Day 9 – British Library – St Pancras – Kings Cross

A pretty short one today; partly due to the fact that I dropped my phone shortly after leaving the house, and then cut my thumb open on the smashed screen. I also lingered rather longer than anticipated in the British Library, from where this walk begins before crossing the Euston Road and making a brief foray into the St Pancras area south of the eponymous station.

Day 9 Route

Before we kick off though the shaded area in the map below shows what we’ve covered so far. As someone once said – this could take a while.

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As already noted, the starting point today is the British Library which divorced itself from the British Museum and moved to this purpose-built site on the Euston Road in 1997 (the largest public building constructed in the UK in the 20th century). I don’t think it’s in any way controversial to describe the building itself as uninspiring – not helped by the unflattering comparison with its majestic neighbour, the Renaissance (formerly Midland Grand) Hotel of which more in a minute. Someone must like it though as it was granted Grade 1 listed status this year.

The BL collection comprises more than 150 million items adding around 3 million each year. This takes up 625km of shelf space and requires a further 12km every year.

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The statue in the picture above on the left is a representation of Sir Isaac Newton by artist Eduardo Paolozzi “after the style of William Blake”. Funding for this was provided by a grant from pools companies, Littlewoods, Vernons and Zetters. This was  just one year after the start of the National Lottery which was ultimately responsible for forcing the three pools companies to merge into one and effectively disappear off the public radar.

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As I said I spent longer than intended at the BL. This was down to visiting the recently-opened “West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song” exhibition, which I can thoroughly recommend (it’s on until 16 February 2016).

The mask in the right-hand picture above is of a kind used in masquerade rituals in Burkina Faso and northern Mali. The black and white pattern represents the importance of learning – black signifying the deep knowledge of the elders and the white the lack of knowledge of the youth. ( I think we can all get with that particular message).

Anyway, I finally leave the library and make a quick up-and-down Midland Road which separates the library from St Pancras International Station and the aforementioned Renaissance Hotel. The original St Pancras Station opened in 1868 and the Midland Grand Hotel eight years later. The hotel was the “wonder of the age” when it opened but after the First World War, during which it was bombed, it gradually fell out of favour and closed in 1935. From then until 1985, when it was declared unsafe, it was used as railway company offices. In the 1960’s there was a proposal to demolish both the hotel and St Pancras station but a vociferous public campaign led instead to listed status in 1967.

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Latterly, of course, the arrival of the Channel Tunnel and the decision to site the eventual London terminus for Eurostar services at St Pancras led to the redevelopment of the site between 2004 and 2007 and the rebirth of the station as St Pancras International and the hotel, which Betjeman had feared “too beautiful and too romantic to survive” as the Renaissance Hotel. The pictures above show how the architectural motifs of the original building were carried over into the new construction.

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Further evidence for the case that it is nigh on impossible to take a photo of anything in London without a bloody white van getting into the frame.

So crossing Euston Road we venture down Judd Street before taking a right into Bidborough Street which leads into Marbledon Place and today’s pub of the day, Mabel’s Tavern. Very nice pint of Shepherd Neame Bishop’s Finger and a sausage sandwich but how many screens blasting out Sky Sports News do you really need.

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On leaving the pub it’s a revisit of Flaxman Terrace before turning left into Burton Street and then right into Burton Place where we come across this van promoting St George Ethiopian beer. Having never seen this stocked anywhere I was half-inclined to view this as some kind of elaborate art installation with the name being a stab at political comment on cultural misappropriation. However it transpires that St George is not thought to have ever been anywhere near Ethiopia and is merely a shared patron saint and that the brewery named after him has been going since 1922.

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Burton Place leads into Cartwright Gardens. This whole area is awash with budget hotels (though in London the term is purely relative) but this particular crescent is wall-to-wall with them.

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Cartwright Street is closed off due to a massive redevelopment of student halls so we have to traverse the actual gardens which are themselves undergoing a make-over. Hence the caging off of the statue of the man after whom the gardens were named. John Cartwright (1740 – 1824) was a political reformer who campaigned for universal suffrage well before the concept became reasonably acceptable. His status as all-round good bloke is evidenced by the fact that this statue was paid for by public donation.

