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where it all began

This history of cleeve house

In 1857, the eminent land-owner Wadham Locke III owned a property in Seend called Rew House. After knocking it down, his son, Wadham Locke IV built Cleeve House half a mile from the original site, to be the Wadham family home. He and his five sisters made their home here, and one sister, Frances Locke, became famous for going to the Crimean War. She was the last Locke to live at Cleeve House, and when she left in 1883 the building was sold to the Bell Family.

virginia woolf

Adeline Virginia Woolf (25 January 1882 – 28 March 1941), one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the 20th century, had a unique connection to Cleeve House through her sister, Vanessa Bell. Vanessa was married to Clive Bell, whose family owned Cleeve House. Virginia Woolf frequently visited the property, finding it a source of inspiration and a retreat from her often tumultuous life. Her experiences at Cleeve House found their way into her writings, providing a unique perspective on the property and its inhabitants. Thus, Cleeve House not only served as a family residence but also played a role in the literary history of the Bloomsbury Group, to which Woolf and her sister belonged.


During the interwar period, Woolf was a significant figure in London literary society and a member of the Bloomsbury Group. Her most famous works include the novels Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and Orlando (1928), and the book-length essay A Room of One’s Own (1929), with its famous dictum, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

vanessa bell

Vanessa Bell, born Vanessa Stephen, was a significant figure in the history of Cleeve House due to her marriage to Clive Bell. Clive was the son of William Heward Bell and Hannah Taylor Cory Bell, the owners of Cleeve House. Vanessa, an accomplished artist, and her husband Clive, a renowned art critic, were key members of the culturally revolutionary Bloomsbury Group.

In 1907, the final part of Cleeve House, including the Library and the bedrooms above, was built to ‘make the house more comfortable’. This coincided with the year of Vanessa and Clive’s marriage. Vanessa’s sister, the famous writer Virginia Woolf, often visited Cleeve House and wrote about it in her diaries, further cementing the connection between Vanessa, the Bloomsbury Group, and Cleeve House.

Vanessa’s relationship with Cleeve House extended beyond her marriage to Clive. Even after their marriage ended, Vanessa and Clive never officially separated or divorced. They continued to visit each other regularly, spend holidays together, and even paid “family” visits to Clive’s parents at Cleeve House. This enduring connection ensured that Vanessa Bell’s influence remained a part of Cleeve House’s history.

Vanessa Bell’s great paintings are Studland Beach (1912), The Tub (1918), Interior with Two Women (1932), and portraits of her sister Virginia Woolf (three in 1912), Aldous Huxley (1929–1930), and David Garnett (1916). She is seen as one of the major contributors to British portrait drawing and landscape art in the 20th century. Like her mother, she is a twentieth-century artist whose life, work, and emotional milieu have remained relatively outside the scope of recent biographical explorations focusing on female per ardua arte.

She appears in the 1995 Dora Carrington biopic Carrington portrayed by Janet McTeer, and in the 2002 film The Hours in Miranda Richardson’s portrayal alongside Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf. Vanessa Bell is also the subject of Susan Sellers’ novel Vanessa and Virginia.

Clive Bell

Arthur Clive Heward Bell (16 September 1881, East Shefford – 18 September 1964, London) was an English Art critic, associated with formalism and the Bloomsbury Group.

Origins

Bell was born in East Shefford, Berkshire, in 1881. He was the third of four children of William Heward Bell (1849–1927) and Hannah Taylor Cory (1850–1942), with an elder brother (Cory), an elder sister (Lorna Bell Acton), and a younger sister (Dorothy Bell Honey). His father was a civil engineer who built his fortune in the family coal mines in Wiltshire in England and Merthyr Tydfil in Wales, and the family was well off. They lived at Cleve House in Seend near Melksham in Wiltshire, which was adorned with Squire Bell’s many hunting trophies.

Marriage and other relationships

He was educated at Marlborough and at Trinity College, Cambridge,[1] where he studied history. In 1902 he received an Earl of Derby scholarship to study in Paris, where his interest in art originated. On his return to England, he moved to London, where he met and married the artist Vanessa Stephen — sister of Virginia Woolf — in 1907. Reportedly, Virginia flirted with Clive despite her sister’s marriage to him.

Clive Bell, born Arthur Clive Heward Bell in 1881, was a prominent English art critic associated with the Bloomsbury Group. He was one of the four children of William Heward Bell and Hannah Taylor Cory Bell, who owned Cleeve House. Clive’s upbringing in the culturally rich environment of Cleeve House, adorned with his father’s hunting trophies, likely influenced his later interest in art and culture.

In 1907, the final part of Cleeve House, including the Library and the bedrooms above, was built to ‘make the house more comfortable’. This coincided with the year of Clive Bell’s marriage to Vanessa Stephen, an important member of the Bloomsbury Group and a prominent artist. Vanessa was the sister of the famous writer Virginia Woolf, who often visited Cleeve House and wrote about it in her diaries.

Clive Bell and Vanessa Stephen’s connection to Cleeve House and the Bloomsbury Group marked a significant chapter in the property’s history, linking it to a culturally revolutionary movement that had a profound impact on 20th-century literature, art, and thought.

Squire William Heward Bell, having built his fortune on the family’s coal mines in Merthyr Tydfil, purchased the property for his family. He pulled down a large amount of the building and rebuilt what is now the Great Hall and adjoining entrance porch in 1884. The Hall was adorned with the many trophies of Squire Bell’s hunting prowess, including a huge moose head and the skins of a tiger and a bear.

Squire Bell and his wife, Hannah Taylor Cory Bell, had four children, one of whom was the famous writer and critic Clive Bell. In 1907, the final part of the Cleeve House, including the Library and above bedrooms were built to ‘make the house more comfortable’ as it was the year of Clive Bell’s marriage to Vanessa Stephen. Both Clive and Vanessa Bell were important members of the culturally revolutionary Bloomsbury group, in which Clive’s writing was influential, and Vanessa was a prominent artist.

The young Vanessa Stephen pursued art as her profession while her sister, Virginia Woolf, chose writing. Close to her sister throughout her often troubled life, Virginia Woolf visited Vanessa Bell in Cleeve House, and wrote about the house in her famous diaries. Of the four Bell children, Colonel W Cory Bell, who was an MP and Sheriff of Wiltshire, lived at Cleeve House longest, until his death in 1961.

Mr & Mrs Bell

William Heward Bell (1849 – 1927) and Hannah Taylor Cory Bell (1850 – 1942) were significant figures in the history of Cleeve House. After the Locke family sold the property in 1883, it was purchased by William Heward Bell, who had built his fortune on the family’s coal mines in Merthyr Tydfil. He made substantial changes to the property, pulling down a large portion of the existing structure and rebuilding what is now the Great Hall and adjoining entrance porch in 1884. The Hall was adorned with many trophies of Squire Bell’s hunting prowess.

The Bells had four children, one of whom was the famous writer and critic Clive Bell. In 1907, the final part of Cleeve House, including the Library and above bedrooms, was built to ‘make the house more comfortable’ as it was the year of Clive Bell’s marriage to Vanessa Stephen. Both Clive and Vanessa Bell were important members of the culturally revolutionary Bloomsbury group.

Of the four Bell children, Colonel W Cory Bell, who was an MP and Sheriff of Wiltshire, lived at Cleeve House the longest, until his death in 1961. The Bell family crest adorns the front porch, and personal Bell inscriptions can be found among the stone and woodwork throughout the house, marking their significant influence on the property.