Although the Millhanger was their home during the 1890s, Russell and Alys started to rent accommodation elsewhere at the end of that decade. In Lent term of 1899 they stayed at the Old Granary, Silver Street, Cambridge. Gwen Raverat, in her book Period Piece, wrote: “When I was about nine the granary became so dilapidated that something had to be done about it; so my mother had the idea of turning it into a flat, or upstairs house, and letting it” (p. 39).
When her book was published, Russell wrote to her on 31 December 1952:1 “You mention a number of undergraduates fishing a girl out of the river. At just the date concerned some undergraduates came to Mrs Whitehead telling her that they had pulled out of the river a pregnant young woman who was attempting suicide. They were naturally embarrassed and wanted to unload her as soon as possible on some philanthropic lady. Mrs Whitehead applied to us and we took her on as a maid. She got engaged to be married but at the last moment, her fiancé got cold feet and I had to give him five pounds to go through with the ceremony.… After her marriage we lost sight of her and I hope she lived happy ever after—though I rather doubt it.” Raverat responded on 4 January 1943 from The Old Granary: “I had forgotten it, but I now remember very well that you used to live in this very house.… I should think the girl’s husband lived to regret that he had accepted your £5 note; in fact it would probably have been better for everyone, if the undergraduates had left her in the river.”
Margaret Keynes described in detail the renovations to the first floor of the Counting House and the top two floors of the Granary, which were converted into a “living-house” in 1895 (House by the River, pp. 95–97). She followed this with a chapter on the many tenants who lived there, including the Russells. “The last private occupant of the Old Granary was my sister, Gwen Raverat, who lived there from 1946 until she died in 1957” (River, p. 114). It was then converted into accommodation for graduate students.
The following two Lent terms (1900 and 1901)2 found the Russells at West Lodge, Downing College, Cambridge. West Lodge was the home of the historian, F.W. Maitland, who rented it out when he was away. They were joined there by Alfred and Evelyn Whitehead during Lent term 1901. After the term was over they moved into the Whiteheads’ home at Grantchester. West Lodge is now used as a convention centre by Downing College.
It was in the spring of 1902 that Alys had a complete mental collapse after Russell told her he no longer loved her; she was sent away for a rest cure. After she was released, Beatrice Webb took her to Switzerland. During this time period Russell split his time between the Whiteheads at Grantchester and Friday’s Hill House, Fernhurst. He wrote in his Autobiography: “We had in the past spent a great deal of time with her family, but I told her I could no longer endure her mother, and that we must therefore leave Fernhurst” (I: 150–1). For the next few years the couple lived for short times in a variety of different accommodations. Their marriage was in disarray.
While undergoing her rest cure, Alys wrote to Russell on 9 June: “Thee must go over soon to the Murrays to ask them if there is a furnished cottage to be had from Sept. 1st for a few months.… When I began to break down last spring, I felt that I was not sufficient companion for thee in such a quiet place [Fernhurst] & that is why I suggested going to Churt.” The answer has not survived but it must have been no.
From Trinity College Russell wrote his sister-in-law, Mary Berenson, on 23 July 1902, asking her to send six of his handkerchiefs to the farmhouse in Little Buckland, Gloucestershire, which he and Alys had rented from a Mrs. Hoddinott. “Alys seems to have profited by her time abroad, & I hope to find her much better on Friday.” It is not known how they decided on this location as it is not an area that either of them had stayed in before. It is also not known which farmhouse in Little Buckland that they rented. No photographs were kept of any they may have possibly taken there.3 Russell described the place to his friends. To Bob Trevelyan he wrote on 28 July: “As we are not far from you, we hope you will manage to come over on your bicycle sometime & stay the night (there is unfortunately only one spare bed in the house).” Trevelyan was not able to take up the invitation. Russell told Bob on 1 August that in September they would be “at large til the 13th, on which date we move into 14 Cheyne Walk” Chelsea, which the couple had leased for six months. “My wife will be going to Friday’s Hill at that time to pack, & also to Chelsea to prepare matters.” To G. Lowes Dickinson, he remarked on 2 August that the surrounding neighbourhood was quite charming, “all the villages are built of a very good stone, and most of the houses are Jacobean or older. There is a great plain full of willows, into which the sun sets, and on the other side high hills. Our lodgings are in an old and very picturesque farm-house. The place is bracing, and I have been getting through eight or nine hours of work a day, which has left me stupid at the end of it. My book4 will be out sometime in the winter. The proofs come occasionally, and seem to me very worthless; I have a poor opinion of the stuff when I think of what it ought to be.” To Helen Flexner he wrote on the same day: “My new Opus is only Vol II of the Principles of Mathematics;5 the work I have to do for it is nearly finished. This neighbourhood is soothing & delightful, & Alys is getting daily better, which is a great happiness to see.” To Louis Couturat he wrote, also on 2 August, that he and Alys were staying in an old farmhouse (c.1620) surrounded by charming countryside. A year later he looked back at his time at Little Buckland writing in his Journal on 18 May 1903 that he was “in a glass bowl, a gold-fish swam round and round, pressing his nose against the glass, endlessly longing to escape from his prison into the world of light” (Papers 12: 23).
