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Archive for the ‘Tavistock Square’ Category

Wednesday 9 January [1924]

At this very moment, or fifteen minutes ago to be precise, I bought the ten years lease of 52 Tavistock Sqre London W.C. 1—I like writing Tavistock. Subject of course to the lease, & to Providence, & to the unforeseen vagaries on the part of old Mrs Simons, the house is ours: & the basement, & the billard room, with the rock garden on top, & the view of the square in front & the desolated buildings behind, & Southampton Row, & the whole of London – London thou art a jewel of jewels, & jasper of jocunditie – music, talk, friendship, city views, books, publishing, something central & inexplicable, all this is now within my reach. – Virginia Woolf, Diary 2, 282-3.

The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain held a one-day conference in London last Saturday that doubled as a general meeting for the organization, as well as a celebration of its 20th anniversary. It was coupled with the unveiling of a blue plaque in honor of Virginia and Leonard Woolf.

“Virginia Woolf and her Relatives” was the theme of the conference, and Marion Dell, Philip Carter and Maggie Humm presented papers.

After the conference, the group walked to Tavistock Square for the unveiling of a blue plaque on the exterior wall of the Tavistock Hotel to mark number 52, where Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived from 1924 to 1939. The house was destroyed in World War Two and later replaced with the hotel.

It was at 52 Tavistock Square that Woolf wrote many of her books, including Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, A Room of One’s Own, Orlando, The Waves, The Years, and Three Guineas. Her diary entries talk about her walks around the square as she thought about the novel she was working on. And her nephew, Cecil Woolf, recalls Leonard and Virginia sitting at a table in the garden and sharing a bottle of wine.

Dame Eileen Atkins, honorary president of the VWSGB, unveiled the plaque, which was funded by the society and the Tavistock Hotel. Afterwards, society members attended a reception at which Atkins read extracts from Woolf’s diaries and letters that reflected upon her life in Tavistock Square and her love of London.

Cecil sent Blogging Woolf these photos that commemorate the day.

Cecil Woolf and Jean Moorcroft Wilson at the plaque unveiling.

Dame Eileen Atkins and Maggie Humm outside the Tavistock Hotel at the plaque unveiling.

The blue plaque on the side of the Tavistock Hotel commemorating Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s tenure at 52 Tavistock Square.

 

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Wednesday 9 January [1924]

At this very moment, or fifteen minutes ago to be precise, I bought the ten years lease of 52 Tavistock Sqre London W.C. 1—I like writing Tavistock. Subject of course to the lease, & to Providence, & to the unforeseen vagaries on the part of old Mrs Simons, the house is ours: & the basement, & the billard room, with the rock garden on top, & the view of the square in front & the desolated buildings behind, & Southampton Row, & the whole of London – London thou art a jewel of jewels, & jasper of jocunditie – music, talk, friendship, city views, books, publishing, something central & inexplicable, all this is now within my reach. – D2, 282-3

Thanks to Elisa Kay Sparks for finding and posting this quote in the Woolf Group on Facebook today.

 

Tavistock Hotel

Part of the Tavistock Hotel is on the site of Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s property at 52 Tavistock Square, on the south side of the square, three houses from Southampton Row. It was the Bloomsbury house where Woolf lived the longest. It is also where she wrote most of her novels. The Woolfs occupied the top two floors before the property was destroyed during WW II. 

 

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From reading Woolf, I knew that Tavistock Square in London had been touched by war. But until today, I didn’t realize how closely it was aligned with peace.Tavistock Hotel

The Bloomsbury square and war
First, the war connections. It was in Woolf’s Bloomsbury flat on the third floor of 52 Tavistock Square during the winter of 1936-1937 that she is said to have received a packet of photographs from the Spanish government. These were “not pleasant photographs to look upon,” she wrote in Three Guineas, for they depicted “dead bodies for the most part,” and devastated buildings, all victims of the Spanish civil war.

In July of 1937, she was once again at her Tavistock Square address when the violence of that war touched her in a more personal way. She learned that her twenty-nine-year-old nephew, Julian Bell, a volunteer ambulance driver in Spain, had been killed. It was a devastating personal loss, one she described in her diary as “a complete break; almost a blank; like a blow on the head: a shriveling up” (D5 104).

Four years later, in October of 1940, Woolf was visited by war again, this time in a more direct physical way. Her Tavistock Square building took a direct hit from a German bomb. When she viewed the devastation, she found “a heap of ruins…where I wrote so many books” (331).

War’s violence in real time
Fast forward to July 7, 2005. Woolf has been dead for sixty-four years, but Tavistock Square still exists. War strikes the location once more, when four terrorists detonate bombs in the London transport system, just as the morning rush hour comes to an end.The last of the four goes off on the Number 30 bus as it arrives in front of the British Medical Association, located on the east side of Tavistock Square, around the corner from the site of Woolf’s former flat. The blast, another incident in the 21st century “war on terror,” kills 52 persons and injures more than 770.

It is ironic that the gritty violence and destruction of war came again and again to the London location where Woolf spent 15 of her most productive years as a writer – and the place where she wrote two of her volumes most intimately connected to war and peace –Three Guineas and The YearsThree Guineas gives a creative and cogent argument that women must establish their own “Outsiders Society” in order to achieve peace. And The Years establishes unmarried matriarch Eleanor Pargiter as the character that holds the novel together and holds out hope for peace.

Peace comes to Tavistock Square
Virginia Woolf is not Tavistock Square’s only female connection to war and peace. Today I read about Rose Hacker, 101, who joined more than 100 other peace activists in Tavistock Square this week to remember the victims of the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945. The Bloomsbury square is the site of an annual commemoration of the Hiroshima victims.

Union JackAt 101, Hacker has seen war come and go — and come again. She recalled sitting on the Tavistock Square gate and waving the Union Jack as residents flooded the square to celebrate the end of the First World War. And though she had been told by her teacher that there would be no more wars, she remembers hearing the same prediction when World War II ended.

Despite all that — and her feelings of shame that we still have nuclear weapons — she holds out hope for peace. “We must not lose hope,” she told the Camden New Journal. “If I have not lost hope in 100 years, then you young people can still have hope.”

The hope and wisdom of this longtime spokeswoman for peace inspires me. I feel the same way about a statue that I wandered across in Tavistock Square. It depicts Mahatma Gandhi, the martyred leader of the Indian independence movement who is known the world over for promoting active nonviolence.Ghandi Statue

This statue sits in the garden area of Tavistock Square on a central site donated by St. Pancras Borough Council. Since its unveiling in 1966, other peace memorials have been established in the square, and it has become a popular place for peace events.

On any given day, visitors to the quiet green space in the heart of bustling Bloomsbury can find individual candles around the statue’s base. The candles, glowing softly in the shadow of Ghandi’s statue, are lit by those who hope for peace.

Rose Harker can be counted among them. And Virginia Woolf is there in spirit.

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