Katherine Mansfield wearing an Arabian shawl, Rottingdean, Sussex, England
The land was originally owned by Sir Charles Clifford and leased by Mansfield's father, Harold Beauchamp, an aspiring young merchant who was to become a successful businessman, later knighted for his services to commerce and banking. An interesting stipulation in the lease agreement for the land was that Beauchamp should build “a good and substantial house of the value of £400 at least” . Few houses of significance remain from the 1880s, a period of economic depression which naturally restricted building activity. Harold Beauchamp chose a simple but solidly constructed design for the house.
At the front was a square lawn, with arum lilies growing rank as weeds, and the back fence stood on the brink of a bushy gully running down to the sea. This gully, crossed by a suspension foot-bridge from Hobson Street, lay where the busy urban motorway now runs. A view of the harbour could be enjoyed from the upper storey of the house.
Three generations of the Beauchamp family lived together in the house from 1888 to 1893. The dining room window had a square of coloured glass at each corner, one blue and one yellow. In Prelude, Kezia looks through the glass “at a blue lawn with blue arum lilies...and then at a yellow lawn with yellow lilies...”.
The facade of the building is symmetrical and remarkably devoid of decoration. The fact that the house was constructed during the depression of the 1880s may explain the lack of ornamentation commonly associated with more properous times. The building materials consist of rusticated weatherboards, with corrugated iron roofing. The window surrounds mimic stone detailing - columned pilasters are capped by a triangular pediment.
The entire house has been faithfully and meticulously restored and furnished. Antique furniture and replicas of the original wallpapers create an authentic atmosphere in keeping with the era and the family's social status.
Initial ground excavations by Department of Conservation archaeologists and volunteers produced valuable artefact finds of the early house period. One notable find was an 1880's Hampden flower plate. Finds also helped establish what the Beauchamps ate, the plates they used, what they cooked with, and what toys the children may have played with. The patterns on found pieces are directly related to the Eastern influence also found on the wallpapers.
Excavations under the house and examinations of debris in the sub ground floor area uncovered much that assisted in research work, such as remnants of the old wallpapers. Archaeological work carried out during and after the foundation construction and bracing work revealed the location of defunct original drains, water pipes and completely disintegrated piles. Research on positions and time of erection of brick foundations established the original use of rooms, including proof of the 1888 kitchen.