From a 1903 letter to Franz Xaver Kappus from Rainer Maria Rilke

I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.


“Live the questions now.” Rainer Maria Rilke

Thank you for visiting this page. I’m Julia, and I work as a psychodynamic psychotherapist, relationship counsellor, and clinical supervisor. I’ve been in private practice in the City of London and in south-west London for the past three years; for the decade before that, I worked as a specialist psychotherapist for working age adults in the NHS (where I’ve also run staff groups).

This is where you will find the posts on my London-based blog, which I update constantly through the week, almost as a stream of consciousness. It reflects my interests, including psychotherapy, and my weekly experience outside – though not divorced from – my work. It’s a contemporary version of the commonplace book – one where the thoughts, responses, and comments of others are welcome.

‘It said Old Gold on the tin,’ said Julian unhappily. Perhaps I mixed it too thickly.’*

*From: Excellent Women (1952), by Barbara Pym:

” ‘Oh, well, things are never as easy as they seem to be,’ said Miss Statham complacently.
‘No, they certainly are not,’ agreed Miss Enders, who was a dressmaker. ‘People often say to me that they’re just going to run up a cotton dress or a straight skirt, but then they find it isn’t as easy as it looks and they come running to me to put it right.’
‘I wish you could put this right, Miss Enders,’ said Julian, drooping on the top of his ladder.
‘Look,’ I called out, ‘it is drying lighter, and quite evenly too. I suppose it would naturally be darker when it was wet.’
‘Why, so it is,’ said Sister Blatt. It’s quite a nice colour now.’
‘Mildred, how clever of you,’ said Julian gratefully. ‘I knew you would help.’

‘Well, well, now that we’ve seen you on your way we may as well be going on ours,’ said Sister Blatt good-humouredly.
‘Thank you for your help and advice,’ said Julian with a touch of irony.
‘Is Father Malory going to attempt the ceiling?’ asked Miss Statham in a low voice.
‘That’s the most difficult part,’ said Miss Enders.
‘Oh, well, as a clergyman he will naturally wish to make the attempt,’ said Sister Blatt, with a jolly laugh. Perhaps Miss Lathbury will help him. I’m afraid the ladder would hardly bear my weight,’ she added comfortably, looking down at her grey-clad bulk. ‘In any case, I believe the ceiling should have been done before the walls. If you do the ceiling now, Father, the walls will get splashed with white.’
‘So they will,’ said Julian patiently. ‘Excellent women,’ he sighed, when they had gone. ‘I think we will knock off for tea now, don’t you?’”

From The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym (2021), by Paula Byrne:

“Irena (mother of Barbara Pym) was an avid reader and fond of music. She played the organ at the parish church of St Oswald’s and she and Fred belonged to the Oswestry Operatic Society. She was also an active member of the parish and the local Women’s Institute. A practical person, in many respects Irena was the epitome of the ‘excellent women’ that would be at the core of her daughter’s novels.”


From Wikipedia:

“Old gold is a dark yellow, which varies from light olive or olive brown to deep or strong yellow, generally on the darker side of this range.

The first recorded use of old gold as a color name in English was in the early 19th century (exact year uncertain).

Old gold is used as a political color by Mebyon Kernow, a Cornish nationalist party. The color is derived from Cornish kilts and tartans.

Old gold is used for some NFL teams: the New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers. The reason for its use by the 49ers is the close identification of San Francisco (indeed the very choice of the mascot name) with the California Gold Rush of 1849.

Chinese immigrants, drawn to “Old Gold Mountain”, made San Francisco a polyglot culture, creating the city’s Chinatown quarter. By 1880, Chinese made up 9.3% of the population.

In gold mining, gold of any size, found in an old streambed or parts thereof that have washed into the waterway, or gold found contained within hardpan would be considered “old gold”.”

Gare du Nord, 18 Rue de Dunkerque, 75010 Paris, France

From Wikipedia:

“The Gare du Nord, officially Paris-Nord, is one of the seven large mainline railway station termini in Paris, France. The station accommodates the trains that run between the capital and northern France via the Paris–Lille railway, as well as to international destinations in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Located in the northern part of Paris near the Gare de l’Est in the 10th arrondissement, the Gare du Nord offers connections with several urban transport lines, including Paris Métro,

RER and buses. The current Gare du Nord was designed by French architect Jacques Ignace Hittorff, while the original complex was constructed between 1861 and 1864 on behalf of the Chemin de Fer du Nord company. The station replaced an earlier and much smaller terminal sharing the same name, which was operational between 1846 and 1860. The station building was partially demolished in 1860 to provide space for the current station; the original station’s façade was removed and transferred to Lille station (now Lille-Flandres).

The chairman of the Chemin de Fer du Nord railway company, James Mayer de Rothschild, chose the French architect Jacques Ignace Hittorff to design the current station. Construction of the new complex was carried out between May 1861 to December 1865; the new station actually opened for service while still under construction during 1864. The façade was designed around a triumphal arch and used many slabs of stone. The building has the usual U-shape of a terminus station. The main support beam is made out of cast iron. The support pillars inside the station were made at Alston & Gourley’s ironworks in Glasgow in the United Kingdom, the only country with a foundry large enough for the task.


