Grace Higgens (1903-1983), described by Duncan Grant as ‘the angel of Charleston’, arrived at the Gordon Square house of Vanessa Bell in June 1920. She was to remain with the family for fifty years as housemaid, nurse, cook and finally housekeeper at Charleston, the country house in Sussex where the Bell family spent their holidays during the interwar period and then lived permanently until the 1970s.
This book tells Grace’s story for the first time and is based on her diaries and correspondence. Grace was high-spirited with a robust sense of fun; she read all she could and often sat for her painter employers, who much admired her looks. Her numerous diaries recount her years in Gordon Square, Charleston and the South of France and their vivid picture of life with the Bells and their friends complement what we know of the ‘above stairs’ world of the Bloomsbury set. With great humour, Grace describes the varied denizens of Charleston, such as Duncan Grant, Lydia Lopokova, Roger Fry, E. M. Forster and, of course, Virginia Woolf: ‘I met Mr and Mrs Leonard Woolf, riding on their bicycles to Charleston. They looked absolute freaks.’ There are moving entries about the death of Vanessa Bell in 1961, and of Grace’s final years at Charleston looking after the elderly Duncan Grant. This charming book describes a little-known side of the Bloomsbury world and illuminates a lost era of domestic service.
The British Library