Russell moved into unfurnished flat no. 34 at Russell Chambers in November 1911 to be close to his lover Lady Ottoline Morrell, the literary society hostess, who lived nearby in Bedford Square in Bloomsbury. Ottoline met Russell for the first time since childhood at his home in Bagley Wood in September 1908 (Ottoline, p. 266). She and her husband Philip were taken there by Alys’s brother, Logan Pearsall Smith. Their affair did not begin until 1911. Much of the Bloomsbury area of London has been owned by Russell’s cousins, the Dukes of Bedford, for centuries. Russell’s grandfather, Lord John Russell, was a younger son of the 6th Duke. The Bedford Estates still own large sections of Bloomsbury. Many of the names of the streets, squares, hotels, apartment buildings and a tube stop reflect the family: Russell is the family name, Bedford the ducal title, Tavistock a courtesy title used by the oldest son of the Duke, and Woburn Abbey the name of the family’s country house. Russell, however, was not renting from the Bedford Estates; despite its name the archives assistant at Woburn Enterprises confirmed that they have never owned Russell Chambers on what was then called Bury Street and is now known as Bury Place. In a list of references that Russell provided when he was trying to rent a flat in the early 1920s, he noted City & West End Properties, Bush Lane House, as his landlord at Russell Chambers. There are a number of receipts for rent payment from 1917 to 1923 in the Archives.
After leaving Bagley Wood, Russell had mainly been at Trinity College, but he did take lodgings in Ipsden to be near Ottoline at Peppard in the Chilterns in July 1911 (Auto 1: 206). Ottoline wrote in her journal: “In October … I helped Bertie furnish a flat which he had taken in Bury Street, near the British Museum. I enjoyed making it pretty and nice for him, and it made him happy to have these rooms with a few of his old family possessions in them, such as his mother’s portrait and his grandfather’s desk.” The reason he only had a few was because his wife Alys still had possession of several of them. Despite his happiness, Ottoline recalled: “How much emotion those little rooms … held—intense, burning and very tragic!” She remembered going round to visit him. “He would stand at his window looking for my coming…. I dreaded looking up, seeing his face pressed against the panes looking for me” (Ottoline, pp. 279–80). Her dread sprang from her inability to meet his intense desires.
In the early days, however, all was joy. Russell chose the flat himself after looking at flats on Wells Street, off Oxford Street, that were dismissed because the neighbourhood was “a trifle slovenly”, and others that were too expensive. The added delight to this choice was the name “Russell Chambers!” (23 Oct. 1911 to Ottoline). He was thrilled to have the flat, writing it almost “seems like play-acting to me to have a place of my own—except College rooms I have never in all my life had any place that was mine” (13 Nov. 1911). He began the letter by noting: “What a deliciously absurd time we had in the flat—I don’t know when I have felt more silly.” The next day he was at the flat and told Ottoline: “Your chairs were there. They were very nice indeed. I sat in one of them and thought it is just the sort of chair I like.... but the electric light had not been done. Also, though the curtain-rods were up, the curtains were not.” On 20 November he thanked her for making the flat “most charming—it is a wonder how nice it is. I love everything—I am longing to give you tea in it. But I do feel just like a child with a doll’s house.” Although Ottoline had recollected that it was his grandfather’s desk in the flat, Russell told her that he had written to his wife Alys to send him his father’s desk (15 Nov. 1911).
The flat measures 754 sq. feet, a walk up on the fourth floor of the red brick building. The floor plan shows a reception room and a main bedroom—both with fireplaces—a bathroom, kitchen, and a small room off the kitchen, which was used for different purposes over the years, including a study, a sitting room, and a bedroom. The flat was heated by coal. The block of flats had a porter and Russell also employed a char, Mrs. Saich, who cleaned. The panes that Russell pressed his face again were in a bay window that faced Bury Street. On 7 June 1913 Russell wrote to Ottoline: “This morning looking at my books I felt a faint stirring of interest in poetry again….” He felt trapped in the loneliness of his work and hoped that Ottoline might be able to free him. Later that year, on 3 October Russell wrote to her that “Wittgenstein stayed last night and read me bits of work he has done.”