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Next up is Sandwich Street which is obviously where I should have had lunch.

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Then on to Thanet Street and via Leigh Street back to Judd Street where there’s just time to pay a visit to Camden Town Hall. As well as, naturally, being home to Camden Borough Council this Grade-II listed neo-classical thirties building is now a much-used venue for civil marriage and wedding ceremonies (as exampled below).

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There is public access to the first floor where the council chambers are located and also the Mayor’s parlour (which his or her office is quaintly referred to). The plaque you can see in the picture below celebrates residents of the borough who fought on the right (i.e. the left) side in the Spanish Civil War. The flags commemorate the wartime contribution of Canadian airmen.

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Fittingly, given the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, there is also a commemoration of the granting of the freedom of the borough to Michael Foot (the last genuinely socialist leader of the Labour party).

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 Back on the eastern side of Bidborough Street are the Victoria mansions which were home for 22 years to the British surrealist painter and wartime artist, Paul Nash (1889 – 1946). Nash is best known for his haunting, proto-Modernist WW1 landscapes.

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The remainder of the streets bounded by Gray’s Inn Road to the east and Euston Road to the north are unremarkable save for the already-remarked upon proliferation of lower-end hotels. So via Tonbridge Street, Argyle Walk, Whidborne Street, Argyle Street, Belgrove Street, St Chad’s Street, Argyle Square, Crestfield Street and Birkenhead Street we end emerge again opposite Kings Cross Station just as the early evening gloom is setting in.

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Gateway to the major cities of Yorkshire, North-East England and Scotland, Kings Cross (or King’s Cross – either is used) has a strong history in popular culture. In fact it’s probably better known today for being the home of Harry Potter’s fictional platform 9 and 3/4 than for the tragic fire of 1987 in which 31 people died. It also featured prominently in the great Ealing comedy of 1955, The Ladykillers.

According to folklore, King’s Cross was also the site of Queen Boudicca’s final battle and she is buried somewhere under one of the platforms.

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Day 8 – Marble Arch – Hyde Park – Park Lane – Mayfair – Grosvenor Square

Today’s route involves a first trip to the two most expensive properties on the Monopoly Board, Park Lane and Mayfair via the underside of Oxford Street, the Marble Arch gyratory system and the eastern edge of Hyde Park. It also takes in that little bit of central London which is all about the US of A, Grosvenor Square.

Day 8 Route

Start at Bond Street tube station and immediately venture south down Davies Street where on the intersection with South Molton Lane we find the Grosvenor Works, which is now occupied by Grays Antiques but was from the late 19th century home to John Bolding & Sons makers of sanitary appliances (bathroom fittings in other words).

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Turning right along Weighhouse Street there is another reminder of London’s industrial and commercial past – this United Dairies signage on a building currently undergoing redevelopment. United Dairies effectively ceased to exist in 1959 when it was merged into what became Unigate – so this must have at least been obsolete for longer than I’ve been around.

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Up Gilbert Street and down Binney Street where, sandwiched between this and Duke Street, is the former King’s Weigh House Chapel which nowadays operates as the catchily-entitled Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family in Exile. Designed by the eminent Victorian architect, Alfred Waterhouse, the chapel’s original name derives from the fact that its dissenter congregation’s original place of worship, in Eastcheap, was above the office for checking the weight of merchandise.

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Head up Duke Street to Oxford Street again and then down Lumley Street (no sign of Joanna) to arrive back west of the church in Brown Hart Gardens. The eponymous gardens in the middle of this square are laid out on a raised terrace and replaced the original communal street level gardens which made way for the construction of what must be one of the world’s grandest electricity substations at the turn of the last century. The substation was completed in 1905 to the design of C. Stanley Peach in a Baroque style from Portland stone featuring a pavilion and steps at either end, a balustrade and Diocletian windows along the sides to light the galleries of the engine rooms. The overlaying of a paved Italian garden was carried out at the insistence of the then Duke of Westminster.

