Saturday 22nd November, 2014
They came. From Huntingdon, from Bristol, Broadway, Worcestershire, from Cheshire and of course many from London, including Bloomsbury, driving for two, three or four hours across country on a damp chilly late November day to honour the memory of a journey made by Leonard Woolf from Frome Railway Station to London, Paddington to propose marriage to Virginia Stephen.
Nicholas Reid gave an accomplished speech mentioning that as manager of many stations on the Heart of Wessex line, Frome is a favourite. He elucidated the history and iconic status of Frome Station, with its unique shed style, within the national rail network. He briefly outlined the trials in achieving all necessary permissions to erecting the plaque, despite renewal of franchise, total refurbishment of the station and the worst floods in living memory. He hoped that it would encourage passengers, glimpsing the plaque as they journeyed to and from the coast, to stop off and visit Frome.
Cecil Woolf gave a vivid and lively speech, in spite of his eye operation only two days previously and his three hour drive through difficult traffic conditions, and spoke movingly and affectionately of his uncle and aunt, Leonard and Virginia. He talked of their first meeting, of Leonard’s reaction to her astonishing beauty, of their courtship and of Leonard’s recollections of Frome half a century later. He read from the letter Leonard Woolf wrote from The Rectory at Great Elm, which expressed his turmoil and exhaustion of that day and he went on to speak of their subsequent marriage and the many extraordinary achievements that their partnership produced. He then unveiled the plaque to enthusiastic applause.
Graham Muirhead, as Chairman of the Woolf Plaque Supporters, the group responsible for raising the funds and organising the event, thanked Cecil Woolf, Nicholas Reid and his colleagues from First Great Western, three successive Mayors and the town council, the donors and the Societies who had contributed so generously and travelled so far for their support. Finally, he expressed the hope that the plaque would inspire others to set out on their own journeys and to explore this rich vein of literature.
After photographs, the arrival of the next train signalled a move to the Cheese & Grain hall where Lotty Evans produced a delicious Bloomsbury Cook Book inspired afternoon tea for people to enjoy whilst chatting and looking at the display of quotations and photographs, a fitting finish to a thoroughly successful and enjoyable afternoon.
Reading from left to right: Back Row: Peter Macfadyen, Mayor of Frome, Cecil Woolf and his wife Dr Jean Moorcroft Wilson, Martin Bax, Chairman of Trustees, Rook Lane Chapel, Councillor Dickon Moore. Front Row: Dr Surendra Paul, Chairman, Leonard Woolf Society, Nathan Sivasambu, Co-ordinator, Ceylon Bloomsbury Group, Simon Standford-Tuck, Councillor Revd Colin Alsbury, Vicar of Frome, Sue Billingham, Dr Emma Robinson, Chairman, Frome Heritage Museum, Dr David Robinson, William Clarance, Committee Member, Leonard Woolf Society.
A message from The Political Quarterly:
To celebrate Leonard Woolf’s birthday, they have published a “virtual issue”. As co-founder of the Political Quarterly, Woolf wrote many articles for them. Twelve can be accessed here for free.
We are delighted to announce that the plaque commemorating Leonard Woolf’s journey to propose marriage to Virginia Stephen has now been commissioned, manufactured and is ready to be installed, thanks to the generous contributions we have received, not only from individual donors in the local area, but also throughout the country and overseas.
Whilst staying with Reverend Leopold Colin Campbell-Douglas at Great Elm in January 1912, Leonard Woolf was due to return to London on Monday but impulsively he telegraphed Virginia Stephen on Wednesday and caught the 10.29 train from Frome to London on the following day and asked her to become his wife. She couldn’t decide, she needed time to think, she refused and remained undecided until May 1912 when she finally accepted his proposal.
As Leonard and Virginia Woolf they became perhaps the greatest literary partnership of the twentieth century. She fulfilled her potential and became a writer of ground-breaking modernist literature, together they created a publishing house with a list of world-class writers (The Hogarth Press which they started by buying a printing press, setting it up in their dining room and began typesetting, printing and binding the books themselves) and he became a political editor and journalist whose work included prolific writings on international government, an autobiography, novels (including the renowned “Village in the Jungle”) and a report which had a profound influence on the Charter of the League of Nations. It is for this reason, for the extraordinary and inspiring results of this journey, that we think it should be marked by a plaque.
The unveiling of the plaque, which will take place on the platform of Frome Railway Station, Station Approach, on Saturday 22nd November 2014 at 2pm, is being very kindly undertaken by Leonard Woolf’s nephew, the publisher, Cecil Woolf. He will be accompanied by his wife, Dr Jean Moorcroft Wilson, who has written and lectured extensively on Leonard and Virginia Woolf. The writer and biographer, Victoria Glendinning, C.B.E., whose book “Leonard Woolf: A Life”, has done so much to bring Leonard Woolf to the attention of modern readers, also hopes to attend as do so many of our donors from around the country.
We look forward to welcoming interested readers to the unveiling.
Leonard Woolf Society
Ceylon Bloomsbury Group