The sculptural display represents the principal cities served by the company. Eight of the nine most majestic statues, crowning the building along the cornice line, illustrate destinations outside France, with the ninth figure of Paris in the centre. Fourteen more modest statues representing northern European cities are lower on the façade. The sculptors represented are:

London and Vienna by Jean-Louis Jaley
Brussels and Warsaw by François Jouffroy
Amsterdam by Charles Gumery
Frankfurt by Gabriel Thomas
Berlin by Jean-Joseph Perraud
Cologne by Mathurin Moreau
Paris, Boulogne and Compiegne by Pierre-Jules Cavelier…

From l. to r. sculptures representing: Beauvais, Lille, Amiens, Rouen, Arras, and Laon.

…Arras and Laon by Théodore-Charles Gruyère
Lille and Beauvais by Charles-François Lebœuf
Valenciennes and Calais by Philippe Joseph Henri Lemaire
Rouen and Amiens by Eugène-Louis Lequesne
Douai and Dunkirk by Gustave Crauck
Cambrai and Saint-Quentin by Auguste Ottin

It was originally planned that a monumental avenue would be constructed leading up to the station’s façade, cutting through the old street layout. Between 1838 and 1859, around a dozen separate proposals to redevelop the streets around Gare du Nord were tabled. However, no such redevelopment ever happened despite the extensive rebuilding of Paris headed by the Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann; the Gare du Nord’s absence from Haussmann’s work has been referred to as “exhibiting arbitrariness and inconsistency”. According to the railway historian Micheline Nilsen, the decision not to proceed with the redevelopment has been typically attributed to Haussmann and his personal displeasure that the city would have to bear such great expense on behalf of the Gare du Nord, and that Haussmann’s overall attitude led to a pronounced understatement of the railways. Whatever the reason, the station has persistently suffered problems with a lack of space and poor access.”

“‘Of course you’ve never been married,’ she said, putting me in my place among the rows of excellent women.”*

From: Sanditon (1817), the unfinished novel by Jane Austen:

“…such excellent useful women and have so much energy of character that where any good is to be done, they force themselves on exertions…I told you my sisters were excellent women, Miss Heywood.”

*From: Excellent Women (1952), by Barbara Pym:

“…No, I’m afraid not. She told me that she never went to church.”

‘I hope you were able to say a word, Mildred,’ said Julian, fixing me with what I privately called his ‘burning’ look. ‘We shall rely on you to do something there.’

‘Oh, I don’t suppose I shall see anything of her except at the dustbins,’ I said lightly.

‘Perhaps her husband will come to church. Naval officers are often religious, I believe.’

They that go down to the sea in ships: and occupy their business in great waters; These men see the works of the Lord: and His wonders in the deep,’ Julian said, half to himself.

I did not like to spoil the beauty of the words by pointing out that as far as we knew Rockingham Napier had spent most of his service arranging the Admiral’s social life. Of course he might very well have seen the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep…

…Later, as I lay in bed, I found myself thinking about Mrs Napier and the man I had seen with her. Was he perhaps a fellow anthropologist? I could still hear their voices in the room underneath me, raised almost as if they were quarrelling. I began to wonder about Rockingham Napier, when he would come and what he would be like. Cooking, Victorian glass paper-weights, charm . .. and then there was the naval element. He might arrive with a parrot in a cage. I suppose that, apart from encounters on the stairs, we should probably see very little of each other. Of course there might be some embarrassment about the sharing of the bathroom, but I must try to conquer it. I should certainly have my bath early so as to avoid clashing. I might perhaps buy myself a new and more becoming dressing-gown, one that I wouldn’t mind being seen in, something long and warm in a rich colour … I must have dropped off to sleep at this point, for the next thing I knew was that I had been woken up by the sound of the front door banging. I switched on the light and saw that it was ten minutes to one. I hoped the Napiers were not going to keep late hours and have noisy parties. Perhaps I was getting spinsterish and ‘set’ in my ways, but I was irritated at having been woken. I stretched out my hand towards the little bookshelf where I kept cookery and devotional books, the most comforting bedside reading. My hand might have chosen Religio Medici, but I was rather glad that it had picked out Chinese Cookery and I was soon soothed into drowsiness.”

From Wikipedia:

“Dorothy L. Sayers in her novel Gaudy Night has Harriet Vane discover that Peter Wimsey is reading Religio Medici. It helps her better understand his character and motivations.

Patricia Highsmith’s novel Strangers on a Train references a morocco-bound copy of the work, and Guy reflects on his favorite passages.”

