Miss Margaret West

no-picture-square3Miss Margaret Isabella West, 46, (c1886-1937) was a contributor to Time and Tide, assistant editor, Time and Tide, and had just become press manager of Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press, in February 1933.


Being with any of her very recent colleagues I’m sure would have been fine. Lorna Concanen Lewis was a good friend, so either deliberately together or deliberately not on this evening. A small table anyway.


She may well have recounted the story of the dog, the Woolf and the literary agent, unless it was too sensitive (see below)


Margaret was born in about 1886 to a Mr and Mrs West, we can only presume. That’s all we know for now.

puzzle-piece2-50Can you tell us more of Margaret Isabella West’s early life?

In the Autumn of 1914, for one term, Margaret was the (temporary) Secretary to Headmaster of Bedales School.[1] She worked for Belgian refugees during the war, and afterwards held a post on the administrative staff of the London School of Economics. Margaret was a contributor to Time and Tide (cited in Winifred Holtby’s “Letters to a Friend” as attending the dinner at Boulestin’s restaurant in 1926 – see Winifred Holtby’s page) [2] and became assistant editor that year.[3] [4]

On 7th March 1930 Margaret wrote the sixth and final contribution in a series of Time and Tide articles on “The Function of Literary Criticism”, entitled “Summing Up”, noting that for all the criticism levelled at reviewers “no-one has questioned the necessity for the reviewer’s existence” – which you might say was an important for Time and Tide’s continued raison d’être![5] Other contributors included two from outside Time and Tide, John Galsworthy and the publisher Laurie Magnus, alongside Time and Tide contributors Sylvia Lynd and Winifred Cullis (with a good plug for Rebecca West). The fifth article was comprised of contributions from Time and Tide readers.

In 1932 she attended an Anglo-Hungarian Society evening as did Lady Rhondda and Mr and Mrs Gordon West.[6]

In February 1933, just before the dinner, she was recruited to become manager/press manager of Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press – described as a “financially cautious recruitment” so we can assume Margaret wasn’t overpaid.[7] There, one of the very earliest issues she had to deal with involved a dog, a Woolf and a new(ish) breed of the literary world, the literary agent. The story has recently been recounted by Claire Battershill in a new book on the Hogarth Press.[8] [9] Flush, the biography of a cocker spaniel written by Virginia Woolf, was due to be published and possibly serialised. When a new breed of animal, the American literary agent, Curtis Brown, jumped the gun and negotiated a serialisation deal with Time and Tide without the Woolfs’ knowledge, they were clearly spitting mad. In her first month at the Press Margaret had to sort out the spat, writing to the miscreant on behalf of Leonard Woolf (who liked to act as agent for all his writers anyway).

A week before the dinner Margaret West wrote:

“Mr Woolf wishes me to say that he is astonished and extremely annoyed by your letter of yesterday’s date…. It is hardly likely that he would have required to ask Curtis Brown to approach papers like the New Statesman and Time & Tide with which he is continually in touch […..] You have now, he says, put both him and Mrs Woolf in an extremely awkward position with Lady Rhondda by sounding her without his instructions; and he would now be greatly obliged if you would return the MS of the book to him” (17th March 1933).

I suspect Curtis Brown was more amused than concerned about this letter: his firm had been going since 1899 and is today one of the leading literary agencies, whilst the Hogarth Press remains a small imprint in the Random House group. Probably Margaret was able to smooth over any ruffled feathers with her former Time and Tide colleagues – apart from damaged pride, I wonder if Leonard Woolf thought he might have got a better deal himself with Time and Tide? [10]

At the time of the dinner she and Lorna Concanen Lewis were sharing a house in Bloomsbury, 21 Taviton Street, – with seven other residents (she is recorded there from 1931 to 1933).


Margaret remained with the Hogarth Press for the rest of her days, which sadly came early at the age of 50, when she died suddenly, of pneumonia, on 21st January 1937, at 60 Vicarage Road, Watford, Herts, at the time resident at 26 Nightingale Road, Bushey, Herts. Probate was granted to fellow diner Lorna Concanen Lewis.[11]

Margaret was missed when she died after just five years with the Woolf’s Hogarth Press.  Virginia Wolff, eulogising Margaret as “the best of our managers”, wrote to Ethel Smyth of the disorientating effect of Margaret’s death on the functioning of the press “We’re plunged at the moment in chaos.  It means all L’s time is taken up managing, and we have to see authors whom she would have seen … and now the whole of that dreary business of finding and teaching begins again.  I’m feeling we’d better shut up shop”  They did get a good manager to follow, but clearly missed the efficient Margaret West.[12]


[1] My thanks to Jane Kirby, Honorary Archivist of Bedales School for this detail.

[2] Winifred Holtby, Letters to a Friend, p 435.

[3] The Press, 13.3.1937 p2 (a New Zealand publication).

[4] Angela V. John (2013), Turning the Tide, Cardigan, Parthian, p316

[5] Cited in Catherine Clay, Time and Tide, Note 45, p137

[6] The Times, 8.7.1932 p17.

[7] Mantex Information Design website, accessed 30.3.2018

[8] Nicola Wilson, The Hogarth Press, Modernist Archives Publishing Project, The Hogarth Press, accessed 30.3.2018

[9] Claire Battershill, Modernist Lives: Biography and Autobiography at Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press, Bloomsbury Publishing, 5.4.2018

[10] Justine Hankins, Tail of Two Cities, The Guardian 14.7.2001 online accessed 12.11.2020

[11] England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995 Record

[12] This anecdote from Alice Staveley, “Marketing Virginia Wolff and Public Relations in “Three Guineas”, in Book History Vol. 12 (2009) p307, Johns Hopkins University Press.

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