Our area’s affordability and proximity to central London has attracted a variety of characters over the years, especially artists and writers. These have included Mary Shelley (born in Somers Town in 1797 and daughter of the early feminist writer Mary Wollstonecroft), Madame Tussaud (who exhibited her waxworks in the now-demolished London Horse and Carriage Repository), William Thackeray, Dr Roget (of Roget’s Thesaurus), George Gissing, Paul Nash, and the Bloomsbury Group which began in Gordon Square before the First World War.
Several members of the group, which took its name from the area, lived in neighbouring houses. Some of the group's residents , who had a great influence on the English modernist movement in art and literature included Leonard and Virgina Woolf, Clive and Vanessa Bell, Lytton Strachey, Roger Fry, John Maynard Keynes, E.M. Forster and Duncan Grant. Virginia Woolf lived in Mecklenburgh Square for a few months, being bombed out in 1940.
Victorian Bloomsbury by Rosemary Ashton
While Bloomsbury is now associated with Virginia Woolf and her early-twentieth-century circle of writers and artists, the neighbourhood was originally the undisputed intellectual quarter of nineteenth-century London. Drawing on a wealth of untapped archival resources, Rosemary Ashton brings to life the educational, medical, and social reformists who lived and worked in Victorian Bloomsbury and who led crusades for education, emancipation, and health for all.
Ashton explores the secular impetus behind these reforms and the humanitarian and egalitarian character of nineteenth-century Bloomsbury. Thackeray and Dickens jostle with less famous characters like Henry Brougham and Mary Ward. Embracing the high life of the squares, the nonconformity of churches, the parades of shops, schools, hospitals and poor homes, this is a major contribution to the history of nineteenth-century London.
“The most impressive scholarly work I have read this year… There is a library’s worth of research compressed between its covers.” John Sutherland, New Statesman
Sleep With Me, by Joanna Briscoe
'We lived in Bloomsbury, among the green shadows to the right of the city's heart, where no one but students and strange old ladies of forgotten Mitteleuropean origins lived; the transient and the dying beneath a crust of American tourism.
I insisted on staying in Bloomsbury out of some misplaced metropolitan imperative that was, beneath it all, a parochial terror of mud and small-town people. Then the country boy in me made a village of London WC1, so my daily life was strung between the limits of seven dog-marked squares, and newsagents beneath blue plaques, and strip-lit rip-off shops. ...
Our cramped, lovely flat was in Mecklenburgh Square, up three flights of stairs, overlooking the private garden on one side, with its improbable airy tumblings of green, and an Art Deco monstrosity on the other, with washing lines and crumbling metal balconies above the muted roar of traffic"
'Elegiac, beautiful, evocative ... Sleep With Me works in much the same way as an obsession ... you may wish to escape, but have already become addicted' Anita Sethi, Daily Telegraph 'A beautifully written and emotionally candid novel which also happens to be a page-turner' Jonathan Coe, Guardian 'Briscoe is a vivid and passionate writer. She plunges headlong into sticky themes of desire, love and hatred, uncovering the unpalatable parts of the psyche with an unflinching eye. Mice are, indeed, to be avoided at all costs. In fact, having sex at all is probably ill-advised' Sunday Times 'Seductive, scary and almost frighteningly readable' Julie Myerson .
'Diary of a Provincial Lady’ rents a flat in Doughty Street which she gets to, with great excitement, by no 19 bus!
E M Delafield's heroine ventures beyond her Devon home to take a flat in Doughty Street. On a visit to a friend in Sloane Square, she runs into her old neighbour, the redoubtable Lady B:
The cold wind causes my nose to turn scarlet and my eyes to water. Fate selects this moment for the emergence of Lady B - sable furs up to her eyebrows and paint and powder unimpaired - from Truslove and Hanson, to waiting car and chauffeur. She sees me and screams - at which passers-by look at us, astonished - and sys Good gracious her, what next? She would as soon have expected to see the geraniums from the garden uprooting themselves from the soil and coming to London (Can this be subtle allusion to effect of the wind upon my complexion?)
I say stiffly that I am staying at My Flat for a week or two. Where? demands Lady B sceptically - to which I reply, Doughty Street, and she shakes her head and says that conveys NOTHING. Should like to refer her sharply to Life of Charles Dickens...she offers to give me a lift to Brondesbury-or-wherever-it-is, as her chauffeur is quite brilliant at knowing his way ANYWHERE. Thank her curtly and refuse. We part, and I wait for a 19 bus and wish I'd told Lady B that I MUST hurry, or should arrive late for dinner at Apsley House.
'I finished the book in one sitting, leaving the children unbathed, dogs unwalked, a husband unfed, and giving alternate cries of joy and recognition throughout' - Jilly Cooper 'I reread, for the nth time, E. M. Delafield's dry, caustic Diary of a Provincial Lady, and howled with laughter' - India Knight 'Glorious, simply glorious' - Daily Telegraph 'She converts the small and familiar dullness of life into laughter' - The Times
Peter Carey's "Jack Maggs", raised and deported as a criminal, has returned from Australia, in secret and at great risk. What does he want after all these years, and why is he so interested in the comings and goings at a plush townhouse in Great Queen Street? And why is Jack himself an object of such interest to Tobias Oates, celebrated author, amateur hypnotist and fellow-burglar - in this case of people's minds, of their histories and inner phantoms? In this hugely engaging novel one of the finest of contemporary writers pays homage to his Victorian forebears. As Peter Carey's characters become embroiled in each other's furtive desires, and increasingly fall under one another's spell, their thirst for love exacts a terrible, unexpected cost.
Review: I've always had a fondness for crime novels set in Victorian London (the book is set in the first year of her reign actually), but few of the many I've read can equal 'Jack Maggs' for the quality of its plot, characters, and language.
This is one of those rare books where you're torn between the constant urge to read on and the awareness that this selfsame act unfortunately brings you ever closer to the end.
Scamp, by Roland Camberton
Real Bloomsbury, by Nicholas Murray