“I hope you comprehend…”

” “Love Is All Around” is a song recorded by English rock band the Troggs, featuring a string quartet and a ‘tick tock’ sound on percussion, in D-major. Released as a single in October 1967, it was a top-ten hit in both the UK and US.
“Love Is All Around” has been covered by numerous artists, including R.E.M., with whom the Troggs subsequently recorded their 1992 comeback album Athens Andover. R.E.M.’s cover was a B-side on their 1991 “Radio Song” single, and they also played it during their first appearance at MTV’s Unplugged series that same year. Wet Wet Wet’s cover, for the soundtrack to the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral, was an international hit and spent 15 consecutive weeks at number one on the UK Singles Chart.”

From: Prehension (2015), by Colin McGinn:

“…The stone is now his instrument, an agent of his survival, and an extension of his being. He feels a sense of oneness with it–of solidarity and belonging. The stone has been de-alienated. The stone has been humanized. There has been a meeting of man and object. The for-itself has made peace with the in-itself, or a fragment of it. It is no longer just a stone; it is now part of the human Umwelt.
With this sense of oneness, of closeness, of possession, a range of other relationships can be formed: controlling, taming, governing, shaping, subjugating, cherishing, annexing, amassing. And it is not just the inanimate impersonal world that can be de-alienated by the grip; we can also grip parts of our own body and the bodies of others. Most of one’s own body can be self-gripped, from head to toe, but some areas are hard to get to, depending on one’s degree of flexibility. Some people cannot grip their own feet; hardly anyone can grip certain areas of the back. The inside of the body cannot be gripped at all–the heart, the lungs, or the liver. In the happily prehensive state we feel no alienation from our own body, though ailments can interfere with self-gripping in different ways (paralysis, obviously). Then self-alienation will likely ensue the body will not be fully mine.
We already feel pretty alienated from our internal organs–the ungripped parts of our bodily being. A total ban on self-gripping is likely to feel uncomfortable and gulf-inducing (consider the genitals and certain “Victorian” prohibitions). Our prehensive relationship to our own body shapes our feelings of possession with respect to it. Parts of the body are among the first things we grip, and this “auto-prehension” leaves its imprint on the psyche. I am always within reach of my own body. This body is possessed by me because I can always grip it freely.
But it is in relation to other people that the de-alienating power of the grip really shows itself. The island of the solitary self is bridged by acts of other-prehension…”

Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham observed in their work at the Hampstead Nurseries:

‘children will cling even to mothers who are continually cross and sometimes cruel to them. The attachment of the small child to his mother seems to a large degree independent of her personal qualities.’

Mick Hucknall, composer of Stars (1991) was an only child and three years of age when his mother left him to be raised by his father. He has apparently seen her only twice since then (he’s now 62). The first occasion was in the mid-1990s. He reported their conversation thus:

‘…she was all, “We’ve got a lot of healing to do”. I’m, like, “I’m the one who’s got a lot of healing to do; you’re the one who split and feels guilty about it.”‘

“ “Stars” is a 1991 song by British soul and pop band Simply Red, released as the second single from their fourth album of the same name (1991). Written by lead singer Mick Hucknall and produced by Stewart Levine, “Stars” became the first single from the album to crack the UK top 10, reaching number eight in December 1991. Outside the UK, “Stars” reached the top 10 in Denmark, Italy, Luxembourg and Zimbabwe and peaked within the top 40 in more than 10 other countries. In the United States it climbed to number 44 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking the band’s last appearance on the listing, and reached number eight on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.” (Wikipedia)

The King’s Arms, 68 Great Titchfield St., Fitzrovia, London W1

(Olaudah Equiano lived two minutes’ walk away, at what is now 73 Riding House Street, formerly 10 Union Street, from which he published The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano in 1789. A City of Westminster commemorative green plaque was unveiled there on 11 October 2000.)

Victor Glasstone writes in The Theatres Trust Guide to British Theatres 1750-1950 (eds. John Earl & Michael Sell):

Edward Lewis PARAIRE, (1826-1882)
Nothing is known of Finch Hill’s early background. He was in partnership with Paraire (who came of a French family naturalised in Britain) from c.1856-c.1870 about which time the partnership seems to have been dissolved. Both were still in practice in the late 1870s, with separate addresses in the same street. They both described themselves as ‘architect and surveyor’. They were famous pub architects; Paraire later also designed churches and banks. Besides their few straight commercial theatres, including the splendid Hoxton Britannia, they were a main link in the pub-into-music hall development. A design for ‘a music hall in Covent Garden’ (presumably Evans’s) was exhibited by Hill at the Royal Academy in 1856. Paraire exhibited the Britannia design in 1859.

Their early music halls were typical of the time: rectangular rooms with a single narrow balcony and a raised platform-stage at the end, set within an alcove. Later theatres were charming and simple: double balconies running round to the proscenium arch, with boxes formed just by curtaining at the ends. The decoration had a crisp fresh quality, quite different from the three-dimensional voluptuousness of the later 1870s and 1880s. Being built before the days of strict building regulations the theatres had almost no street facade, merely thin almost domestic slivers being presented to the street.”

