• LOCATION 16 | 'Such Friends': Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group

    #33 Fitzroy Square, the Omega Workshops (and bench)

    We're now at Fitzroy Square, and I've just got two more things to show you. Walk straight ahead, towards the four story block, and look out for number 29, the one that has two plaques on it. Go up to it and I'll tell you more.

    [PAUSE: 2 SEC]

    The plaque tells you that George Bernard Shaw’s family lived here in the late 19th century. But in 1907, the 25 year old Virginia moved in, with her brother. While her painter sister decorated Gordon Square with the latest in cubist art, Virginia and Adrian kept their interior simple. Adrian had a study full of books that looked out here onto the square.

    In her own home, hosting her own salons, Virginia’s confidence grew. The evenings were for conversation, and as Virginia wrote later, she would
    “stumble off to bed feeling that something very important had happened. It had been proved that beauty was—or beauty was not—for I have never been quite sure which—part of a picture.’

    Now with ‘a room of her own,’ she began a novel, 'The Voyage Out.'

    In 1911 Leonard decided he wouldn’t go back to Ceylon but would propose to Virginia. After months of persuasion, she accepted. They married in August 1912 and moved to their own flat in Clifford’s Inn.

    Now, turn your back to number 29 and look for number 33 on the corner. You can go over to it, or take a seat on the bench while you listen to my last story.

    [PAUSE 2 SEC]

    Number 33 is where art critic Roger Fry opened the Omega Workshops.

    Fry didn’t begin socializing with the others until a fateful day in 1910. He’d lost his job with the New York Metropolitan Museum, and had to commit his wife to an asylum. Fry ran into Vanessa and Clive Bell at the Cambridge railway station. He'd met them once before, so they chatted, and by the time they reached London, Roger was in the group!

    At 43, Fry was older than the others, because each salon had a ‘Link’— someone with better connections, who helped the younger ones become more mainstream.

    Fry used inherited money to rent number 33. In 1912 he opened the Omega Workshops with Vanessa and Duncan. Vanessa suggested having a Bloomsbury party to celebrate.

    She wrote, “We should get all our disreputable and some of your aristocratic friends to come, and… there should be decorated furniture, painted walls, et cetera. There we should all get drunk and dance and kiss, orders would flow in, and the aristocrats would feel they were really in the thick of things.”

    The Omega was successful for about five years, with customers such as Yeats and Shaw buying the fashionable handmade pottery and textiles.

    As groups of friends do, the Bloomsberries broke up. In early 1915 they all started to spend more time outside the city.

    Although they saw each other frequently, the days of wandering in and out of each others’ houses, staying up late drinking whisky and cocoa, were over. Virginia remembered this time, saying, "Talking, talking, talking,…as if everything could be talked—the soul itself slipped through the lips in thin silver discs which dissolve in young men’s minds like silver, like moonlight."

    Thanks for walking with me and our ‘Such Friends.’ I hope you've enjoyed their company.

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'Such Friends': Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group