Back in 2010 the Wilfred Owen Association Journal included an article on ‘Wilfred Owen’s Bloomsbury’, by Yvonne Morris, based on a tour guided by Dominic Hibberd.
Last Saturday I followed the itinerary and took a few pictures. Most of the information in this post is from Ms Morris’s article.
When Owen (and Edward Thomas, too) enlisted in 1915, it was with the Artists Rifles, whose headquarters was at Duke’s Road, near Euston Station, now used as a dance studio.
Despite the change of use, the terracotta representation of Mars and Minerva is still above the front door.
Matthew Hollis describes the Artists Rifles in Now All Roads Lead to France, his biography of Edward Thomas.
The Artists Rifles formed in the middle of the nineteenth century as a volunteer group of writers, painters, musicians and engravers; Minerva and Mars were their patrons. They founded their headquarters in Dukes Road in 1880, one of twenty-eight volunteer battalions that combined to form the London Regiment. Dante Gabriel Rossetti had served with the Artists, as had Algernon Swinburne and William Morris. [….] Eventually recruitment was limited by recommendation from serving members (‘they let in anybody now who will pay 25/- a year subscription’, Thomas complained), but for the time being it was a popular choice among university and public school graduates, who were frequently considered such capable officers that they were poached by other army units or chosen to set up Officers Training Corps. In excess of 10,000 officers were commissioned during the war after training with the Artists Rifles. The Royal Artillery alone took over a thousand. But they suffered appalling casualties; some 6,000 of the 15,000 serving Artists were killed, wounded, or posted missing or captive.
The Artists Rifles drilled in various squares in the Bloomsbury area. This is one of them, Cartwright Gardens, with its crescent of Georgian town houses. In a letter, Owen described himself as ‘dog-tired’ after ‘a physical drill in short sleeves in Cartwright Gardens’. These days tennis courts have replaced the parade ground.
Not far away, in Handel Street, was the HQ of the Royal Garrison Artillery, the regiment into which Thomas was commissioned in 1916. It is now used by the Territorial Army (and the University of London O.T.C.).
While in Bloomsbury, I thought I’d look at the site of Harold Monro’s Poetry Bookshop, the centre of the new poetry in the years before the War. It was in Devonshire Street – described by a contemporary as ‘a narrow unsavoury thoroughfare’ and a ‘slum’. In 1913 it looked like this:
Monro moved out in the thirties, and the street was renamed Boswell Street. The Luftwaffe helped with the work of slum clearance, and now the street looks like this, displaying a good deal more prosperity, but not a hint of poetry:
Has there been a specifically Poetry Bookshop in London since Monro’s enterprise failed? I don’t think so, but there is one (and a very good one it is) in Hay-on-Wye.