The Russells rented either 13 or 146 Cheyne Walk, London, for the autumn and winter from 1902 to 1904 from the Monteagle family. It is not known how the Russells and the Monteagles became acquainted. Russell wrote to Lucy Donnelly on 3 August 1905 that they had just heard of Theodore Llewelyn's death as they were “starting for Ireland, to stay with the Monteagles.” In the autumn of 1902 it was no. 14. Alys arrived before Russell. She wrote to him on 14 September: “The two boxes of books & thy bag of papers had already arrived, & now I feel almost entirely settled. The house is really charming, & will be just large enough. The view of the river is most beautiful.… The servants seem competent & obliging, but the cook is a terrible bore.” A few days later, on 17 September, she added: “Thy room here is perfectly charming … thy books look very nice in some white shelves.… There is a lovely black cat here to sleep by thy fire. I call him ‘The Sage’, but the children have nicknamed him ‘Onions’. He is lying on the dining-room floor now, while the sun pours in. It is such a pretty house, & perfect situation. I know thee will be pleased with it.” Russell told Helen Flexner on 16 September 1902 that he was at Cambridge “doing proofs7 with Whitehead.” Later on, from Cheyne Walk, Russell wrote to Helen on 14 October: “This place is singularly beautiful. Alone at night in my study at the top of the house, I see far below me the busy world hurrying east & west, & I feel infinitely remote from their little hopes & fears. But beyond, borne on the flowing tide of the river, the seagulls utter their melancholy cry, full of the infinite sadness of the sea; above, Orion & the Pleiades shine undisturbed. They are my true comrades, they speak a language that I understand, & with them I find a home: rest & peace are with the calm strength of Nature.” On 11 November he told Helen: “… I go to bed usually about one. In London, one cannot get the sense of liberty from the load of humanity until late at night, so it is impossible for me to go early from my study. I am doing hardly any technical work now, & the relief is so great that I have a boundless store of energy to spare from sleep.” The next day he began a Journal8 in which he made intermittent entries for the next three years. On 2 December he recorded: “This morning I wrote the Preface to my book [The Principles of Mathematics]” (Papers 12: 14).
On 14 December he wrote to Helen: “We go to Florence to the Berensons [Alys’s sister and brother-in-law] in a week; it will be agreeable, after London, to see the sun again, & know the difference between day and night.… This is a dull letter, but London is in my soul.” They returned on 13 January 1903. While in Italy Russell “wrote part of an Essay on the Free Man’s Worship;9 also more of the Pilgrimage of Life;10 but I was rather uninspired.” He may have been looking out his window as he concluded this Journal entry: “The river is by now an old friend to me—I could gladly live with it always” (Papers 12: 17). On 27 January he noted in his Journal: “My essay on the Free Man’s Worship, which is finished, is all right …” (Papers 12: 17). On 11 February: “The river tonight was beautiful beyond endurance….” With Theodore Llewelyn Davies he walked “across to Lambeth, and the Houses of Parliament looked utterly unreal. The river is becoming to me a passionate absorbing love; I could drown myself to be one with it. I have never loved anything inanimate so much” (Papers 12: 19).
In the autumn of 1903 The Russells were at no. 13. Their friend Lucy Donnelly lived there with them for a while. Writing to Helen Flexner on 25 October, she described the house as “cheerless, uncared for and save for Bertie’s study; unlived in, to the degree of chill and desolation. Even the food is cheerless.”