From: Victorian Pubs (1984), by Mark Girouard:

“…The architecture of all these halls was considerably chaster than the entertainments which took place in them. Finch Hill was a master of the opulent but never licentious classicism of the 1850s. Audiences knocked back their beer in sumptuous settings designed by an architect who knew the churches of Gibbs, Archer and Hawksmoor. With the exception of the Britannia none of them had proper auditoria; this, incidentally, was the main reason why none of them survived, for in the course of the century the form of the music-hall was to develop closer and closer to that of the theatre and they were rebuilt as a result. Finch Hill’s inspiration was literally ecclesiastical; his halls had level floors and galleried aisles leading the eye to a ceremonial culmination above a raised platform at what one is tempted to call the ritual east end. The hall at Evans’s had arched arcades reminiscent of Gibbs’s St Martin-in-the-Fields, and the Oxford Music Hall had more than a touch of Hawksmoor’s St Anne’s, Limehouse.

At the Britannia the theatre was attached to the rear of a tavern of the same name which was also rebuilt by Hill and Paraire. Weston’s grew out of the Seven Tankards and Punchbowl; the Oxford incorporated the rebuilt Boar and Castle. Hill and Paraire also designed or altered numerous pubs where no music-hall element was involved, though some of them were built for publicans who ran music-halls elsewhere: the King’s Arms, Titchfield Street (1859), for instance, and the Rising Sun, Euston Road (1861), were both built for the Turnham family, who ran Turnham’s Music Hall (the forerunner of the Metropolitan) in Edgware Road, and who also employed Hill and Paraire for the Philharmonic Hall, Islington. In all, the firm did documented work at twenty pubs, and in addition Paraire designed at least another half-dozen after Finch Hill died or retired in about 1867. It amounted to a sizable public house practice, even if still much smaller than the monster practices of the late nineteenth century.”


“They have worn sackcloth because they didn’t believe they deserved silk.”*

Dr. Sheri Jacobson posted at Harley Therapy Ltd. on March 10, 2021:

“The original use of the word codependency rose out of Alcoholics Anonymous as a way to describe the partners of alcohol abusers. It was noticed that the partners themselves, despite not having a drinking problem, were in a way ‘hooked’ too, in that they were ‘addicted to the addict’. They often had a pattern of being involved with alcoholics, and/or grew up with a parent who was an addict of some sort, whether that was drink, drugs, gambling or a sexual addiction. The term became popularised and began to grow in meaning to refer to ‘people addiction’ and relationships where one person sacrificed their wellbeing to manipulate the attentions of another. This change in meaning was connected to the release and wildfire success of several books, including Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood and *Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. Interestingly, Melody Beattie’s book was originally rejected by twenty publishers who felt there weren’t enough codependents out there to make publishing the book worthwhile! Little did they know that codependency would become such an overused term its meaning even began to morph and grow as society itself changed and saw new challenges. Nowadays the term is used colloquially to refer to any sort of dependency on the needs of another. “I can’t stand it when he gets upset with me, I’m so codependent!””

‘I like this London life in early summer – the street sauntering & square haunting.’*

*VIRGINIA WOOLF, diary 20 April 1925

Image: Goodenough College, Mecklenburgh Square, London WC1.


From Wikipedia:

“Adeline Virginia Woolf (née Stephen; 25 January 1882 – 28 March 1941) was an English writer, considered one of the most important modernist 20th-century authors and a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device.”

From Square Haunting (2020), by Francesca Wade:

“When Virginia and Leonard Woolf arrived in Mecklenburgh Square on 17 August 1939, they found the entrance to their new home obstructed by sandbags, laid by the band of Irish labourers digging an air-raid shelter in the square’s garden. Six days later, news came that Germany and Russia had signed a non-aggression pact; Hitler consequently invaded Poland, an act to which the British government had pledged to respond by entering into war. The following day, as parliament was recalled, the Woolfs came up from their Sussex home, Monk’s House, to oversee the move of their personal possessions from 52 Tavistock Square to 37 Mecklenburgh Square. The journey was sombre and silent: the train was nearly empty, and as they walked from the station they found London eerily indifferent, the British Museum shut, ‘no stir in the streets’. Their removals man had just received his call-up notice, and informed the Woolfs that he wouldn’t be there tomorrow. ‘It’s fate, the foreman said,’ wrote Woolf in her diary that evening. ‘What can you do against fate? Complete chaos at 37.’

The Woolfs’ tenure at Mecklenburgh Square began – and continued – in a state of tension and unease, the immediate political crisis echoing the domestic disruption of the move. They had signed a lease on 37 Mecklenburgh Square ‘rather rashly’ in May, after the noise from building works on the Royal Hotel on Tavistock Square rendered their home there almost impossible to live in. That summer, Virginia had lain dozing on her bed, her head a tight wound ball of string, while Leonard and their solicitors negotiated in vain with the Bedford Estate to annul their current lease. ‘I long for 37 Mecklenburgh Sq,’ wrote Woolf: ‘a large seeming & oh so quiet house, where I could sleep anywhere.’ But unlike Sayers or Power, who arrived at Mecklenburgh Square excited to make a new start, the process of undoing and reassembling her life reminded Woolf uncomfortably of her mortality, forcing her to confront a future which seemed increasingly futile…

…The fresh promise of the new house dissolved into a dull anxiety that they had made a terrible mistake in leaving Tavistock Square, where they had spent fifteen largely happy years. As they went through the Mecklenburgh Square house that July, fitting electric lights and planning how to arrange their furniture, ‘a grim thought struck me: wh. of these rooms shall I die in?’