In 1915 Russell let T.S. and Vivien Eliot use the room off the kitchen because they were “desperately poor” (Auto 2: 19). Ann Pasternak Slater writes that Vivien’s brother Maurice described it as “a tiny cupboard room behind the kitchen” and since Vivien had brought “a single cot-bed” to furnish it, Eliot “slept in the hallway in a deck-chair” (p. 33). Peter Ackroyd called it “a tiny closet-room—Eliot himself slept in the hall or the sitting-room….” Slater points out that Maurice was at the Front at this time and suggested he may have confused the sleeping arrangements at Russell Chambers with a deckchair on a beach in Eastbourne to which Vivien banished Eliot for one night (p. 34). In any event the room has a window and is large enough to accommodate both a cot and a chair.
In 1916 Russell was dismissed from Trinity College because of his opposition to World War I, thus losing his main source of income. His affair with Ottoline was also ending, although they remained close friends, and his affair with Constance (Colette) Malleson was beginning. In April he took over H.T. J. Norton’s rooms in Clive Bell’s townhouse at 46 Gordon Square. He moved into his brother’s nearby townhouse at 57 Gordon Square in August. Very little is known about Gordon Square; Frank did not write about it in his autobiography.1 In 2012, the street address on the front of the building was 55–59. Although once home to five units, the individual doors on the side and their numbers had been removed. When Russell wrote to Colette about 57 Gordon Square the details included are mainly about the butler, Smith, who drank to excess, listened in on their telephone conversations, and prevented him from dining there on Sunday evenings (letters of 7 Feb., 14 April, 20 Aug. 1917). While at Gordon Square Russell wrote to Dorothy Wrinch on 12 September 1917, asking her to verify quotations and do the index for Mysticism and Logic.
While staying in his brother’s house, Russell sub-let his Russell Chambers flat. The name of his first tenant was T.J. Arnode, the manager of the Piccadilly Hotel. In his letter of 7 August 1916 he agreed to rent the flat for £35 a week; he wanted to move in almost immediately on August 10. On 28th August Russell’s landlord, City & West Properties Ltd., agreed to the sub-let. The company reminded Russell that this arrangement did “not in any way relieve you from any of your obligations to us under your tenancy Agreement….”
On 3 September 1916 Russell wrote to Ottoline: “I learn today that they have searched my flat…. There is lots of sport to be got out of this matter—I am enjoying it.” Russell was regarded with suspicion by the authorities because of his opposition to World War I. The search by Scotland Yard was reported in The Guardian on 5 September. The report noted that the search had taken place “despite the protestations of the gentleman to whom he had temporarily let it….” Russell’s tenant2 was not amused, however, noting that the search had given him “much trouble and annoyance” (“Haunted House”). Russell responded to the search with an open letter to his tenant: “There is nothing to do about the police. Domiciliary visits from the police are one of the customs of the country. If you desire less interference with personal liberty, I should advise you to emigrate to Russia” (Papers 13: App. VII). The tenant moved on, destination unknown.
The next known tenant was Russell’s Chicago lover Helen Dudley who had followed him to London. She lived there with her younger sister. He did stay at the flat for brief periods when his tenants were away. The Home Office had asked the police to watch the flat. In his report, Inspector Buckley wrote: “He has not been known to stay [at the flat] during the girls’ residence there, but he has visited them, and dined with them, and it is said that, like him they are pacifists” (6 Feb. 1917). Dudley sub-sub-let the flat to Colette’s sister, Clare, in May 1918 just as Russell was entering Brixton Prison. Dudley returned to America later that summer. While he was in prison Gladys Rinder sent him a requisition to order coal and implied there was a problem with the gas heater in her letter of 9 August. Russell urged Colette to move into his flat. Colette helped her sister find another flat and moved in on 9 September 1918. She stayed until the end of June 1919. Colette, of course, was familiar with the flat, her first visit there occurring in 1917. Although their plans varied over the summer that he was in prison, the gist was that Colette was to live in the flat but not for very long. Instead, she was to find another flat in the same building, preferably off the same staircase, to facilitate their trysts while Russell would return to no. 34.