The summers of 1903 and 1904 were spent at Churt and Tilford, both in Surrey. The villages are near to one another. In his Autobiography Russell wrote of these summers: “I made a practice of wandering about the common every night from eleven till one, by which means I came to know the three different noises made by night-jars” (I: 151). Churt was near the home of Gilbert and Mary Murray at Barford. The first summer the Russells were there from 1 April to 27 July. The name of their accommodation in Churt was never mentioned in correspondence except for one postcard that Russell addressed to Alys from Chimney Corner, Churt, Farnham. There is a Chimney Corner Cottage on the Farnham Road near Churt. To Lucy Donnelly, Russell wrote on 13 April that he and Alys were “living a quiet country life.… We read Montaigne aloud: he is pleasant and soothing, but very unexciting. To myself I am reading the history of Rome in the middle ages, by Gregorovius,11 a delightful book.” Lucy Donnelly visited the Murrays in the autumn of 1903 and Gilbert Murray took her on a walk “to see the house that Alys and Bertie have taken” (to Helen Flexner, 15 Nov. 1903). Unfortunately she did not describe it.
The Russells came close to settling permanently in Barford. In a series of letters that Gilbert Murray wrote to his mother-in-law, Rosalind Howard, Countess of Carlisle, from June to September 1903, he outlined their plans.12 On 13 June he asked: “Have you heard of the plan for the Russells to build a cottage on our land?... We have found them pleasant neighbours during this spring…. The cottage will be ours and they will pay us a percentage—either 5 or 6%—on the capital outlay.” At the same time, the Murrays were considering selling their own home. On 8 August, after listing his house for sale, Gilbert wrote: “This is odd as regards the Russells but I warned them beforehand that we might at any time sell the house if we got a reasonable offer.…” His wife Mary wanted to leave Barford. The last letter on 20 September noted: “the architect is waiting to see what the Russells do before deciding whether to get his fee from them or us. It is an annoying charge.”
Alys was visiting her family at Friday’s Hill House at the beginning of August. She wrote to Russell, who was staying with Lowes Dickinson, about H.M. Fletcher, the architect who would later design their Bagley Wood house. On 1 August Fletcher had arrived with estimates. Alys had sent them on to Mary Murray on 2 August. On 3 August she urged Russell to meet with Fletcher. On 5 August she wrote: “I am very glad thee saw Mr. Fletcher & settled the contract with him.” Then on 10 August Murray wrote to Russell: “It was with great searching of heart that I telegraphed to you this morning about stopping the building. The fact is that an opportunity for leaving Barford has occurred now, suddenly and much sooner than I at all expected.… I think it will obviously be best to stop the building operations now, at the very outset, before the men have arrived at Barford at all. Though of course if you chose to go on, we could carry out the original arrangement just the same. Of course we are responsible for the expenses you are involved in with the builder.… I am very sorry.” The Russells decided not to proceed.
From April 1904 to 1 January 1905 the Russells were at Ivy Lodge in Tilford, Surrey. Alys arrived there in March to prepare the house for Russell’s arrival. On 25 March she wrote: “The house will be ready whenever thee likes to come. Thy study seems tiny, though charming, & will only hold a few books.…” A few days later on 30 March she wrote: “I am longing to show thee the study & the house—it is fairly in order, except the books, which I am leaving to thee.” To Lucy Donnelly, Russell wrote on 19 May: “This place is bad for the spring: there are few trees except pines, very few green fields full of buttercups, and no nightingales.” In a diary entry of 29 June 1907 Alys looked back: “The summer at Tilford (1904) was a very miserable one, though I loved the pines & the common—they are more identified with my loss & my longing than any other place because I was getting a new kind of misery, the settled-down kind without hope.” During that summer Alys gave a miniature of Russell’s mother to “Barrett to clean; Barrett spilled water on it, smudged it, and destroyed it.” Russell described his attachment to “the thing I had loved, with the more intensity because I had not permitted the same sort of love to grow up towards any other possession.” He was “vexed” because Alys “did not feel the sacrilege of giving such a thing to a common whore, which goes with her asking Barrett to sit down and join a children’s party she gave in the spring… I don’t know how long it will take me really to forgive her [Alys]” (Papers 12: 26). He did not record this episode until 14 January 1905.
