’ was runaway winner of The Bookworm’s quest to discover the nation’s favourite poem in 1995, beating anything by Shakespeare, Wordsworth, or anyone else, hands-down.

I found, on my bookshelves, an 1897 edition of ‘Barrack Room Ballads’ that had belonged to my grandfather and a 1942 compilation, ‘Humorous Tales’ and dipped into them both. I confess to finding a portion of the work almost totally incomprehensible and Kipling’s habit of writing in an excruciatingly awful mock cockney accent when reporting some speech – notably of private soldiers and NCOs – a little irritating: “I went into a public ‘ouse to get a pint ‘o beer, The publican ‘e up an’ sez, ‘We serve no red-coats here.’ ” I wonder what he’d make of ‘East Enders’? But the imagination is astonishing, the phrases are page-turners and a rather innocent humour rubs shoulders with a desire to explain why things are the way they are.

Ruyard Kipling, study, Bateman's

If there’s romance in Kipling’s work, maybe he inherited it. He was named for Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire, where his parents courted; presumably, a friend of mine had a similar idea when he called his son ‘Ford’. Kipling himself married Caroline (Carrie) Balestier, sister of a close American friend, in London in 1892 and the couple settled for awhile in Vermont. First, they rented a simple home called – I like to think appropriately – Bliss Cottage. They then built their own house, Naulakha, where ‘Jungle Book’ was written. The house is still there, and you can stay in it if you’ve a mind to – it sleeps 8 and you can take a look at it via the Landmark Trust’s website.

In 1896, circumstances brought the Kiplings, with two young daughters, to England – which they can hardly have known – first to Torquay and the following year to Rottingdean, near Brighton. Here, they rented “The Elms” (on the market for £1.45 million in May 2014), where their son was born and they were happy for awhile. But tragedy struck in 1899 when their elder daughter Josephine died, aged six, from pneumonia. They needed to escape memories and, apparently, trippers gawping at the house – Kipling was a celebrity, probably the most famous author in Britain at the time.

Bateman's, Kipling's house

So it was necessary that Bateman’s should contain no regrets or stifled miseries; it would become a sanctuary, “The very-own house” and “A good and peaceable place”, situated in a tiny corner of the Sussex Weald, the Dudwell valley, and close to a rich English heritage that often inspired Kipling’s tales. Rudyard and Carrie bought Bateman’s for £9,300 in 1902. It had no bathroom, electricity or upstairs running water. But Kipling was earning around £5,000 a year, a huge amount in those days, and could afford to dabble. Within the 33 acre estate was an old mill; Kipling had the 18th century mechanism decommissioned and a modern water turbine and generator installed to bring electric light into the house.

He enlisted the help of Sir William Willcocks, who had installed the first Aswan Dam (“a trifling affair on the Nile”), on the project. And that’s another thing about Kipling: he was extraordinarily well-connected. Stanley Baldwin, politician and three times Prime Minister, was a cousin and particular friend. Other chums included Henry James, H Rider Haggard, Arthur Conan Doyle, Cecil Rhodes, Max Aitken and King George V. By all accounts, he loved visitors and you get a sense of this from wandering round the house. It was built in 1634 for a local ‘ironmaster’ (iron producer); iron had been worked in this part of Sussex since before the Romans came. Yet despite its antiquity, Bateman’s is stuck firmly in a time somewhere between late Victorian and the 1920s. Which is exactly right – and what you want. It was bequeathed to the National Trust on Carrie’s death in 1939, and a first-class job has been done preserving the place so that it speaks of the man and his family.

John Kipling, bedroom, Bateman's

Outside, garaged and unfortunately behind glass, is Kipling’s 1928 Rolls Royce. He loved motoring, though he never learned to drive himself. The grounds, which in Kipling’s lifetime were gradually expanded, include a delightfully aromatic herb border. We watched iridescent-blue dragonflies skim around the pond, paid for out of the Nobel Prize Kipling won in 1907. “I was just going to inspect my navy”, was Kipling’s opening to a youthful American visitor, meeting Kipling for the first time; he led his guest to the pond, where there was a 6-foot hand-cranked paddle-boat. Beyond the pond, an informal wild garden provides a riot of colour and the river Dudwell – a tiny apology for a river, really – flows gently through the estate. Inside, the house is full of treasures – genuine valuables, family paraphernalia and, like a memory of elderly relatives’ houses, fragments of old empire.

