Join us on Saturday 27th May for a celebration of art in literature and the delights of Charleston Farmhouse and gardens in early summer

The Charleston Festival is one of the highlights of the literary year, held in the beautiful house and gardens which were once home to the artists Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell and which became a hub for Bloomsbury Group members including Vanessa’s estranged husband Clive Bell and her sister, Virginia Woolf. Bell and Grant saw Charleston as a canvas for their lives and beliefs and their earthy, free-flowing work is immaculately preserved with walls, doors and furnishings embellished with paint and mantelpieces crammed with lovingly collected objects.

Now in its 28th year, the Charleston Festival roams widely across topics including history, politics, science, literature and society. Our day has an artistic focus, most notably in the talk with the Chair of the Biographers’ Club, Jane Ridley, and addresses the Club’s major theme of the year – the future for biography in a digital age. The Club has secured a special discount for members for the following events:

11.30 am Rogues Gallery with Philip Hook (chair Georgina Adam)

Sotheby’s Director and Antiques Roadshow expert Philip Hook lifts the lid on the inner workings of the art world. Is it characterised by discretion and decorum or riddled with corruption and scandal? Philip Hook’s book is a history of art dealing that is unrivalled for its insight, anecdotes and gossip. Georgina Adam, author of Big Bucks. The Explosion of the Art Market in the 21st Century is in the chair.

1.45 pm Labours of Love with Rebecca John and John Spencer (chair Jane Ridley)

Rebecca John is the granddaughter of Augustus and Ida John, the artist’s first wife and reluctant member of a menage a trois. Her book, The Good Bohemian, consists of Ida John’s letters edited with Michael Holroyd. John Spencer is the grandson of Stanley Spencer. Looking to Heaven is the first volume of a biography compiled from the papers of the artist, who also conducted a three-way relationship. Spencer’s archive consists of over two million words. Ida John wrote hundreds of letters. How will future biographers fare in a world without letters and other ephemera?

4 pm Civilisation with David Olusoga and James Stourton (chair Frances Spalding)

James Stourton’s Kenneth Clark, Life, Art and Civilisation, an exploration of the life of the patrician TV presenter, has been described as ‘an elegant and perceptive portrayal of the ultimate arts grandee’. David Olugosa is one of three new presenters chosen for a re-make of Civilisation looking at great artworks created across continents. Chaired by Biographers’ Club member and art historian Frances Spalding.

House Tours

Tours of the house may be arranged at a cost of £12.50 and take place every 15 minutes.


A minibus will collect members from a central London location (to be confirmed) at 9am and will return from Charleston at 6pm


You can bring your own picnic or take advantage of Charleston’s Festival Tea Tent with cakes, drinks, sandwiches and light snacks. Hot food options are on offer from gourmet catering vans and drinks and snacks are available from the Festival Bar.


Charleston has a lovely shop featuring a varied range of Bloomsbury inspired books, ceramics, textiles, jewellery, prints and gift ideas.


The cost for the day is £60, covering transport and all three talks, plus £12.50 if you would like a tour of the house.

If you would prefer to travel separately please send a cheque for £30 for the three events.

Parking is free at Charleston but be prepared for delays as access is by a single track road which can be busy.

Send cheques made payable to the Biographers’ Club with the name(s) of guests to Nicholas Clee, 8 Plimsoll Road, London N4 2EW.

Or apply to for details about how to pay by bank transfer.


For further information about the Charleston Festival go to: