‘Such Friends’ Bloomsbury Walk, Part 1: Tavistock Square

Recently, I was thrilled to be asked by the Charleston Farmhouse to lead my walk through Bloomsbury for a group attending their Bloomsbury Revisited event in London. You can download a shorter version from the Voicemap.me website. But, if you’re not able to walk around London listening to me on headphones, I have posted the text of the walk here with photos, so you can follow along from anywhere. There are three parts, Tavistock Square, Gordon Square and Fitzroy Square. Here is Part 1:

  1. Morton Hotel, Russell Square

Welcome to Bloomsbury! I’m Dr. Kathleen Dixon Donnelly and I am your guide for this walk.

My research was about writers and artists who ‘hung out’ together in salons in the early part of the last century, on either side of World War I. The four groups are Irish poet William Butler Yeats and his friends who founded the Abbey Theatre; Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury, of course; Gertrude Stein and the American writers in Paris, and Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table.

Yeats ended his poem, The Municipal Gallery Revisited, with the lines:

Think where man’s glory most begins and ends,

and say my glory was I had such friends.’

so I have used ‘Such Friends’ as the title for all my work about ‘my’ writers and artists.

Today’s walk is about Virginia Woolf and her ‘such friends’ in the Bloomsbury group and their time through the 1920s, 30s and 40s in Tavistock Square.

The Morton Hotel, where we’re starting, has a Bloomsbury theme, and serves a lovely high tea. Virginia Woolf fans who have stayed here assure me that it is a great experience.

Morton Hotel

The Morton Hotel, Russell Square

We’re going to cross over Upper Woburn Place here, turn right, and walk up to the top corner of Tavistock Square.

  1. Upper Woburn Place near Woburn Walk

Many late 19th century Irishmen lived in this area as well. If you look up the street you’ll see a little alley off to the right, Woburn Walk.

Woburn Walk

Woburn Walk

Yeats rented rooms here from the late 1890s to around 1919, overlapping the Bloomsberries down the road in Gordon Square. It’s reported that this is where Yeats lost his virginity [not to Maud Gonne!]. When in London, go midway down Woburn Walk and look up to your left, where there is a plaque. It’s one of those quaint English streets with lots of cafes and shops.

We’ve got lots of plaques around here.

Now we’ll walk through Tavistock Square Gardens, near where the Woolfs lived, and take a look at the bust of Virginia that was put here in 2004.

  1. Tavistock Square Gardens

Va bust Tavistock Sq Gardens

Virginia Woolf bust, Tavistock Square Gardens

This bust is a copy of the one done in 1931 by Stephen Tomlin, which you can see in the National Portrait Gallery.

From 1924 until 1939, Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived on the top two floors of Number 52, which is now the site of the Tavistock Hotel. She lived here longer than in any other of the Bloomsbury homes, and wrote most of her novels here.

Tavistock Hotel

Tavistock Hotel

The Virginia Woolf Society and the hotel chipped in for the blue plaque on the hotel, which was just unveiled earlier this year by the Society’s honorary president Dame Eileen Atkins and Leonard’s nephew, Cecil Woolf. He just turned 91 and is present at many of the Society’s events.

In 1939 Virginia and Leonard moved over to Mecklinburgh Square, farther east. The following year, 1940, their home there was bombed. The Hogarth printing press was inside but they were out at Monk’s House in Sussex at the time, watching German aircraft fly over.

One month later, Tavistock Square was bombed, and the next day the Woolfs drove up to London to see the damage. Here’s what Virginia wrote in her diary:

So to Tavistock Square. With a sigh of relief saw a heap of ruins. Three houses, I should say gone. Basement all rubble. Only relics an old basket chair (bought in Fitzroy Square days) and Penmans board [saying] “To Let.”  Otherwise bricks and wood splinters…I could see a piece of my studio wall standing: otherwise rubble where I wrote so many books. Open air where we sat so many nights, gave so many parties. The hotel not touched.’

They never lived in London again; five months later, Virginia committed suicide out in Sussex. Leonard tried to live in Mecklenburgh Square afterwards, but found it too depressing. He lived the rest of his life—until 1969!—at Monk’s House near Rodmell.

More recently Tavistock Square was the site of a bus bombing during the July 2005 terrorist attack on the Tube. The upper level of the Number 30 bus. from Marble Arch to Hackney Wick, was blown up at 77 Tavistock Square, which is the site of the British Medical Association, so doctors came running out into the street to help the victims.

Tavistock square bus bombing

Tavistock Square, July 2005

We’ll come out of Tavistock Square Gardens and turn right towards Gordon Square, where the Bloomsberries began in happier times.

You can pick up the walk in the next blog, ‘Such Friends’ Bloomsbury Walk, Part 2:  Gordon Square, or jump ahead to Part 3, Fitzroy Square.

To read about American writers, Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

 

‘Such Friends’:  Dallowday, Blogging Woolf, and me

I said I would buy the lunch myself.

As I recommend to all my visiting American friends, time your train trip so you can take along some lunch from M&S Simply Food, ubiquitous in train stations here. My preference is carrot sticks with reduced fat humous and salmon pasta salad. Yum.

So I stocked up and took off for London a few Saturdays ago to take part in my first ‘Dallowday,’ commemorating the day on which Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel, Mrs. Dalloway, is set. The Irish all over the world have been celebrating ‘Bloomsday’ based on James Joyce’s Ulysses for over 50 years. Now it’s Virginia’s turn.

mrs dalloway original cover

Original cover of Mrs. Dalloway, designed by Vanessa Bell

The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain has sponsored this day, which includes a walk through some of the novel’s settings, a discussion of the book, and a 1920s party at the Bloomsbury Waterstones. I signed up for the whole package.

On one of the hottest days of the year, I took the train from Birmingham New Street to Euston station, and then the Underground to the appointed meeting place, outside the Regent’s Park Tube.

Waiting for the Underground lift, literally a breath of fresh air came wafting through. The woman next to me, about my age, said, ‘Oh! That feels great. It’s so hot.’ I nodded in agreement.

Watching her walk up the stairs in front of me, I realized she was wearing a blue flower print dress and lovely straw hat. Aha. Another Dallowday participant, I surmised.

As we reached the street at the top, we both laughed. Standing just a few feet away was a gaggle of Dallowday fans. About 20 women ‘of a certain age’ in flowered dresses or skirts, straw hats—they all looked just like me! No trouble finding this group.

The walk was led by Jean Moorcroft Wilson, who obviously was a lot more familiar with the book and Virginia than I am, having read it years ago as part of my research. I actually have much more vivid memories of the Vanessa Redgrave film, which I’ve used in my presentations.

Jean was dressed in the full Dalloway, including a vintage dress and hat, complemented by darling low-heeled black shoes with straps. Very 1920s. She’d obviously done this many times before.

Jean pointed out that there is debate as to when Dallowday actually is. Whereas Joyce clearly set Ulysses on 16th June, 1904, the day of his first date with his eventual wife, Nora Barnacle, Woolf ‘s novel says ‘mid-June.’ However, by lining up events in the book with cricket games and the Ascot races, most scholars have settled on June 20th. But—this year, it’s Saturday, 17th June. So more of us can come.

The unusually warm weather—it’s actually been hot; Miami hot, not just England hot—didn’t slow us down a bit. After a stop in Regent’s Park, Jeanne walked us over to Fitzroy Square, where Virginia lived from 1907 until 1911 with her brother Adrian. Their sister Vanessa had married art critic Clive Bell and kicked the siblings out when the newlyweds took over the Gordon Square house, where we headed next.

My own Bloomsbury walk actually takes the reverse route, starting in Gordon Square and then over to Fitzroy Square.

Here’s me pointing out the house at #29 where Virginia lived:

29 Fitzroy Square and me

At Waterstone’s, we sat in a circle, sipping refreshing flavoured ice water. Jean and Maggie Humm of the Woolf Society led us through an interesting discussion of the book. My research was on the relationships among the creative people in the Bloomsbury group, but wasn’t focused on their works—books, paintings, etc. This discussion brought new insights about the connections for me to incorporate into my future presentations.

And I learned that there is a website that maps all the walks of the characters in the book—Clarissa, Peter, Septimus and Rezia—showing how they interconnect.

For the 1920s party, I was planning to switch to Dorothy Parker mode, and so had tucked my red feather boa into my travel bag. But not many others were quite so dedicated to the flapper look, so I decided to stay in Bloomsbury garb.

Just this past week, I had another tax-deductible reason to go to London. Paula Maggio, better known to many of you as ‘Blogging Woolf’ was visiting from the States to attend the 27th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf. We made plans to meet up and she wanted to try the Dalloway Terrace at the Bloomsbury Hotel. We had a fabulous lunch of pasta and prosecco, treated ourselves to dessert, and took a peek at the 1920s-style Bloomsbury Club downstairs.

Dalloway Terrace at Bloomsbury Hotel

Dalloway Terrace at the Bloomsbury Hotel, photo by Paula Maggio

Paula had also heard about a life-size statue of Virginia at Kings College, where Woolf had studied classics in her early days. A bit of Googling and walking led us to the Woolf Building. A sign said it was locked due to increased security, but when the guard saw our noses pressed against the glass, he let us in.

There she was, encased behind plexiglass, big as life, holding a copy of A Room of One’s Own, in a wardrobe that was, as Paula said,

a closet of her own.’

Surrounded by large quotes from Virginia’s works, and photos of her, it makes a fitting entrance for the College’s School of English.

Virginia Woolf statue Kings College

Virginia Woolf statue, Kings College, photo by Paula Maggio

I would definitely add both of these places—Dalloway Terrace and the Kings College statue—to my Bloomsbury walk. Here’s a review of the restaurant by one of last year’s conference participants..

Heading back towards Euston station, Paula and I stopped by Woburn Walk, where the poet William Butler Yeats lived at the same time that Virginia and her siblings were moving into Gordon Square, just a few blocks away.

These intersections of time, place and characters are what interest me most. I can picture an aerial view of north London in 1907, as the Irish poet walks past the Stephens sisters, on their way over to enjoy a stroll through Regent’s Park.

Might make an interesting structure for a biography. Watch this space.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

To read about American writers, Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.