Colette prepared the flat for his return, writing on 7 September that “Voltaire is looking wildly bacchanalian on his perch above the fire. I’ve put clusters of glowing rowan berries behind his witty old head. He doesn’t mind at all. He’s quite enjoying himself in honour of your return.” Russell replied on 11 September: “How amusing to think of old Voltaire so bacchanalian! When those things come from Marlow3 you can put the Persian bowl on its ebony stand in the place where Voltaire is now. And there should also be 2 candlesticks from Marlow to go on the mantlepiece. I feel Voltaire is not appropriate to you so much as the Persian bowl, which always was there for years until I got Voltaire. But of course you will have which you like best. I love to think of you there only.” On 11 September she entertained T.S. Eliot to tea in the kitchen of the flat. “I love the dear place, its austere grey walls, the Ottoline hangings in the front room, and the square Amberley table (so solid and sensible).... There’s no speck of dust anywhere now. The only thing I don’t approve is your Indian bedspread: not nearly gay enough for you, Beloved.” On September 13 she wrote that the only thing she had brought from her previous flat was “your old friend ... [a] bearskin rug which is now on the floor in front of the bedroom fire. I walk from room to room, loving it all….” Alas their anticipated happiness was not to be. Russell got an early release from Brixton and consumed with jealousy over Colette’s lack of faithfulness, imagined or real, ended their relationship although their estrangement was not permanent.
With no place to live, Russell moved around that autumn spending time at his brother’s country house (Telegraph House in Sussex), Ottoline’s country house (Garsington in Oxford), with Clifford Allen,4 at Lemons Cottage, Abinger Common, Dorking and at a London bolthole, The Studio. Lemons Cottage is described in idyllic terms by Colette who visited there. She noted the roof “thatched with reeds from the Norfolk Broads”, the orchard, a water-lily pool, and a lavender border. Although Colette had had her own flat before moving to Russell Chambers, she still shared it with her husband Miles who did not object to her affair with Russell. But Colette and Russell did not consider her flat private enough. On 8 November 1917 the couple had decided to rent a small place at 5 Fitzroy Street, Soho near Howland Street, which they called the Studio. It had a gas fire with a ring for cooking. The water tap and lavatory were in the outside passage and shared with a cobbler whose workshop adjoined. With these minimal amenities, the rent was very cheap. Still, it had to be covered, so Miles, after he and Colette separated, lived there while Russell was in prison.
On 17 February 1919 Russell began to share a flat with Clifford Allen at 70 Overstrand Mansions,5 Prince of Wales Road, Battersea. Allen’s flatmate had broken his agreement to share; Colette suggested that Russell take his place. The Studio had been rented to Frank Swinnerton in December 1918. He had been found as a tenant by Mollie McCarthy—Russell was pleased because Swinnerton’s novel Nocturne had given him much pleasure. After Colette left Russell Chambers in June, Swinnerton moved in. But Swinnerton was not always there, thus allowing Colette and Russell to use it for assignations in the latter part of 1919. Russell considered keeping on the flat for his own use but concluded he couldn’t afford it (to Colette, 4 July 1919).
Colette decorated the Battersea flat for Russell. She purchased “a comfortable armchair and a floor-cushion to match” from Heal’s (28 Jan. 1919). Further belongings were moved from the Studio (1 Feb.). On 17 February, the day he moved in, Russell thanked her for making “everything so lovely here—it all full of your loving thoughts. The peacocks give me infinite delight…. The chair is most comfy—altogether I feel it will be very nice here.” The flat was painted white and there was a view of trees from the window (19 Feb.). While at Overstrand Mansions, Russell began work on the lectures that would become The Analysis of Mind (letter to Ottoline, 17 April 1919).
