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The heritage plaque noting the literary historical significance of Talland House was unveiled at 3 p.m. (BST) today before a capacity crowd at Talland House, Virginia Woolf’s summertime home in St. Ives from 1882-1894.

Woolf’s father, Leslie Stephen, had the lease on Talland House from 1878-1895.

About the plaque

The plaque, which marks Woolf’s childhood time in St. Ives, was unveiled as part of the St. Ives September Festival.

The first in the black and white colors of the Cornwall flag, the plaque is the product of a long-running campaign by the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, led by Woolf scholar Maggie Humm and the St. Ives Town Council.

The plague received unanimous support from St. Ives Town Council as well as from local MP Derek Thomas.

The Council, together with Talland House’s owner Peter Eddy and the society, hosted the sold-out event, which was fully booked within hours of being announced. The event included a reading by Humm from her novel Talland House (2020).

More Woolf events part of St. Ives September Festival

Two other events related to Woolf are part of the September Festival, which runs Sept. 10-24. They include:

  • A talk titled “Virginia Woolf: Memories of St Ives “by Sarah Latham Phillips, a member of the executive council of the Virginia Woolf Society, at 2 p.m. on Sept. 13 at Porthmeor Studios. Tickets are £6.
  • A tour of the Talland House Gardens conducted by Polly Carter at 10 a.m. on Sept. 21. Tickets are £6. Book by emailing poll.carter1@googlemail.com
Professor Maggie Humm, vice-chair of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, and Councillor Johnnie Wells, Deputy Mayor of St. Ives at the Talland House plaque unveiling today. Humm read from her 2020 novel Talland House at the event. Photo: St. Ives September Festival

 

 

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View of the front right corner of Talland House (2004)

Never underestimate the power of a Virginia Woolf scholar who has a Virginia Woolf society behind her.

Thanks to the efforts of Maggie Humm, a member of the executive council of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, a plaque commemorating the time Virginia Woolf spent in St. Ives, Cornwall, will be installed at Talland House.

Humm, author of the novel Talland House,was a major force behind the effort. She advocated for the move by providing St. Ives Town Council with useful and persuasive information about the summers Woolf spent at Talland House until the age of 12.

We first reported news about this effort last October. But now, we have more details and photos to share, as tweeted by @MaggieHumm1.

Timeline of the effort and fundraising

According to a story in the Jan. 28, 2022, issue of The St Ives Times & Echo, the British society first submitted a proposal for such a plaque in October of 2020. However, the Town Council did not support it due to lack of funding.

Cornwall Council and local MP Derek Thomas supported later requests from the VWSGB, which resulted in the St. Ives Town Council reversing its stand. Last month, the Council learned that the owner of Talland House also supported the move and the Council approved it by an unanimous vote.

The plaque, which will be black, will be hand-fired in Cornwall. It will be installed on the right-hand side of the east elevation on the second story of the house.

Funding details have yet to be established, but St. Ives Town Council, in partnership with the VWSGB, has launched a fundraising effort on Spacehive.

Part of a heritage trail?

Woolf’s plaque may be part of a larger effort in St. Ives, one that would use the plaques to recognize other notable people that are part of the town’s heritage.

If the heritage tied up in this remarkable property had been fully understood at an early time it may well have become the town’s main ‘heritage asset’. – “Virginia Woolf to finally be celebrated on a plaque at Talland House,” The St Ives Times & Echo, Jan. 28, 2022.

Front page of the Jan. 28, 2022, issue of the St Ives Times & Echo

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Several blue plaques commemorate London addresses at which members of the Bloomsbury Group, including Virginia Woolf, lived. Now a similar plaque — in black — will recognize Talland House, Virginia Woolf’s summertime residence in St. Ives, Cornwall.

Jean Moorcroft Wilson on the doorstep of 46 Gordon Square, Woolf’s first Bloomsbury home during #DallowayDay2018. A blue plaque noting the significance of the site is to the right of the front door.

The news, shared by Woolf scholar Maggie Humm, author of the novel Talland House, came via the VWoolfListserv, as well as social media.

Her message to the Listserv stated:

Virginia Woolf is to have a plaque on Talland House St Ives. Following my research and many requests (for the VWSGB) St Ives Town Council has just voted unanimously in support. I was able, additionally, to secure the support of the local MP. The plaque will be black (in line with Cornwall’s flag) not blue as London plaques. More details of dates/funding/design to follow.

Blue Plaque at 29 Fitzroy Square, London, where Virginia and Adrian Stephen lived from 1907-1911.

Blue plaque noting that Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived at Hogarth House, Richmond from 1915-1924 and founded the Hogarth Press there in 1917.

