These two postcards were sent from the novelist Virginia Woolf to her sister’s housekeeper, Grace Higgens. Initially employed in 1920 by the artist Vanessa Bell to work at her house in Gordon Square in Bloomsbury, Grace remained with Vanessa and her family for over 50 years as housemaid, nurse, cook and finally housekeeper at Charleston, the farmhouse located in the South Downs in east Sussex. Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived nearby at Monk’s House in Rodmell, and there were frequent visits between the two households.

The postcards are from Grace’s archive, which the British Library acquired in 2007. Consisting of her diaries, letters and photographs, the archive reveals a lively, charming, funny and hardworking woman, and provides a remarkable insight into an era of domestic service from the perspective of life ‘below stairs’. Grace’s records of daily life, peppered with frank, amusing impressions of famous figures such as Virginia Woolf and E M Forster, also offer a fresh view on Bloomsbury life.

What does Woolf write to Grace about?

The postcards reveal Woolf’s affection for Grace. In the first, sent on 29 May 1934 from Woolf’s London home, Woolf congratulates Grace on her marriage. She encloses money for a gift from herself and Leonard, ‘which comes with our love’.

Grace was known as an excellent cook, and in the second postcard, undated and typewritten from their Sussex house, Woolf thanks her for the ‘delicious cake’. She asks for the recipe, as ‘I cant [sic] get any cakes made excpet [sic] yours that I like to eat’.