On 3 September 1939, Chamberlain announced to the waiting nation that Britain was at war with Germany. Woolf spent hours sewing blackout curtains while listening for sirens, finding herself too tired, emotionally, to read a page. Number 37 Mecklenburgh Square seemed uncomfortable and hostile – ‘The kitchen very small. Everything too large. Stairs bad. No carpets.’ The external uncertainty dampened the Woolfs’ enthusiasm for domestic comfort: a week after they had moved in, the hallway remained blocked with boxes, and even in November, Woolf informed a friend that there was ‘a chamber pot in the sitting-room, and a bed in the dining-room’. Gradually, uneasily, they unpacked and settled in, Woolf and their servant Mabel Haskins emptying cases and laying carpets. As before, the house was divided, with the Hogarth Press lodged in the basement, while the solicitors Dolman & Pritchard – who had sublet part of Tavistock Square since 1924 – occupied the ground and first floors, and the Woolfs ‘perched’ on the upper two storeys. I’ve two nice rooms at the top, Virginia wrote to Vita Sackville-West. I like them – there you’ll come – one side is chimneys on a hill, I suppose Islington – t’other all green fields and the Foundlings playing.’

‘How to go on, through war? thats the question,’ wrote Virginia ten days after moving into the square. That dilemma occupied Woolf throughout her tenure in Mecklenburgh Square, infiltrating every aspect of her writing and daily life…

…For Woolf herself, that war was connected with a dark period of mental illness which confined her to bed and forced her to leave Bloomsbury for the comparative peace of Richmond. Now, Woolf felt herself plunged into another blank…

…Throughout her year in Mecklenburgh Square, Woolf galvanised energies for an astonishing variety of projects: she completed, with relief, a biography of her old friend Roger Fry, she wrote a novel, Between the Acts, and she began sketching her own memoirs, as well as making notes for a new study of English literature. Her diaries and correspondence mix the constant ‘rumours of war’ with accounts of dinners, parties, commissions for stories and journalism, and changes in her Sussex garden…

…The Woolfs soon established an uneasy ‘betwixt and between’ routine, spending four days of every fortnight at Mecklenburgh Square and the rest of the time writing uninterruptedly at Monk’s House in Rodmell (‘our village – which must be typical of all villages’), a sixteenth-century cottage which they had bought at auction in 1919…

…Over dinners in Mecklenburgh Square she and her guests darted easily between contemporary gossip (the death of Sigmund Freud, whom Woolf had met earlier in 1939, on which occasion he had given her a narcissus; her niece Angelica Bell’s scandalous affair with David Garnett, the one- time lover of her father, Duncan Grant, who himself had just sold a painting to the Queen) and animated discussions about Joseph Conrad’s servants, Thackeray’s prostitutes and Dickens’s mistresses, ‘all spoken of as if they were old friends’. One evening, T. S. Eliot, Clive Bell and Saxon Sydney-Turner came over to debate whether ‘this war means that the barbarian will gradually freeze out culture’, before wandering out in the early hours, leaving the door ajar. Virginia strolled with Elizabeth Bowen from Mecklenburgh Square through Temple and along the river to the Tower of London, then rode back again on the top of a bus, talking away about house moves, writing and the escalating tensions between Britain and Ireland…

…Immediately after moving into Mecklenburgh Square, Woolf wrote to Raymond Mortimer, then literary editor of the New Statesman, to propose some books for review: ‘It’s best to have a job, & I don’t think I can stand aloof with comfort at the moment.’ Woolf was drawn to ‘the frying pan of journalism’ as a way of remaining engaged with the outside world, though public work brought with it the fear of negative reception, and she lamented the loss of ‘my old age of independence’ in favour of the grind of ‘1,500 words by Wednesday’. But both Woolfs saw journalism as an essential means of shoring up financially. Although they benefited from substantial capital investments as well as the money they made from their own work, they still had to pay for Tavistock Square, which remained unlet, as well as even higher rent on Mecklenburgh Square…

…By 1939, their relationship had mellowed into an affectionate co-dependency that reassured them both: ‘their bonds were very close indeed,’ wrote John Lehmann, their neighbour in Mecklenburgh Square and partner in the Hogarth Press, ‘as anyone who had observed them together would testify.’…

…Lehmann was more entrepreneurial than the Woolfs, and was keen for their publishing programme to engage meaningfully with contemporary politics, to publish a wider range of international voices (building on its Russian connections) and to establish Mecklenburgh Square as a bastion of culture in a beleaguered world. From his second-floor back room at number 45 – which he had decorated with maps of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire – Lehmann worked on his magazine, New Writing, which he had founded in 1936 to ‘create a laboratory where the writers of the future may experiment’, and to set writing by his own generation, who had come of age after the First World War, alongside international luminaries such as Boris Pasternak and Bertolt Brecht…

…After urgent confabulations in Mecklenburgh Square, the press decided to use its allotted stocks to keep steady sellers in print – Virginia’s novels, the poetry of Rilke, the complete works of Freud, which Hogarth had been the first to bring into English translation – and retain enough paper for the eventuality of a surprise bestseller, and also for new books by existing authors, to avoid losing them to bigger publishers. The first novel Hogarth published from its Mecklenburgh Square address was Henry Green’s Party Going, a portrait of Bright Young Things stranded at Victoria station when a thick fog halts all transport; their nervous imprisonment conjures something of the uneasy limbo of the wait for war…

…Frustrated by the difficulties of representing another life, Woolf’s thoughts turned towards a new project. In April 1939 Vanessa had playfully warned Woolf, who was fifty-seven, that she would soon be ‘too old’ to write her memoirs; now, in Mecklenburgh Square, Woolf began to think more seriously about beginning them. It was a project grounded from its inception in the reality of life under war. Woolf was anxious about losing her memories along with the physical reminders of the past that seemed at risk of imminent destruction: as she lay awake in Mecklenburgh Square, regretting the move and worrying about death, she found herself ‘going over each of the rooms’ in her first home at 22 Hyde Park Gate…

…she automatically recalled her life through the houses in which she had lived: from 37 Mecklenburgh Square to her first Bloomsbury residence at 46 Gordon Square, and further back to her childhood homes: Talland House in St Ives, and 22 Hyde Park Gate…

Bloomsbury Square

…In 1939, she had been ‘gulping up’ Freud – who had been exiled from Vienna in 1938 and ended his life in Hampstead, where both H. D. and Woolf had visited him – and was particularly intrigued by his idea that the self splits as a response to trauma, resulting in multiple possible lives for a biographer to pursue…

…In Mecklenburgh Square, recalling Hyde Park Gate, she began to reflect further on how patriarchal authority, on a domestic level, had deeply affected her own life…

…this private writing entertained and comforted her during this difficult year in Mecklenburgh Square. Not only did it provide her with a ‘fidget ground’ amid the external tension; it also let Woolf feel that, finally, she was following her own exhortation in A Room of One’s Own to ‘kill the angel in the house’ and describe, openly, ‘the passions which it was unfitting for her as a woman to say’. Her post-Impressionist autobiography is itself a form of resistance, a way of writing the self which privileges the private, inner world where, throughout time, women’s lives have been lived…

…Two days later, (on 11.2.40) she felt that ‘the authentic glow of finishing a book is on me’, and that week completed Roger Fry at Mecklenburgh Square…

…Her frantic long weekends in Mecklenburgh Square, packed with business and social engagements, were increasingly stressful: she found that she needed the ‘protected shell’ of Monk’s House in order to get serious writing done, and that the ‘incessant interruption’ of visits to London was leaving her mind ‘in a torn state’…

…The disturbance of leaving Tavistock Square for Mecklenburgh, combined with the shift of her main home from London to Rodmell, left her anxious that she would never be able to focus her memory for long enough to complete her memoirs…

…Now that they were spending more time in Rodmell than ever before, Woolf resented returning to Mecklenburgh Square and the
‘terrors and constrictions’ of working alongside their live-in servant Mabel, with the Hogarth staff bustling around downstairs and visitors liable to interrupt…

…Not only was Woolf conjuring for readers a different sort of past, founded on the values of peace and cooperation so sorely needed in the present, but she was also placing herself in a tradition of Mecklenburgh Square women resetting the boundaries of history…

…Londoners grew accustomed to the drone of aeroplanes, the smell of cordite after an explosion, the sight of pilots gliding down from the sky in parachutes. Restaurants created improvised dormitories for stranded diners; John Lehmann and his friends went pub-crawling in the blackout, floundering through the dark streets high on adrenaline. A dustman reported finding twelve dead cats in Bloomsbury in a week, three in Mecklenburgh Square…The Woolfs were asleep in Mecklenburgh Square during one of the earliest night raids, but decided not to go out to the shelter in the square’s garden: Leonard later recalled that they ‘thought it better to die, if that were to be our fate, in our beds’…

…Standing behind the barrier between Doughty Street and Mecklenburgh Square on 10 September 1940, watching neighbours jump on smouldering bricks to quell the sparks, Woolf wondered what fate had befallen the inhabitants of these destroyed houses: ‘the casual young men & women I used to see, from my window; the flat dwellers who used to have flower pots & sit on the balcony’. She was ‘greatly relieved’ when the Hogarth secretary advised her and Leonard not to attempt to sleep in Mecklenburgh Square that night, and was mildly alarmed by the attitude of the solicitor Mr Pritchard, who insisted on remaining at his desk in a leather coat and hat to protect himself from the cold, dust and rain (‘he watches raids from his flat roof & sleeps like a hog’). Returning by car a few days later to assess the damage, the Woolfs were caught in a raid outside Wimbledon and had to retreat to the nearest shelter, where they met a family who had been living there since being bombed out of their home, sleeping on wood shavings while the wind whistled through bullet holes in the corrugated steel. When eventually the Woolfs reached London, they convened with Lehmann at the Russell Hotel and heard the story of that night: the crash of bombs, the sight of a tree where Byron Court had been, the ‘great cloud of thick grey dust’ and the neighbours huddled in doorways in their pyjamas. It was some weeks until they could return to the house, and even then it was clear that they couldn’t stay there. To her surprise, Woolf remained calm in the face of this disastrous end to her Bloomsbury life, which had begun with such promise but ended up a worry and a burden. She felt a ‘strange exhilaration at losing possessions – save at times I want my books & chairs & carpets & beds – How I worked to buy them – one by one – And the pictures.
But to be free of Meck wd now be a relief. Almost certainly it will be destroyed – & our queer tenancy of that sunny flat over … I shd like to start life, in peace, almost bare – free to go anywhere.’…”


Picton House, 52 High Street, Kingston upon Thames

Image: “A relatively modest house built between the 1730s and 1750s with lavish internal plasterwork and panelling. The past occupiers of the house reflect Kingston’s role as both an industrial centre and rural retreat.” (Historic England)

From Wikipedia:

“Cesar Picton (c. 1755 – 1836) was presumably enslaved in Africa by the time he was about six years old. He was bought and brought to England by an English army officer who had been in Senegal, and in 1761 was “presented” as a servant to Sir John Philipps, who lived at Norbiton Place, near Kingston upon Thames in Surrey. Picton later became a wealthy coal merchant in Kingston.

Sir John Philipps was a British Baronet and Member of Parliament. His journal for November 1761 recorded the arrival of Picton in his household, along with the gift of “a parakeet and a foreign duck”. He was soon baptised by the Philippses, who were supporters of missionary work – although it is quite likely that he had been born into an Islamic family. Initially rigged out as an exotic page-boy, with a velvet turban (cost 10 shillings and sixpence) in the rococo fashion of the day, he became a favourite of the family, especially Lady Philipps. When Picton was about 33, Horace Walpole wrote in a letter of 1788: “I was in Kingston with the sisters of Lord Milford [Sir John’s son]; they have a favourite black, who has been with them a great many years and is remarkably sensible”, “sensible” at this period meaning “possessing sensibility”. He had clearly achieved an unusual status in the household. Picton took his surname from Picton Castle, Pembrokeshire, the Philipps’s country estate in Wales, which was then a significant site for mining coal.

The legal status of slaves imported into England was ambiguous when Picton arrived, but they were certainly not regarded or treated in the same way as slaves in the British American colonies. The situation was clarified considerably by Somersett’s Case of 1772 (when Picton was in his late teens), which ruled that no person could be a slave in England itself. By the time of Somersett’s case, most black servants seem already to have been regarded and treated as free, at least by the time they reached adulthood.

Following the deaths of Sir John in 1764, and his wife in 1788, and the sale of Norbiton Place by their son, Picton used a legacy of £100 from Lady Phillipps to set up in business as a coal merchant in nearby Kingston. The move from servant to tradesman was a common one; Picton was presumably well-known to the owners and upper servants of the many large houses in the area after nearly thirty years at Norbiton. The three unmarried Phillipps daughters had moved to nearby Hampton Court on the sale of the house, and since they all later left him legacies (in total by 1820, £250 and £30 a year), they may well have encouraged their friends to buy coal from him. In the phrase of the day, he had “connections”. In addition, it is probably no coincidence that the Phillipps’ estate at Picton was a centre of coal mining; he may well have sourced his supplies from them, to mutual advantage, and perhaps had already been involved in managing their affairs.

His original premises at 52 High Street, Kingston Upon Thames backs onto the River Thames.

Picton lived here for the first years of his business, initially renting, but in 1795 buying it and other property including a wharf onto the Thames for unloading the coal, and a malthouse.

In 1801 Picton was convicted for poaching with an unlicensed gun and fined five pounds. The fine was relatively trivial for Picton and someone of lower social status may have faced execution or transportation to Australia for the same offence. Picton appealed the decision using the services of a London attorney, who challenged the conviction on the grounds that the magistrate’s record of the year of the offence was incorrectly recorded. The King’s Bench held that this was “surplusage” and not material to the validity of the case, so the conviction was upheld. Picton’s race was not mentioned in either the judgement or the report of the appeal that appeared in The Morning Post.

In 1807 Picton let his Kingston properties and moved to a rented house in Tolworth, perhaps marking his retirement aged 52 from active trade. He was by then described in deeds as a “gentleman” and by 1816 he bought a house with a large garden in Thames Ditton for an above-average £4,000. He died in 1836 at the age of 81 and is buried in All Saints Church, Kingston upon Thames. He was evidently a very large man as a four-wheeled trolley was needed for the coffin.

