Bloomsbury Group

Key Locations in Bloomsbury

British Museum, Great Russell Street

Virginia Woolf, the writer at the centre of the Bloomsbury Group, immortalised Anthony Panizzi’s oak panelled 1857 Reading Room at the then British Library, ‘the vast dome … the huge, bald forehead which is so splendidly encircled by a band of famous names’, in A Room Of One’s Own (1929).

In Jacob’s Room (1922) the hero reads Marlowe in the library and watches other readers, including the atheist Fraser and the feminist Julia Hodge, and thinks of the Museum as an enormous mind.

The British Library is no longer at the British Museum. It is now in its own, purpose-designed building at St Pancras (next to the station) - at the time of its construction notoriously condemned by Prince Charles as looking like  "an academy for secret police." Opening the building years later, the Queen was more complimentary, describing the building as "remarkable." 

The new British Library at St Pancras (just to the north-west of Bloomsbury) is well worth visiting, and has on display many fascinating (and significant) manuscripts, including writing by Virginia Woolf.

The British Museum is also well worth visiting, for the exhibitions of course, but also for the re-developed Great Court. This inner courtyard was previously a hidden space, but the relocation of the British Library provided the opportunity to use the space. Designed by Foster and Partners, architects, it is now the largest covered public square in Europe. At its centre is the round barrel of the original reading room.

With its spectacular glass roof, the Great Court provides a brilliant setting for a coffee. Take the opportunity:

46 Gordon Square

Virginia, Vanessa, Adrian and Thoby Stephen’s home from 1904-7, is where the Bloomsbury Group began. Their ‘Thursday evenings’ of conversation and recitals were attended by Thoby’s Cambridge friends, including Leonard Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, David Garnett, Duncan Grant, John Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry and Saxon Sidney-Turner.

Vanessa lived here after her marriage to Clive Bell, both having affairs with others. John Maynard Keynes, the economist, lived here from 1917 when the Bells left.

Gordon Square - other notable locations

In addition to No. 46, several other houses in the square were home to members of the Bloomsbury group at different times:

51 Gordon Square

Writer and biographer Lytton Strachey, who wrote Eminent Victorians, (1918) lived here from 1909-24. He spent the last sixteen years of his life in a ménage a trois with painter Dora Carrington and her husband Ralph Partridge.

41 Gordon Square

James Strachey, Lytton’s brother, lived here from 1919-56, with his wife, Alix, sometimes joined by Ralph Partridge.

50 Gordon Square

Vanessa moved here in 1920, moving to 37 Gordon Square from 1922-29, with Clive Bell moving into no. 50.

52 Tavistock Square

Now part of the Tavistock Hotel, this is the site of the Woolf’s home from 1924-39, and where Virginia wrote most of her mature work. They lived on the top two floors in a house similar to those on the west side of the Square. The printing press was housed in the basement.

Above: Leonard and Virginia at Tavistock Square in 1939. Behind them you can see part of a screen decorated by Vanessa Bell (photograph by Gisele Freund).

The Square is important not only for Bloomsbury Group history. Tavistock House on the east side is the site of Charles Dickens home from 1851-60, where he wrote Bleak House (1853), Hard Times(1854) and A Tale Of Two Cities (1861).

Neighbouring locations 

38 Brunswick Square

This is the site of the house which Virginia and Adrian shared with Duncan Grant, Maynard Keynes and Leonard Woolf from 1911-12.

37 Mecklenburgh Square

The Woolfs lived here from 1939-40 until the house was bombed. Their original house was more like those on the north side next to Coram’s Fields than the present buildings.

44 Bedford Square

The home of Lady Ottoline Morrell, the lover of Bertrand Russell and friend of Virginia, Lytton Strachey, Aldous Huxley, and D.H. Lawrence - although on recognising herself in the character of Lady Hermione in Women in Love (1921), she threatened to sue for libel. She held regular ‘Thursday evenings’ here from 1908 attended by many members of the Bloomsbury Group.

Fitzroy Square

Many members of the Bloomsbury Group either lived or worked at various addresses around the Square.

Virginia and Adrian lived at 29 Fitzroy Square from 1907-11. Duncan Grant’s studio was at 22 Fitzroy Square. Roger Fry’s studio was at 21 Fitzroy Square.

Duncan Grant and Maynard Keynes shared a flat at 26 Fitzroy Square.

The Omega Workshops run by Roger Fry from 1913-19 was based at 33 Fitzroy Square. Fry, who lived at 42 Bernard Street, organised the 1910 and 1912 Post-Impressionist exhibitions in London. He was a close friend of Virginia and Vanessa, Clive Bell and Leonard Woolf.

Virginia Woolf in Fitzroy Square - click this link to read more


In addition, of course, there are the country retreats near Lewes in Sussex - Charleston Farmhouse, home of Vanessa, Clive Bell and others, and Monk's House, Leonard and Virginia's cottage in the country.

These will be featured in a forthcoming section,  but in the meantime there's a good article in The Week by Alistair Burtenshaw, director of the Charleston Trust. He makes the point that for the group furniture 'was decorated but above all else it was used' and highlights how far ahead of their time the group were in their attitude towards design:

Another thing I think is interesting about the transformation and their philosophy as a group is the status of design. Today's audiences visit with a pre-formed idea of what constitutes design. Design is a thing that we talk about in and of itself: for example, we have the Design Museum and fashion 'designers'. But at the time Vanessa Bell and Grant decorated Charleston, the furniture, furnishing and upholstery were really very radical. Looking at the fabrics and the use of white, shows how astonishingly ahead of their time they were. The integration of ceramics, textiles, fabrics, decorated wall surfaces and decorated interiors was unusual, especially given this was being done 'at home', with the final goal being a space of refuge and comfort. 

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