During the time when Russell leased Russell Chambers, he also had some financial obligations for a cottage leased by T.S. and Vivien Eliot, at 31 West Street in the village of Marlow, Bucks.6 beginning on 5 December 1917. He contributed furniture as well. The lease was terminated on 15 November 1920. How much time he spent there is not clear; there is no known letter written by Russell from Marlow. His affair with Vivien Eliot has been the subject of much speculation. On 6 February 1919 he suggested to Colette that: “It is fairly nice house, but in a street (nearly the last house before the country). The river there is lovely, and there are hills and woods. The house is badly furnished—most of the things hideous. But I fancy Eliot would like to be rid of it—it would be no expense, as one could let it half the year. It is very hard to get anything, and unlikely one would get anything better. It would be very nice to have a place to go to—hotels will come expensive, and are not as nice in the long run. Whenever we were tired of it we could let it. What do you say?” Colette nixed the idea.
So instead of Marlow, Russell spent the entire summer of 1919 at Newlands Farm near Lulworth, which he rented with John Edensor Littlewood, a mathematician. The two men invited many of their friends to visit. Colette reconciled with Russell during her visit.7 Dora Black, who would become Russell’s second wife, spent time there as well. She described the farmhouse as “standing back at the head of the valley.… after breakfast we worked or occupied ourselves without disturbing others who were working; lunch was the student’s meal of bread and cheese, salads and preserves.… in the evening we dined, simply but very well.” It was Russell “who always served the dishes and carved the joints” (Tamarisk Tree, p. 71). When Dora was there, Dorothy Wrinch, Bob Trevelyan, Clifford Allen, and Jean Nicod and his wife visited (p. 72). Russell and Dora “spent much time apart from the company; he would hire a boat, which we would, at sufficient distance from the shore, dive naked … (pp. 73-4).
The house was run by Mr. E.J. Randall, who collected the rents. Mrs. Watts, who either cooked, cleaned or did both, was employed. The farmhouse was an imposing two-storey structure with two large chimneys and was mostly covered in ivy. Russell wrote that it “was extraordinarily beautiful, with wide views along the coast…. Summer, the sea, beautiful country, and pleasant company, combined with love and the ending of the War to produce almost ideally perfect circumstances” (Auto 2: 96, 98). While at Newlands Farm Russell continued his work on The Analysis of Mind (to Colette, 18 September) and read T.G. Masaryk, The Spirit of Russia (to Ottoline, 7 August); his review was published in September.
Frank Swinnerton, an author and editor at Chatto and Windus, was an excellent tenant at Russell Chambers staying on until 1923. He had the flat redecorated to his own taste. Russell offered to renew the lease—the rent was then £112 per year unfurnished—and allow Swinnerton to continue to live there. He was paying Russell 3 guineas a week for the furnished flat. Instead Swinnerton decided to leave at the end of October. Swinnerton must have asked Russell about specific pieces. His side of the correspondence is not extant for 1923. Russell replied on 6 September: “Re the table at Cranleigh:8 I don’t want it now, but do want it some day. It was one of a set made of Doomsday oak at Alderley by my grandfather Lord Stanley, one being given to each of his children.” This is the table on which he is said to have written Principia Mathematica. In the same letter Russell asked if he and Dora could come to the flat on Monday when they would “settle what we will sell and what we will keep.” Russell and Dora had already purchased a townhouse in Chelsea in 1921; living in Russell Chambers was not an option—it was too small for them and their baby. The following month, on 14 October, he wrote to Swinnerton: “I have written to Mr. Miracca offering to let him have the flat by next Saturday if he pays me £50 to cover both the rent till Xmas & the items he wants to buy.” Mr. Miracca did move in for the remaining few months of the lease. When the lease expired, Russell’s involvement with the first and the last home that was his alone formally came to an end. But tenants can be troublesome and the following year, on 13 May 1924, Russell wrote to Dora to settle Mr. Miracca’s complaint about the gas on terms to his liking. Russell “didn’t know anything about the gas in my flat” and had totally depended on Swinnerton to look after such matters.