The blue plaque on the side of the Tavistock Hotel commemorating Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s tenure at 52 Tavistock Square, London. It was draped in blue at its unveiling in 2018.

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For anyone who reads and loves Virginia Woolf, St. Ives is a magical place. Take a trip back in time by viewing old footage of that Cornish town.
  • From the BBC iPlayer comes “Cornwall: This Fishing Life,” with series 2, episode 4, focusing on St. Ives. It includes old black and white film footage of the place where Woolf and the Stephen family spent their summers until she was 12.
  • Nineteen seconds of color film footage of St. Ives from Claude Friese-Greene’s The Open Road (1926) a fascinating social record of inter-war Britain. The St. Ives snippet below is available on the British Film Industry‘s YouTube Channel.
  • And just for fun, check out the video below of a model railroad version of St. Ives, circa the 1950s, created by a former St. Ives resident. In this eight-minute video, he adds his own memories, along with details about constructing the layout. Stuart Clarke of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain shared this video and notes that we “may” be able to see Talland House at the 4-minute, 32-second mark.

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When I first heard that renowned Virginia Woolf scholar Maggie Humm was writing a novel featuring Lily Briscoe and based on Woolf’s semi-autobiographical novel To the Lighthouse (1927), I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

The opportunity came in March, when I saw on Facebook that Maggie had advance reader’s copies in her grasp. After meeting Maggie at many Woolf conferences, I consider her a friend. So I contacted her and asked for a copy. She immediately promised to send one.

Pandemic realities on both sides of the pond

A few hours later, pandemic reality hit her. Recalling that the coronavirus had pretty much grounded all international flights, thereby shutting down international mail delivery, Maggie realized that a copy mailed from England would be unlikely to reach me. She put me in touch with her U.S. publicist to obtain a copy stateside instead.

The book arrived quickly, and I expected to jump right in. But my pandemic reality meant I had difficulty focusing on Maggie’s book — or any book — until recently. That made me late finishing the novel and late posting about it here as well. But since it is now available on Amazon, better late than never. So here goes.

Talland House fills in and illuminates

Maggie, emeritus professor of cultural studies at the University of East London, is the author or editor of 14 books, with the last three focused on Woolf and the arts. So it is only natural that in her first novel, Talland House, Maggie focuses on artist Lily Briscoe from To the Lighthouse.

To that end, Talland House fills in Lily’s back story — the death of her mother, her art studies in Paris and St. Ives, her work as a nurse during the Great War, and her involvement in the suffrage movement. Set between 1900 and 1918 in both Cornwall and London, it also provides a prequel to Woolf’s novel and reimagines that work from Lily’s perspective.

That reimagining includes Mrs. Ramsay’s demise. Her death, mentioned briefly and parenthetically in Woolf’s novel, is “discovered” or explained in Maggie’s novel. But I will include no spoilers here.

While conducting research to write the novel, Maggie pored over old photos of St. Ives, as well as Cornish newspapers, artists’ memoirs, and art journals to get a feel for the seaside town and its art community during the years the novel covers.

St. Ives Bay, June 2004

The extent of her research shows in her luminous prose that paints a compelling and colorful picture of St. Ives and its charms, the location of all of Woolf’s novel and much of Talland House. The picture is so complete — from the view of the lighthouse from Talland House to the fishing boats in the harbor — that one is transported back in time to the cobblestone streets of the Cornish town.

References slipped into a must-read

Woolf scholars and readers will delight in catching the specific references to Woolf’s work that Maggie slips into this historical novel.

Lily makes note of Mr. Ramsay’s boots and his recitation of Tennyson’s poems. She recalls moving the salt cellar at dinner and describes the animal skull on the nursery wall and the tapping sound of the window blind’s acorn on the nursery floor. And in a fresh take-off on Woolf’s famous line in “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid” (1940), “Thinking is my fighting,” Lily proclaims that painting is hers.

If you are a fan of Woolf, this is a must-read. If you are not, it will make you want to become one, just so you can connect this enchanting novel to Woolf’s works.

More on the novel

Talland House was shortlisted for the Impress and Fresher Fiction prizes in 2017 (as Who Killed Mrs. Ramsay?) and the Retreat West and Eyelands prizes in 2018.

Read more about Talland House:

Maggie Humm has brilliantly filled in the edges beyond Woolf’s canvas; she has a deep, awe-inspiring understanding of the role of the visual in Woolf’s work, and here she reveals that she also has a novelist’s gift to create something new, that has its own imaginative life, from that understanding. -Lauren Elkin, author of the award-winning Flaneuse

Maggie Humm talking about Virginia Woolf and her photo albums at Waterstone’s Gower Street during Dalloway Day celebrations in London in 2018.

 

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