I know I’ve mentioned this on here before, but “How the Camel Got His Hump” from Just So Stories was my absolute favourite story when I was little, and I forced my grandpa to read it to me every time I saw him (which was at least 3 times a week, since my grandparents babysat me whilst my mom was at work) because he did such an excellent grumpy camel voice. So I’ve always harboured a fondness for Mr. Kipling (Rudyard, not the cake manufacturer, although you won’t catch me turning down a French Fancy. Especially those orange ones they put out for Halloween), and when I spotted Bateman’s in the (sigh) National Trust handbook, I marked it down for a future visit. However, it had to wait for a day when it was warm enough to also walk around nearby Battle, because I kind of doubted it would merit a special trip of its own.
Bateman’s was built in 1634, but the Kiplings obviously came to own the property a few centuries on, from 1902 until the deaths of Rudyard and his wife Carrie in the 1930s. There’s quite a lot of land surrounding the house, including a variety of gardens and a watermill (of which more later), but I’m not sure it’s enough to merit the tenner non-members have to pay to enter (I’m convinced by now that the National Trust expects everyone to become members, so they just slap any old admission price on their properties because they assume almost no one is going to pay it).
As for the house, well, we didn’t really get any pictures inside because we weren’t 100% sure whether we were allowed to take them, and it was crowded in there so it felt awkward whipping out a camera, but the typical National Trust rather scanty single-sheet guide did have its moments. For instance, there was an ugly painting hanging in the dining room that was a gift to the family, so they felt like they had to display it, but they got around this by sitting with their backs to it, except Rudyard, who was too short sighted to be able to see it from his side of the table anyway. There were also some carvings (I think made by Kipling’s father) depicting scenes from The Jungle Book. As is usual though, Bateman’s appeared to assume that everyone visiting was already a huge Rudyard Kipling fan and was familiar with all his works, and focused instead on family life, especially his son John, who was killed in the First World War. I understand that they have limited space, so they have to choose an aspect of Kipling’s life to focus on, but I do think there must be some way to provide more background information at these places whilst still telling the story they want to tell.
The one thing we did get a picture of in the house was the alphabet necklace featured in Just So Stories. I strongly suspect the copy I had was an abridged version (considering it was one of my grandpa’s garage sale finds, it’s not completely surprising), because I do not remember any stories about the alphabet, only animal ones, so I didn’t feel the proper sense of awe at seeing it. I think I would have been more impressed with a stuffed camel. This was in the “exhibition room,” which was really the only place in the house that gave a significant amount of space to Kipling’s writing, with copies of some of his books, and his Nobel Prize for Literature. Even here, half the space was devoted to John Kipling, and his war experiences; I’m not sure if this is a special feature for the centenary, or an all-the-time thing (I’m not knocking it, as John’s death was obviously a huge life-defining blow to Kipling, but it seemed a little odd to have so much emphasis on John relative to Rudyard).
Back outside, we stole a quick peek at Kipling’s gorgeous blue 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I (I’m not a car person, but if I was going to have a car, damn, now THAT’S a car!) and headed down the river, past the gardens to the watermill. Despite the handbook claiming that we could purchase flour ground in the mill, the mill is currently non-operational, so that was off the table. You’re still allowed to look around inside, but a mill is a mill (yes, I know about all the different styles, but it’s hard to get excited about the differences if you’re not a mill enthusiast), and once you’ve seen a fair few, as I have, they get a bit dull.
However, I am not so world-weary and dead inside that I can’t appreciate some chickens. They had a crapload of chickens! There were even some roosting in a tree! (I bought a chocolate chicken from Lidl for Easter this year, because I’ve wanted a chocolate chicken since I saw them advertised on a German Lindt commercial last year, and this was the first time I’ve been able to find one. I made the mistake of naming her Mrs. Cluckley, and now I can’t bring myself to eat her, even though Easter has long since come and gone.)
On the subject of chocolate, I should mention that the tearoom had an unusually wide selection of cakes, which I did not partake of because Battle was supposed to have baked goods made with their own honey, but after seeing the disappointing offerings at Battle (spoiler alert?), I sorely wished I had grabbed some chocolate fudge cake at Bateman’s (don’t be like me, is what I’m saying). In the end, I think the gardens (and chickens) may have been better than the actual house, which needed to have more signage. I sound like a broken record with these National Trust properties, and I’m not sure why I go in expecting things to be different, but there you have it. 3/5.