Russell Chambers was selected from all the London places that Russell lived in over the years by English Heritage for a blue historical plaque. The plaques adorn various structures around London. The press release reads in part: “Russell may have done most of his writing in Cambridge, but this was his London residence at a time when he was at the height of his powers (the Principia Mathematica were being published at this time), and during an emotionally intense period too.” English Heritage could provide no further reasons for the choice apart from noting that his son Conrad was happy with the selection. The plaque was unveiled on 6 June 2002 by Conrad. The text of the plaque reads: “Bertrand Russell, 1872–1970, philosopher and campaigner for peace, lived here in flat no. 34, 1911–1916.”
I first visited the outside of Russell Chambers in 1992 but neglected to photograph it. I returned in 2012 to do just that. I went up to the front doors which have large glass windows and gazed up the stairs that Russell, Ottoline, Colette, and many others had climbed to reach the fourth floor. The leasehold for the flat sold in 2009 for £413,000; the images in the advertisement show a bare, austere flat.9 The new owners have redecorated, updating the kitchen and bathroom, and now offer it as a holiday let.10 If you wish to do more than just look through the entrance doors, the opportunity awaits.
© Sheila Turcon, 2021
Ruth Derham, Bertrand’s Brother: The Marriages, Morals and Misdemeanours of Frank, 2nd Earl Russell. Stroud, Glos.: Amberley, 2021.
Constance Malleson, “Lemons Cottage, Abinger Common, Nr: Dorking”, typescript in RA.
Ottoline Morrell, Ottoline at Garsington: Memoirs of Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1915–1918, ed. Robert Gathorne-Hardy. London: Faber and Faber, 1974.
Richard A. Rempel, ed. Prophecy and Dissent, 1914–16, Vol. 13 of The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell. London: Unwin Hyman, 1988.
Bertrand Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, 1914–1944, Vol. 2. London: Allen & Unwin, 1968.
Dora Russell, The Tamarisk Tree: My Quest for Liberty and Love. New York: Putnam, 1975.
Ann Pasternak Slater, The Fall of the Sparrow: Vivien Eliot’s Life and Writings. London: Faber, 2020.
“Haunted House”, The Tribunal, no. 25 (7 Sept. 1916): 2.
Archival correspondence: Constance Malleson, Frank Swinnerton, Ottoline Morrell, Gladys Rinder.
Email correspondence with the Bedford Estates and English Heritage, 2014.
- 1. Frank and his wife Mollie had lived there since c.1906, Derham, p. 251.
- 2. The “Haunted House” article in The Tribunal identified the tenant as Italian.
- 3. A cottage he shared with the Eliots.
- 4. Allen (1889–1939), was a colleague of Russell’s at the No-Conscription Fellowship; the two men became friends.
- 5. Constructed in 1893 in the Arts and Crafts style, it was one of several new blocks of flats on the Prince of Wales Road.
- 6. The property now houses a restaurant, the Vanilla Pod; there is a T.S. Eliot plaque on the façade, noting his residency there.
- 7. See my article “Tokens of Love”, Bertrand Russell Society Bulletin, no. 162 (Fall 2020): 14–20.
- 8. The location of Swinnerton’s country house in Surrey.
- 9. The images appeared on the Right Move website; when I collected them, they were dated 2011 and they can be viewed under “Additional Images.” They are no longer online.
- 10. When this article was published in the Bulletin in 2014 the letting agent was Private Homes. It is now The London Agent.