Mill, Bateman's, Kipling

One room is furnished for their son, John. Kipling was immensely influential and, after the First World War began in 1914, was delighted to write propaganda for the government in support of Britain’s war aims – one of 25 well-known authors to be invited to do so. Kipling viewed the war as a crusade against German aggression. He also used his influence, and friendship with Field Marshall Earl Roberts, to get John a commission in the Irish Guards. John, like his father hopelessly short-sighted, had already been turned down by the navy and other branches of the army. He was just 18 when he went missing at the Battle of Loos in September 1915. His parents searched for years but never found their son. He was last seen blundering myopically toward enemy lines, screaming and with his face torn. This particular episode in Kipling’s life was captured in the play, and subsequent film, “My Boy Jack” by David Haig. The film starred Haig as Kipling, Kim Cattrall as Carrie and Daniel Radcliffe as John. Lieutenant Kipling’s body was tentatively identified in 1992, but the remains may be someone else’s.

Bateman's, Kipling, Sussex

After the war, Kipling developed a close association with the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission and suggested “Their Name Liveth for Evermore”, from the book of Ecclesiastes, which is inscribed on the Stones of Remembrance in larger war cemeteries, and the phrase “Known Unto God”, which is inscribed on the graves of soldiers who could not be identified. He was vehemently anti-Communist and, as fascism grew in the 1920s and 30s, vehemently anti-fascist too. He continued writing at Bateman’s and died of a duodenal ulcer aged 70 on his wedding anniversary, 18th January, 1936. His ashes are interred in Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey.

Batemans is a worthwhile visit, whether you want to sense something of the man who most recently lived there, or just enjoy wandering round pleasant houses and gardens. There is humour, and sadness, there. The staff were friendly and helpful when we last went, and there is the ubiquitous National Trust shop and café – where you’d like to think they sold exceedingly good cakes.

There’s an interesting postscript: – The Kiplings’ surviving daughter, Elsie, had married Captain George Bembridge in 1924. They purchased Wimpole Hall, the largest house in Cambridgeshire, in 1938 and allegedly used the inheritance from Elsie’s father to restore the property. George died in 1943. They had no children. Elsie collected and catalogued many of her parents’ papers and, on her death in 1976, left both the property and the archive to the National Trust.

Bateman's, Kipling, front door

For more about Rudyard Kipling, you might find the Kipling Society’s website useful.

© Images Mike Biles 2019

A Bit about Britain’s History: From a long time ago to quite recently.

About the book

Could this short, elegant, volume be the only book on British history you’ll ever need?

A Bit About Britain’s History is for anyone who wants a serious, yet light, introduction to Britain’s amazing story. If you don’t know the basics, or would like a reminder, this book is for you. It is also perfect for those that didn’t enjoy history at school, but who have suddenly realised they’d like to understand it a bit better now.

What did the Romans achieve? How did Christianity arrive? Who are the English and why did they fight the French so often? What is Henry VIII’s greatest legacy? When did democracy start and people get the vote? Why on earth did Britain get involved in WW1?

Organised clearly and chronologically, A Bit About Britain’s History covers every period from a long time ago until quite recently. It begins by briefly mentioning that the place was once inhabited by extremely large lizards, and ends up with a post-war 20th century consumer society. Brief articles explain the essential aspects of Britain’s past, including how the ancestors of its current inhabitants arrived, how they fought each other, formed nations, fell out over religion, acquired a large empire, became gradually more democratic, helped win a couple of world wars and were left wondering what to do next. At the end of the book are detailed timelines for each period, which provide useful reference and make fascinating reading in their own right.

A Bit About Britain’s History might be the only book on British history you’ll ever need; or it might be your stepping stone to more in-depth academic reading

One of the recent reviews for the book

From the moment that Mr God approved the plans for a series of islands in the North Atlantic to the moment that Britain finally wore out and began to fall apart like an old teddybear, this book leads you through all of the key battles, important people and significant happenings. It’s serious, and yet it’s also funny in just enough places to keep your giggle-bone alert. It’s about Britain, so there’s a mon-u-mental amount of history to get through, but it’s about Britain, so there’s also heaps of self-deprecation to be thrown into the mix. This book will remind you of and reinforce all of those tales and facts and even dates (but not figs, there are no figs) that you heard in a million lessons in school but didn’t realise that your brain still remembered, sommewhere deep down. It’s not a “heavy” history – it’s “just enough” with a cherry on top.

The layout and formatting of this book has no errors that I tripped across. The writing style is what I would describe as “highly readable” – not hectoring, not difficult, it just works and works well, and that’s as it should be. I didn’t fall face-first over a single grammatical error or a creeping Americanism – most excellent indeed. Approachable by and suitable for all ages from “still dribbling but just in long trousers” through “know it all teenager” to “seen it all before adult” to “dribbling again old crusty with a Zimmerframe”. The only audience that this book might be unsuitable for would be the dead, but that’s just a feeling, I have no empirical evidence to offer (as yet; the local cemetery is always locked).

Did I enjoy reading it? Yes I did. I have limited bookshelf space, will I be keeping this book? Yes, it has permanent residence in my home now. Can I recommend it? More than “can”, I DO.

Read the reviews and buy the book in print and kindle:

And on Amazon US:

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About Mike Biles

Mike has lived in Britain all his life and generally loves the place, warts and all. He first learned history on his dad’s knee and went on to study medieval and modern British and European history at university. He was planning on teaching it, but then drifted into a career running his own business. Despite having worked with some of the UK’s most prestigious firms, he is often at his happiest with his nose in a history book, or exploring a historic site where the past is close. Several years ago, Mike began a blog – now an increasingly authoritative website – ‘A Bit About Britain’. He had to write a bit about Britain’s history for the website, and it seemed only sensible to put the material into his first book, ‘A Bit About Britain’s History’.

Connect to Mike Biles

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My thanks to Mike for a fascinating look at the life of an author whose books have played such a prominent role in our childhoods.  He would love to answer any of your questions.

Join Mike again next week for another glimpse into the history, people and places in Britain.

Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – Sleeping Policemen, Banana Skins, and Kipling – tales from my jolly….part one by Jane Risdon

Time for another post from the archives of Jane Risdon – In this post Jane shares the ‘calamity’ side to her nature and also the visit to the splendid home of Rudyard Kipling.

Sleeping Policemen, Banana Skins, and Kipling – tales from my jolly….part one by Jane Risdon

I should come with a Public Health Warning!

Sleeping Policeman (c) Jane Risdon 2014

Do not go anywhere with this woman for fear of being embarrassed – she is an accident waiting to happen!

Sleeping Policeman - a/k/a a Speed Hump (c) Jane Risdon 2014

Whilst out for a stroll enjoying the countryside and a lovely local village I came across a sign I have not seen for many years warning motorists that there was a Speed Hump across the narrow road.

It read ‘Dead Slow – Sleeping Policeman,’ warning those tempted to put their foot down along this quiet road that they would get a nasty jolt if they passed over it at speeds greater than a crawl.

In England we call these humps ‘Sleeping Policemen’. I have no idea why – I long gave up trying to fathom my own language. I can only guess that being forced to slow down by something called a ‘Sleeping Policeman,’ must force some naughty drivers to ease off the juice just in case there really is one lurking across their path.

This particular ‘Sleeping Policeman’ is situated just outside this pub. The pub dates from about 1340.

Local Pub circa 1340 (c) Jane Risdon 2014

Anyway, as you know from the post I published before going off on my ‘jolly,’ I have been away for a few days staying with a relative in the heart of the English countryside and, as planned, we spent the time walking, visiting gorgeous places, and doing the rounds of the National Trust, houses and gardens. Heaven!

More about all this later.

The very first morning of my stay we set off early to walk to one of my sister’s favourite places. The roads were muddy from all the recent rain we’ve been experiencing and the paths underfoot were slippery with leaves, mud and water. We both made our way with caution.

Walking in the Spring sunshine (c) Jane Risdon 2014

We walked into another village nearby and then set off along some long winding lanes to where there was a windmill and grazing sheep. Apparently you can climb the hill to the windmill, via the field in front of it, when it is dry and easy to walk. On this day it was not dry and the field was a mud-bath waiting to happen. I wish I had taken the camera because the windmill was so perfect and the setting was magic.

Anyway, we left visiting the windmill for another time.

