If you love your English history and in particular, ‘The Bloomsbury Set’ the we have something for you. Of course we’re talking about Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey. So trade in blue plaques for clandestine rendezvous locales as you follow in the footsteps of the well-revered, yet notoriously saucy, group of early 20th century intellectuals and creatives. Here’s a guide to get you started.
Start your day at Maison Bertaux, the oldest patisserie in London and a frequent haunt of Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury set.
The café offers an unparalleled selection of cakes and pastry, and the sunny, picturesque interior makes for a splendidly romantic breakfast.
Linger broodingly over black coffee and the café’s impeccable croissant — attempt to catch the eye of the other intelligentsia enjoying their petit dejeuner around you.
Stroll northeast to the London enclave from which the group took its name. The squares that form the heart of Bloomsbury are peppered with blue plaques denoting the dwellings of members like Virginia Woolf, her sister, painter Vanessa Bell, economist John Maynard Keynes, critic Lytton Strachey, and numerous others.
The squares’ Victorian façades belie the veritable sexual revolution that went on behind drawn lace drapes and creaky wooden doors.
Stop in at 46 Gordon Square where Virginia Woolf and her siblings lived from 1904–1907 and where the Bloomsbury Group began. Vanessa Bell lived here after her marriage to art critic Clive Bell in 1907. The couple’s open marriage was a ripe source of gossip — Vanessa spent most of her life in a convoluted love triangle with painter Duncan Grant, with whom she had a daughter, Angelica, despite Grant’s homosexuality. To add to the scandal, Grant’s lover David Garnett eventually married Angelica in 1942!
Grant also had a relationship with John Maynard Keynes, whose plaque can be found at 46 Gordon Square, and a rather taboo dalliance with his cousin Lytton Strachey.
Traipse over to 51 Gordon Square — the site of Strachey’s decades long ménage-a-trois. After he ended his relationship with Keynes in jealousy over Keynes’ new lover, politician Arthur Hobhouse (a past lover of Grant), Strachey lived here in a three-way relationship with married couple Dora Carrington and Ralph Partridge.
Wander southeast from Bloomsbury, instilled with a more intimate understanding of Woolf’s declaration that the group “lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles”.
Conclude your day of with one of London’s most clichéd romantic strolls: crossing the Thames as sunset. Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, first published in 1928, is a love-letter of a novel to the author’s greatest paramour, the extravagant aristocrat Vita Sackville-West. The novel follows Orlando — a thinly veiled Vita — through 400 years of varying gender and numerous affairs.
In one particularly passionate episode, Orlando delights in a bacchanalian winter festival hosted on a frozen River Thames. Here he first glimpses Sasha, his sauciest and most tumultuous lover, as she brazenly skates by.
London Bridge’s current incarnation was unveiled in 1974 and is not the Victorian stone arch Woolf would have known, nor the medieval structure dallied about by Orlando and Sasha in the 17th century. As you meander your way along, envision centuries old stone in place of modern lines and fluorescent lighting. The medieval bridge stood for over 600 years — likely riddled with hidden nooks where one could conduct more secretive business.