S2, Ep 12 Square Haunting: Francesca Wade (1917)

In this episode of Travels Through Time the biographer Francesca Wade takes us to the fringes of London’s Bloomsbury, to explore a fascinating generation of poets, writers and publishers who passed through Mecklenburgh Square.

In the early decades of the twentieth century the streets and squares of Bloomsbury in inner London were home to a pioneering and provocative generation of writers, poets and artists. Many of these figures would later be celebrated and cherished, but at the time their fortunes were not quite so settled. The transience and fragility of Bloomsbury was captured in a quote by the English novelist Margery Allingham. She called the area, ‘a sort of halfway house. If you lived here you were either going up or coming down.’

This description was particularly appropriate for Mecklenburgh Square, a large residential square on the north eastern edge of inner London. Here, at various important junctures in their lives, lodged five great women: Hilda Doolittle (H.D), Dorothy L Sayers, Jayne Ellen Harrison, Eileen Power and Virginia Woolf.

These women and this square are at the heart of Francesca Wade’s new book Square Haunting. In this episode she guides us to Mecklenburgh Square in the year 1917 to meet the poet H.D, the writer Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard. They were all busy with projects and all contending with the fevered atmosphere of the wartime capital, a 'ghastly inferno which thinks and breathes and lives air raids, nothing else.'

As DH Lawrence put it, London had ‘perished from being a heart of the world, and became a vortex of broken passions, lusts, hopes, fears and horrors.’

Francesca Wade is the author of Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars (Faber)

Scene One: 44 Mecklenburgh Square, November 1917 - H. D. and D. H. Lawrence in the room while others are out. Or perhaps an evening with them while they're playing charades.

Scene Two: Hogarth House, Richmond, April 1917 - to watch the Woolfs bring home their printing press.

Scene Three: 4 Gerrard Street, Soho, December 1917. The inaugural meeting of the 1917 Club, founded by Leonard Woolf.

Memento: The suitcase of letters from Richard Aldington and D.H. Lawrence to H. D. during the war that was left in the cellar of 44 Mecklenburgh Square and then destroyed


People / Social

Presenter: Peter Moore

Guest: Francesca Wade

Producers: Maria Nolan/John Hillman

Titles: Jon O.