Sheep in the wet fields (c) Jane Risdon 2014
We passed some dog-walkers and ladies leading their horses from the near-by stables, but otherwise we were alone with the birds singing, the sheep bleating and the odd aeroplane high in the blue sky droning on its way to somewhere exotic – most likely Gatwick airport – but I prefer to think it was transporting its passengers off on an adventure.

Busy nattering about this and that, as you do, I kept an eye on the muddy path as we came to a main road and walked behind my sister where the pavement narrowed and the grass verges were churned up from farm vehicles entering and leaving the fields hidden behind the high over-grown hedgerows along one side of the path.

The traffic became heavier as we progressed along the pavement, the road on the right of us separated by a muddy verge but not wide enough to prevent both of us keeping a wary eye on the cars and lorries as they passed really close to us, buffeting us.

One moment I was chatting about Sleeping Policemen and how you don’t see them so often these days, and the next I was falling flat on my face on the muddy grass verge in full view of the passing traffic. When I say flat on my face, I do mean flat on my face. My flaming cheeks were covered in mud, leaves and goodness-knows-what, my knees were soaking wet and muddy and so was my jacket.

Embarrassed or what! I wanted to crawl under the nearby hedge.

My poor sister was speechless, horrified.

I am sure she was thinking about Boxing Day 2012 when I fell head first down her stairs and the consequences of that little visit.

I couldn’t get up for laughing.

She looked mortified.

Once she’d helped me up and I’d checked myself over, painfully, because of course I have still got a broken shoulder and collar-bone from my last ‘trip,’ to see her, and everything still hurts like hell, I knew that nothing new was broken.

She looked relieved.

She wasn’t the only one!

I don’t know about her, but I was beginning to think visiting her is jinxed and I am fast becoming the ‘Guest from hell!’ What else is there to trip over, fall down or fall over I thought as she helped brush me down.

As I checked my trousers for mud and possible holes I noticed that under my foot was a brown rotten banana skin. All thoughts of getting my inner ears checked for balance problems disappeared as we both gazed at the culprit. I had skidded flat on my face on a banana skin which was hidden in some mud on the path.

I can now face The Mater with confidence. When she asks me if I’d been ‘drinking,’ I can answer no. All I’d had that morning was a cup of tea. Not that I am always half-cut I might add. It’s just that The Mater seems to think that accidents don’t ‘just’ happen!

When I fell down the stairs on Boxing Day (11am in the morning, just after breakfast) none of us could convince her I’d not had a drop of the hard stuff and fallen down drunk!

As if!

The walk back to my sister’s cottage was rather quieter and a lot brisker than our outward walking pace. I think she wanted to get me safely inside before I could do anything else embarrassing.

After a much-needed cuppa we decided to go and visit some local places of interest and I shall write about them in another post.

The following day we spent a fabulous time at a wonderful country house with gorgeous grounds, called ‘Bateman’s.’

For those of you who are fans of Rudyard Kipling, you will know that his was his home, in Burwash village, East Sussex, and where he wrote many of his poems.

Batemans: Home of Rudyard Kipling (c) Jane Risdon 2014

One of the greatest writers of our time; Rudyard Kipling, lived modestly in comparison with some of his contemporaries. His family home is gorgeous but simple and comfortable and we got the feeling that we could have lived there very easily. It looked as if the family had just popped out for a while.

I could’ve screamed because my camera decided to fail (battery flat) just as we arrived and began to take some photos of the delightful 17th century sandstone house which is surrounded by the most tranquil and lovely gardens I have seen in a long time.

They also have their own mill in the grounds which are surrounded by farmland where, in the summer, you can find French Limousin cattle grazing on the estate which is managed by tenant farmers, and there is an orchard, herb garden, pond and wildflower meadow surrounded by an old stone wall. Rudyard Kipling’s Rolls Royce is still in the garage.

A perfect place to find a nook and a seat where one can sit and read in peace whilst munching on a bag of liquorice!

But we didn’t sit or munch.

Batemans (c) Jane Risdon 2014

We had a good look round and chatted to some of the National Trust staff about the family and Rudyard and his writing, and one of them even knew his daughter Elsie, quite well, so she gave us some interesting insights to the family.

