What Virginia found at No. 46 Gordon Square was a world away from her previous experience of domestic living. This was a house in which only young people lived, which was at the time a rarity and radical departure from the multi-generation clutter of Hyde Park Gate. In an age of student housing and shared spaces, it’s easy to forget just how liberating—and, for some, shocking—this single generation household was in Edwardian England.
No. 46 Gordon Square was also architecturally distinctive. Unlike Hyde Park Gate it was airy and spacious, it was clean and lit by electricity rather than gas lamps and candles. Virginia’s lived at the top of the house, where she had two rooms of her own, with a view across the Gordon Square gardens. In an essay entitled ‘Old Bloomsbury’, written in 1922, Woolf reflected on what it was like to live at No. 46, and her excitement at starting something new. ‘When one sees it today’, she writes:
Gordon Square is not one of the most romantic of the Bloomsbury Squares. But I can assure you that in October 1904 it was the most beautiful, the most exciting, the most romantic place in the world. To begin with it was astonishing to stand at the drawing room window and look into all those trees … The light and the air after the rich red gloom of Hyde Park Gate were a revelation.
Though Bloomsbury is today a smart part of London this wasn’t the case in 1904. Gordon Square had been developed in the 1820s, along with Tavistock Square, for the upper middle classes. However, as a district it didn’t really take off. As a result, its terraces were turned into lodging and boarding houses as homes for a transitory and shifting population. To the Stephen children this mix of people, and the area’s slightly dodgy reputation, were part of the charm of moving to Gordon Square. ‘After the silence of Hyde Park gate the roar of traffic was positively alarming. Old characters, sinister, strange, prowled and slunk past our windows.’