Earlier this week I shut down the laptop and enjoyed a delightful morning in Lewes exploring the new exhibitions at Charleston.

While I adore Brighton, I have to admit I also love Lewes. It’s become a bit of a joke in the office that anytime someone mentions Lewes my kneejerk reaction is to immediately say “Oh I love Lewes”. The town has a lovely atmosphere, I guess having the countryside constantly in view has a calming effect or maybe it’s the access to local beers such as Harvey’s, Abyss and Beak. There is also an independent spirit to the place as they even had their own currency! You’ll also find an historic castle (well you don’t really get modern ones, do you?), picturesque gardens, quirky shops and the fabulous Depot – cinema, bar, café and live music venue.

Southover Grange Gardens, Lewes near Brighton

Well, if all that wasn’t enough to tempt you to visit then I can now add to that list the fact that Lewes is home to Charleston’s sister gallery. When Charleston sent us the details of their upcoming exhibition and enquired about appearing on the blog I of course jumped at the opportunity to visit. The original Charleston is a beautiful farmhouse in Firle (near Lewes) which became home to the artists collective known as the Bloomsbury group and today the venue presents a year-round programme of exhibitions, events, and festivals.

Charleston is lovely but due to its remote location it’s a venue you need to plan ahead to go to whereas the new Lewes location is in the town centre and will hopefully help to make art more accessible. The new venue means it will be a lot easier for people to simply drop-in and see what the latest exhibitions are.

Exterior shot of Charleston Lewes

Gosh I’m four paragraphs in & I’ve not even started to talk about my own experience, so I’ll pause the practical information and tell you about my lovely morning in Lewes. The gallery is five minutes’ walk away from the station and there are two new exhibitions which have literally just opened – I was visiting on day one. The first exhibit features the works of Dorothy Hepworth and Patricia Preece. I felt a bit of a fraud going in as I had never heard of either of them, but it seems I’m not the only one. While some may be familiar with the name Patricia Preece, this exhibition reveals the untold story of Dorothy Hepworth’s talent as she created the artworks but exhibited under the name of her lifelong partner Patricia. Preece was charismatic and charmed fellow artists into becoming her patron including Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and Virginia Woolf none of whom had any idea that the real talent was the shy Hepworth.

Charleston Lewees exhibition

Moving round the exhibition and discovering more about the incredible ingenuity of these co-conspirators I couldn’t help but smile, thinking good on you ladies for getting one over on the system. Where either one may have struggled to succeed on their own, they quickly realised they were stronger together. Hepworth was clearly a very talented artist and some of her still life pieces almost look like photographs, however she clearly enjoyed working on portraits more as while these were not as meticulously done, they seem to have been created with more enthusiasm. I like the fact that none of her subjects are looking directly at her (or us), they are gazing off into the distance and we are left to wonder what they are contemplating. In fact, the subjects look so calm and serene it is almost as if they don’t realise, they are being painted. I can imagine this must have been difficult to capture given that in reality the sitters would have been posed for weeks at a time.

Charleston Lewees exhibition

The exhibition doesn’t just feature the artworks of Dorothy Hepworth and Patricia Preece as there are also letters, photographs, and sketches. Comparing the sketches of Patricia Preece with the official portraits it is immediately evident that this was more than a business partnership. While I admire the women’s collaboration it is sad to think that they had to keep both their artistic and romantic relationships a secret from society. While there is still a long way to go in the fight for equality the exhibition is a good reminder of how far we have already come. There is more I could say and more pictures I could share but ultimately, I would urge you to head over to Lewes and view this exhibition for yourself, regardless of your thoughts on the artwork this is a fascinating story, and it is heartwarming to see that the story of this secret collaboration is finally being told.

Charleston Lewees exhibition

But the visit doesn’t end there as your ticket also includes entry into the second exhibition. Duos: The Art of Collaboration which has been inspired by both the original Charleston Bloomsbury group as well as the work of Dorothy Hepworth and Patricia Preece and looks at other collectives which go against the stereotype of the artist as a solitary figure. Reading this description, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony as I had just been thinking how novel it was to visit an exhibition on my own for a change. While there is a lot of to be said for the shared experience it was also nice to wander around at my own pace & linger over the works that particularly caught my eye. Highlights for me were the series of modern portraits painted in an old-fashioned style and the rug in the shape of a jumper, mainly because I thought that would brighten up my home office!

Charleston Lewees exhibition

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Charleston Lewes, and I was pleased to see there was in no way an attempt to make this a replica of the original venue. Yes, the ideas and ideals of the Bloomsbury group are still at the heart of it, but this is a different venue and a gallery worth visiting in its own right. It is a much more open, modern, industrialist space and I admire the work that has gone into making art more accessible. There is a quiet room for anyone in need of a moment of calm contemplation, noise-cancelling headphones are also available and there are plans to run quiet sessions for each exhibition. Also, in these times of increasing costs I think a £12.50 entrance fee for two exhibitions is great value for money and there are a range of discounts and concessions available to make it even more cost effective.

Charleston Lewes taken from Lewes Station

It's a dark image but I've included this to show how close the venue is to the station as this was taken from Platform 1.

Before I finally sign-off I will revisit my practical pointers for planning your visit. The Lewes gallery is five-minutes’ walk away from the train station making this the easiest form of transport to use. There are four trains an hour from Brighton to Lewes and it takes about 15 minutes. Alternatively, you can get the 28 or 29 bus from Churchill Square and the journey takes about 30 to 40 minutes. Of course, if you are feeling keen it is also possible to cycle from Brighton to Lewes.

Sussex Art Shuttle Bus parked in front of Charleston, Firle.

You may well decide that once you’ve visited the Lewes gallery you feel inspired to enjoy more culture with a trip to the original Charleston Farmhouse. If so then I am pleased to confirm that the Sussex Art Shuttle bus has returned. The hop-on-hop-off minibus runs between the two Charleston venues, Towner Eastbourne and Seven Sisters Country Park. The service resumes from Saturday 30th March and will run four times a day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday until Sunday 27th October. The service will also run on bank holidays. An all-day ticket costs just £3.50 making it easy to enjoy a day full of culture and countryside views. Plus, if you travel by the art bus you will qualify for a Green Traveller concession price to the Lewes exhibitions – hooray! But don’t worry if you want to travel on a day the art bus isn’t running as there is also a Flexibus service that can take you to Firle any day of the week. Thank you to the helpful lady at Charleston Lewes who told me about this marvellous service as it was news to me! You can find out more about how to travel to Charleston Firle here: www.charleston.org.uk/getting-here

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my morning away from the laptop, surrounded by art with the added bonus of being in lovely Lewes.



Charleston Lewes
Arts Centre
Charleston Lewes interior

This brand new space, close to Lewes station features a shop, café and a free programme of community projects, artist-led workshops, gallery activities and learning programme.

Dorothy Hepworth and Patricia Preece: An Untold Story
Dorothy Hepworth and Patricia Preece: An Untold Story

Discover the extraordinary story of Dorothy Hepworth and Patricia Preece – a duo whose secret artistic collaboration and lifelong romantic partnership remained hidden for decades. In this exhibition we unveil the untold story of a remarkable duo exploring their life through paintings and drawings, works which were created by Hepworth but exhibited under the signature of her lifelong partner, Preece. Here, the artists are recognised as collaborators and co-conspirators for the first time.



Nobody has commented on this post yet, why not send us your thoughts and be the first?

Leave a Reply