Picton was successful in business and became rich. While this was in contrast to the majority of black people in Britain at the time, some did achieve status and prosperity, for example the writer and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano and the Mayfair shopkeeper Ignatius Sancho. Other successful black businessmen worked as publicans and lodging-house keepers, providing some evidence of black upward social mobility.

Picton left a portrait of himself in his will (along with several other paintings), but its whereabouts is not known. It emerged in 2007 that the portrait of Picton depicted in a mural of Kingston’s history, commissioned by the Council, was actually of either Olaudah Equiano or Ignatius Sancho. He is not known to have married, and all his bequests were to friends, including 16 mourning rings.


Although Picton lived through the main period of the British abolitionist movement, no involvement by him is known.

Both his former homes, in Kingston High Street and in Thames Ditton, have Grade II listed status and display commemorative plaques. Both are known as Picton House, although the Kingston building was called Amari House between 1981 and 1985 when it was headquarters of Amari Plastics Ltd. A meeting and reception room, the Picton Room, at Kingston University is named in his honour.


Picton is a character in the children’s novel Jupiter Williams by S.I. Martin, set in 1800.


During Picton’s time in Kingston, the area also gave rise to a significant legal case related to slavery in R[ex] v Inhabitants of Thames Ditton of 1785, where Lord Mansfield (previously the judge in Somersett’s Case) held that Charlotte Howe, a former slave, was not entitled to pay for her previous work, in the absence of a specific contract.”

“History is a process”

Image: “‘Portrait of Sir Thomas More’ is an oak panel painting commissioned in 1527 of Thomas More by the German artist and printmaker Hans Holbein the Younger, now in the Frick Collection in New York.” (Wikipedia)

Claire Armitstead asked Hilary Mantel for The Guardian of 21 Sep 2019:

“…did she have qualms about taking on the Tudor heritage industry? “Nothing but qualms,” she says. “Think of those miles of shelves stacked with novels about Henry’s wives. But I didn’t suppose I was going to write one of those.”

Until she took him on, Cromwell was best known as the corpulent, grim-faced bureaucrat in a famous Holbein portrait. “His story hadn’t been well served by biographers or fiction writers. He was under-imagined. And when you stand where he stands, what you see defamiliarises itself,” says Mantel. “He was the man who conquers the system from within.”

Her “defamiliarisation” of the period drew criticism from some historians, in particular her refusal to go along with the sanctification of Sir Thomas More. But her response is characteristically brisk: “History is a process, not a locked box with a collection of facts inside,” she says. “The past and present are always in dialogue – there can hardly be history without revisionism. Most historians acknowledge More as a complex and conflicted human being, with debits and credits to his name. My portrait, unlike a historian’s, cannot be balanced or neutral. It comes from the imagined point of view of Cromwell, who is grievously and inextricably involved with him day by day. The same is true for my other characters; they are as I believe Cromwell sees them.”…”

“In extreme cases, we refer to this as confabulation. The brain creates and recreates the past…”*

*from story by Arthur C. Clarke

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

“confabulation (n.)

“a talking together, chatting, familiar talk,” mid-15c., from Late Latin confabulationem (nominative confabulatio), noun of action from past participle stem of Latin confabulari “to converse together,” from assimilated form of com “with, together” (see con-) + fabulari”to talk, chat,” from fabula “a tale” (from PIE root *bha- (2) “to speak, tell, say”).”

From: Brown J, Huntley D, Morgan S, Dodson KD, Cich J (2017) Confabulation: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals. Int J Neurol Neurother 4:070:


Confabulation is the creation of false memories in the absence of intentions of deception. Individuals who confabulate have no recognition that the information being relayed to others is fabricated. Confabulating individuals are not intentionally being deceptive and sincerely believe the information they are communicating to be genuine and accurate. Confabulation ranges from small distortions of actual memories to creation of bizarre and unusual memories, often with elaborate detail. Although confabulations can occur in non-impaired populations, the aim of this article is to bring into focus the unique problems associated with this phenomenon and its impact on clients involved in the mental health system. The vividness with which clients describe their memories may convince some mental health professionals into believing the memories are real. Even when the client is presented with information that directly conflicts with their version of events, they will persist in believing their memories are wholly accurate. Mental health professionals must be vigilant about its identification to gather accurate information from a client and to provide optimal treatment strategies. Therefore, this article provides information about confabulation, including its characteristics and etiology, links to psychological and neurological disorders, its impact on others, and considerations for mental health professionals.

Historical origins
The term confabulation made its first appearance in the medical literature in the early 1900s. Sergei Sergeievich Korsakoff, a Russian psychiatrist, noted that alcoholic patients were more likely to display memory deficits referred to as “pseudo-reminiscences, illusions of memory, or falsifications of memory”, ultimately called confabulation. Other prominent psychiatrists, such as Emil Kraepelin and Karl Bonhoeffer, began to document cases of confabulation in patients with dementia, senility, and brain trauma. In such cases, patients can significantly alter important details of memory or generate new memories of events that never took place. However, what is often more problematic is that clients will act on their confabulations, which means their behavior is based on false recall…”