Virginia and Leonard Woolf

In October 1914, just two months after Britain’s declaration of war on Germany, Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard moved to Richmond. Her diary documents the experience of life on the Home Front in Richmond during the First World War.

Hogarth House, Paradise Road, Richmond

Leonard and Virginia Woolf founders of the Hogarth Press. Photo by Gwynhafyr

The couple moved initially to No. 17 on The Green and later moved to Hogarth House in Paradise Road. Leonard had been called up to serve in the war in 1917 but was granted an exemption on the grounds of his health. Like many of the other members of the Bloomsbury group, Leonard opposed Britain’s involvement in the war. He spent time with Phillip Morrell and his wife Ottoline at Garsington Manor – a well-known refuge for conscientious objectors, where local objector Eric Chappelow (from Barnes) spent time during the war.

Between 1915 and 1917, German airships – or ‘Zeppelins’ – conducted raids over Britain, unleashing explosives over London and other key cities. The raids caused widespread alarm. Civilians were experiencing for the first time a ‘total war’, which destruction brought to them on the Home Front. In her diary, Virigina notes that on the 20th October 1917 she heard two ‘soft distant but unmistakeable shocks at 9.30; then a third which shook the window’. The sound that Virginia describes was most likely the result of a 600lb bomb dropped on Piccadilly Circus. The attack killed seven.

Karl Schuz was serving aboard the Zeppelin L45 during the raid: “…we guessed it must be London. But no shot, we were unseen, and we could see the Thames. Now, running before the wind with a full speed, and we must drop our bombs. We dropped the large bombs, they were 600 pounders, and I heard later on bombs – great bombs – fell on the Piccadilly Circus.” [1]

Hogarth_Press_House,_Richmond,_Surrey

Hogarth House, Paradise Road, Richmond | (C) Max Hund

In her diary, Virginia also recorded how war impacted the local community in Richmond – describing her rationing provisions, and closures to the local butchers. She also describes Richmond’s peace celebrations in July 1919:

“The doors of the public house at the corner were open and the room crowded; couples waltzing; songs being shouted, waveringly, as if one must be drunk to sing. A troop of little boys with lanterns were parading the Green, beating sticks.”[2]

In her novel, Mrs Dalloway (1925), one of Virginia’s characters is suffering from ‘shell-shock’. The character, Septimus, is plagued with feelings of numbness, as well as hallucinations. It was one of the earliest fictional representations of the condition that has since been explored far more extensively, most notably in Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy.

Virginia Woolf

English novelist and critic Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941), 1902. (Photo by George C. Beresford/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

With thanks to Richmond Local Studies and IWM. 

[1] http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/podcasts/voices-of-the-first-world-war/podcast-12-zeppelins-over-britain

[2] http://www.richmond.gov.uk/virginia_woolf_and_hogarth_house

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