The sun was very bright and the home dimly lit and so the few photos I managed to take are either very dark or far too bright. I am crossing my fingers I can go again some time in the future and this time I shall make sure that the camera is fully charged.

The rooms are much as he left them; oriental rugs and artefacts from his Eastern adventures, a book-lined study, illustrations from the Jungle Book on the walls, Victorian toys in the nursery all make for a comfortable family home.

Some of the grounds and gardens at Batemans (c) Jane Risdon 2014Grounds of Batemans © Jane Risdon

His memorabilia from India reminded me of my own father (born in India too) and Grandfather who had lots of similar possessions brought back from there when he retired from the British Army in 1947 after 30 years serving out there.

Rudyard Kipling was 36 when he purchased Bateman’s. He stayed at the local pub in Burwash village, The Bear, for a while before moving in. By this time he was the most famous writer in the English-speaking world – with his enormous success he was earning £5,000 per annum at a time when a secretary might have expected to earn £80 per annum!

Bateman’s was purchased for £9,300 and came with 33 acres of land. As more local land became available it was acquired by Kipling and today there are 300 acres of gorgeous countryside beyond the gardens.

It is thought that Bateman’s was built by a Wealden Ironmaster. In Norman times it is thought that the now quiet serene village saw the growth of Iron production which lasted for about 400 years and we were told that the tell-tales signs of iron production can still be seen in the woods if one looks hard enough. Sadly we didn’t manage a walk in the woods due to the late hour and the failing daylight. Next time perhaps.

Bateman's (c) Jane Risdon 2014

Grounds of Batemans © Jane Risdon


If you are interested in knowing more about the National Trust, Bateman’s or Rudyard Kipling you can visit

They are open March to December 7 days a week.

Bateman’s Lane, Burwash, East Sussex TN19 7DS

Well, I hope you find the first part of my ‘jolly,’ interesting and that you will tune in again for the next instalments:

As always all photographs are (c) Jane Risdon – All Rights Reserved.

My thanks to Jane for sharing her adventures with banana skins and Kipling and now time to check up on latest reviews for her novel published at the end of last year in collaboration with Christina Jones.

About Only One Woman

Two women, one love story.

June 1968. Renza falls head over heels for heartthrob guitarist Scott. But after a romantic summer together they are torn apart when Renza’s family moves away.

December 1968. On the night she believes to be her last, Stella meets Scott at a local dance. He’s the most beautiful boy she’s ever seen and if this one night is all they have, she’ll take it.

As the final colourful year of the sixties dawns, the question is: can there be only one woman for Scott?

One of the recent reviews for the book

A charming and truly well-written book by Jane Risdon and Christina Jones that takes you through a carefree period of the 60s as Renza and Stella vie for Scott the Rock God’s affections. My usual genre is crime thrillers, but the pure escapism of this wonderful read took me to a far nicer place, but with realism to ensure it’s authenticity. The characters are solid and well-drawn which is testament to the skill of the authors. The headiness of the time is finally balanced with the strait-laced attitudes of parents of that era which reminded me of my own childhood.

The way the narrative is split between the two main characters – Renza and Stella – is cleverly done with the use of first-person POV which draws you intimately deeper into their hearts and minds. An excellent job, well done, and heartily recommended.

 Read the reviews and buy the book:

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About Jane Risdon

Jane Risdon began writing five years ago having had a successful career in the International Music Industry which has taken her all over the world working with everything from Rock, Thrash Metal, and R&B/Pop to Chinese Opera. Her work has taken her to North America, Europe, and Singapore: even to Taiwan.

She’s been involved in Television, Radio, and the Movies around the world.

Travelling extensively and living overseas she draws upon her life experiences when writing Crime/Mystery novels, short stories in all genres – including humour, and she has dabbled in flash fiction.

Some of these experiences have found their way into her short stories about the Music Business, and she is presently working on a novel which will bring a lot of her more crazy ‘rock ‘n roll’ experiences into one tome.

Her main focus remains crime however, and she is working on a series of novels called ‘Ms Birdsong Investigates’ centered around a glamorous ex MI5 Officer forced into early retirement, who is trying to keep a low profile in a rural village in Oxfordshire. Her past experiences come to the fore when she finds herself investigating murder. Soon she finds herself back on old territory with Russian Mafia, Ukrainian People Traffickers and an old flame to deal with.

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