In 1909 No 34 was taken by a group of organisations that named it Reform House. Virginia Stephen (later Woolf) did some voluntary clerical work here. ‘The office with its ardent but educated young women, and brotherly clerks, is just like a Wells novel,’ she wrote in a letter to a friend.
The People’s Suffrage League was concerned with disenfranchised men, workmen lodgers, as well as women. The executive secretary Margaret Llewellyn Davies was the niece of one of the founders of Girton, Emily Davies. The PSF moved the following year to Westminster.
The Women’s Trade Union League and its secretary Mary Macarthur promoted individual Unions in every trade in which women were engaged, and was involved with organisation, protective legislation and social work, including club nights and social evenings.
The National Federation of Women Workers was militant. Mary Macarthur and Gertrude Tuckwell founded it in 1906 for women in unorganised trades or excluded from relevant male unions. From its early days, the organisers were out arranging mass meetings and strikes against wage cuts. J.J. Mallon wrote of the youthful Federation: “… the employers would not take it seriously. A Trade Union of men moved them to anger. A Trade Union of women moved them to mirth. The Organisers of the Federation were laughed at as often as rebuffed. A strike was often the only demonstration that the Federation could give of its power and resolution”.
The Anti-Sweating League was concerned with sweated labour, where women worked all hours of the day and night at home or in appalling workplaces, and were paid perhaps, the equivalent of today’s 1p. an hour. Minimum subsistence was considered at the time to be 75p. a week.
J.J.Mallon was the secretary, and Miss Macarthur and Miss Tuckwell tireless campaigners. Their first major success came in 1909 when the Trade Boards Act was passed by the Government, modelled on legislation in Victoria, Australia, which fixed minimum wages in some of the worst trades, chain-, lace— and box-making, and ready-made clothing. The minimum was still only about 2p an hour in today’s money, but for many it was a huge rise. Mary Macarthur and Gertrude Tuckwell both lived on the Square
The Industrial Law Committee and Indemnity Fund and its secretary Irene Cox completed the group of reformers in No 34.
Leading suffragettes Annie Kenney, her sister, Jessie, and Rachel Barrett are former Square residents. They occupied 19 Mecklenburgh Square in 1913. On the morning of 30th April police raided the flat. Papers regarding the militant bombing campaign were found and featured in the June 1913 conspiracy trial in which a number of suffragettes and a chemist were found guilty
Jane Ellen Harrison was at 11 Mecklenburgh Street from 1922 —-1928 (included because the house was pulled down in 1961 to complete the northeast corner of WGH, the site is the comer with the No. 2 buttery). She was a formidable classical scholar and archaeologist who caused a lasting stir with her reinterpretation of Greek myths. Her works include Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903), Tltemis (1912), Ancient Art and Ritual (1913). She has been described as heretical, humanist and feminist. When she retired from lecturing at Newnham, Cambridge, she and companion Hope Mirrlees moved to Mecklenburgh Street and spent their time doing translations from the Russian.
Sir William Nicholson and son Ben, artists, at No.38, 1906-11 Sir William began his career as a book illustrator and poster designer, but switched to woodcuts and soon became known for his outstanding skill and innovation. His portrait of queen Victoria became one of the most famous prints ever made. He was knighted in 1936. Abstract painter son Ben formed part of a triumvirate of artists, together with Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, which put British art on the map in the mid-20th century.
John Masefield, Poet Laureate from 1930 -, No 18 from 1932-5. Author of Salt Sea Ballads (Sea Fever probably the mot famous), Reynard the Fox, etc.
Dorothy L Sayers, scholar (translator of Dante’s La Divina Comedia) and murder mystery writer, creator of sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, lived in No 44 in 1920-21. While residing there she began writing crime fiction to earn money. Mecklenburg Square is mentioned in ‘Strong Poison’, and her most popular detective novel, ‘Gaudy Night’, opens with a scene in the garden:
‘Harriet Vane sat at her writing-table and stared out into Mecklenburg Square. The late tulips made a brave show in the Square garden, and a quartet of early tennis players were energetically calling the score of a rather erratic and unpractised game. But Harriet saw neither tulips nor tennis-players…’
She later moved to a house in Great James Street on the proceeds of her successful sleuth, where there is a blue plaque.
Ernest Pooley 1930s. As Sir Ernest Pooley, launched the Arts Council in 1946 and took it up to and including the Festival of Britain in 1951.
Wednesday 18 September. “We have need of all our courage’ are the words that came to the surface this morning; upon hearing that all our windows are broken, ceilings down, & most of our china smashed at Meck. Sq. The bomb exploded. Why did we ever leave Tavistock? – whats the good of thinking that? We were about to start for London, when we go on to Miss Perkins who told us. The Press – what remains – is to be moved to Letchworth. A grim morning. How can one settle into Michelet & Coleridge? As I say, we have need of courage. A very bad raid last night on London. Waiting for the wireless. But I forge ahead with PH all the same.”
John Lehmann, author, publisher, partner in the Hogarth Press — No 45, ca. 1938 — bombed out in 1940. His autobiography gives a vivid account of the air raid that took out the old Byron Court, and left the unexploded bomb that eventually did explode and damage the Woolf’s house.
Eileen Power, historian. Girton and LSE. Joined the staff of the LSE in 1921, became Professor of Economic History in 1931. Co-founder with neighbour R.S.Tawney of the Economic History Society and the Economic History Review. Beautiful and charismatic — “well of course we all loved Eileen’ as well a first-class academic.
Tancred Borenius. No. 29, 1917-.20. Finnish diplomat and art historian. He was secretary to the diplomatic mission proclaiming the independence of Finland, then temporary Finnish representative in England. In 1922 he became Professor of the History of Art at University College.
Eric de Maré. No. 44, 1938 — 40. ‘The best architectural photographer of the mid-20th century’. Known for the Regent’s canal to famous studies of St Pancras station at night, and east coast windmills. His other works included Bridges Of Britain (1954), London’s Riverside and The Functional Tradition In Early Industrial Buildings (both 1958), City Of Westminster: Heart Of London (1968), and Wren’s London (1975). In 1957, de Maré published his (frequently reprinted) classic Penguin handbook, Photography, which was followed by the masterly Photography And Architecture (1961) and Architectural Photography (1975). Seems to have come into contact with the square is association with a grand ball held in the garden to protest the plans of the College’s architect Sir Herbert Baker to replace the Georgian terrace on the south side of the square with the north side of London House — a Dutch-tiled roof and dormers in a Georgian Square? Shock-horror!
D.H.Lawrence, 2-4 months in No 44 in 1917 with his wife Frieda — guests of Dorothy Yorke, mistress of writer Richard Aldington who was away on active WW1 service at the time. His wife poet Hilda Doolittle was recovering from a miscarriage in another apartment in No. 44 at the time.