Many years later, in 1968 Desmond King-Hele had tea with Russell at his Plas Penrhyn home. “Russell began the work [Principia Mathematica] in 1900 at Tilford, where he remembered a Mrs Caldecott, who made a special kind of tea and was most upset when the price was increased in the budget. So much so that she went to London to attend some protest meeting, and she went by a car that she insisted on calling a ‘buzz-buzz’” (“Discussion”, p. 23). The price of tea did increase in 1904 when Russell was living at Tilford. King-Hele either misheard the year or recorded it incorrectly. It was in 1901 when Russell was living at Friday’s Hill House in Fernhurst that he began work on Principia Mathematica (Auto I: 147).
E.D. Buckner went in search of Ivy Lodge in 2002, writing: “Tilford is a secluded village in Surrey, still very picturesque (with a village green and cricket club).… Despite a visit there, I could not locate Ivy Lodge, and it was not in any postal records at the time I looked….” There is an Ivy Lodge on Lowicks Road, which runs off the Tilford Road, so perhaps this was the place Buckner was looking for but could not find.
The Russells had broken their pattern of spending the autumn in London. On 23 August 1904 Alys wrote to Russell who was staying with Desmond and Molly MacCarthy: “Had thee not better inquire if we can have their house from Christmas to Easter, as nos. 13 and 14 are not available? The Monteagles evidently want to come themselves on Feb. lst.” The answer must have been no as Alys then suggested a flat at “20 Carlyle Mansions, 3½ guineas a week—overlooking the river.… I will look at it and report on the number of rooms” (28 Sept.). It did not pass muster. Instead the Russells managed to rent 4 Ralston Street, also in Chelsea, where they lived from 12 January until April 1905. At his desk there on 14 January Russell wrote: “My circumstances have much improved during the past year; as for me, I have improved in some ways and deteriorated seriously in others.… I have learnt a modus vivendi with Alys …” (Papers 12: 26). He concluded his Journal on 3 April 1905 while still living in Chelsea, summing up his relationship with his wife: “… I look forward to a gradually increasing separation, which will probably make the future much easier for me” (Papers 12: 28).
Alys, desperately unhappy, in love with her husband who no longer loved her, unable to leave him as she felt it would cause her even more pain,13 had shepherded them through these transient years. It had been her responsibility to keep finding them places to live that she hoped would be to Russell’s taste and would facilitate his work. During the latter part of these years she oversaw the building of Lower Copse, Bagley Wood which was ready to accommodate them in April 1905.
© Sheila Turcon, 2020
Margaret Keynes. A House by the River (Cambridge: Darwin College, 1976).
Desmond King-Hele. “A Discussion with Bertrand Russell at Plas Penrhyn, 4 August 1968”, Russell: The Journal of the Bertrand Russell Archives no. 16 (Winter 1974–5): 21–6.
Gwen Raverat. Period Piece: A Cambridge Childhood (London: Faber and Faber, 1952).
Richard A. Rempel, Andrew Brink, Margaret Moran, eds. Contemplation and Action 1902–14, Vol. 12 of The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell. London: Allen & Unwin, 1985.
Archival Correspondence: Gwen Raverat, Alys Russell, Mary Berenson, Robert Trevelyan, G. Lowes Dickinson, Louis Couturat, Helen Flexner, Lucy Donnelly, Gilbert Murray.
The Old Granary, Darwin College
West Lodge, Downing College
E.D. Buckner’s search for Ivy Lodge is described here.
This London Street Has Had a Ridiculous Number of Famous Residents including Russell’s residence at no. 14.
- 1. This letter is published in A House by the River, p. 108.
- 2. During this time period the Russells were living at Friday’s Hill House in Fernhurst.
- 3. No photographs have survived (if indeed any were taken) for any of the places the Russell lived from 1902–05.
- 4. The Principles of Mathematics (B&R A5) appeared in May 1903.
- 5. The Principles of Mathematics did not have a Vol. 2; instead it became part of Principia Mathematica (B&R A9).
- 6. 14 was "rented furnished" according to a pencilled note that Russell's third wife placed on a letter he wrote to Lucy Donnelly, 28 February 1904.
- 7. The proofs of “On Finite and Infinite Cardinal Numbers” (B&R C02.04).
- 8. 1 in Collected Papers 12.
- 9. Published in December 1903 (B&R C03.03).
- 10. 2 in Collected Papers 12.
- 11. Ferdinand Gregorovius (1821–1891), a German historian.
- 12. The RA does not have copies of these letters; instead, it has extracts from them made by J. Johnson at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
- 13. Her Journal entry of 29 June 1907.