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The gardens have very recently been renovated and the terrace is now, like every other tarted up bit of the capital, graced with a posh café. The western end of the square is occupied by another five-star hotel – the Beaumont.

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We now head north on Balderton Street and turn left into North Row, which runs parallel with Oxford Street and has nothing of interest to detain us until we reach Marble Arch. Pause at the corner of Park Lane to note the detailing on the southern exterior of the Cumberland Hotel where Jimi Hendrix kept a room in the late sixties and which now has a suite (though not the same one) named in his honour.

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Cross the road to take a closer look at Marble Arch itself. This was originally designed by our old friend John Nash to be one of the state entrances to Buckingham Palace but was relocated in 1851 upon the widening of Park Lane and now sits isolated and underwhelming amid the traffic visited only by hordes of pigeons and a few less discerning tourists.

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Yes, if you were wondering where all the pigeons went after being driven away from Trafalgar Square here’s your answer. As a consequence the sign in the photo below which exhorts members of the public to keep the area clean is a perfect exercise in futility. The statue you can see in the far distance is a very recent addition to the area. The work, called ‘She Guardian’, comprises four tonnes of bronze, sculpted over two years by Russian artist Dashi Namdakov. Unfortunately (or perhaps not) its positioning means only the hardiest tourist (or pigeon) will ever get close enough to experience its true majesty.

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These little guys have even gone so far as to hide away down a disused subway entrance to escape its awesome majesty.

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We make our escape too; skirting round Cumberland Gate to enter Hyde Park at Speakers’ Corner. In accordance with an 1872 act of parliament anyone can still turn up unannounced to speak on any subject, as long as the police consider their speeches lawful. Though on this particular day no-one had made the effort.

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Dodge the joggers and cyclists en route through the park to exit by the Joy of Life fountain, a 1963 creation of T.B Huxley-Jones. Take the subway under Park Lane to emerge on the edge of Mayfair by Mount Street. On this stretch of Park Lane we have at no.93 the Grade I listed former London residence of Disraeli from 1839 to 1872. And at no. 100 the Grade II listed Dudley House, one of the few surviving aristocratic private palaces in London. It didn’t exactly come as shock to learn that this 17-room mansion is now owned by a member of the extended Qatari royal family.

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For the next stretch of the walk we weave in and out of Park Lane and the parallel running Park Street which isn’t exactly short of high-end apartment blocks.

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No. 16 on the interconnecting Upper Grosvenor Street was once the residence of Sir Robert Peel. Although he served twice as Conservative Prime Minister in the 1840’s Peel was one of the great political reformists, playing a key role in the repeal of the Corn Laws, Catholic emancipation and the 1832 Reform Act by supporting the Whig government from the opposition benches. Such Liberal tendencies have not exactly endeared him to certain elements of subsequent generations of Conservatives. His best-known legacy is probably the creation of the Metropolitan Police and the designation of its members as either “Peelers” or “Bobbies”.

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Culross Street, Upper Brook Street, Woods Mews and Green Street are the other interlinking streets. The second of these is home to Michael Roux Jr.’s Michelin two-star, Le Gavroche at no. 43.

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Reaching the top of Park Lane again we cut back down Dunraven Street where no.17 announces itself as the former home of the immortal P.G Wodehouse. There are very few surer ways of fending off a bout of the glums than a good dose of Jeeves and Wooster. If you’re not familiar with the radio adaptations featuring the late greats Richard Briers and Michael Hordern I urge you to seek them out.

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Continue via Lees Place and Shepherds Place to North Audley Street where at no.13a we find the former St Mark’s Church. Dating from 1828 and designed in the (by now familiar) Greek revival style the building ceased to be a parish church over 30 years ago and after an long period of abandonment and aborted re-usage attempts is now re-branded as One Mayfair and owned by the same events company that previously brought you One Marylebone. The adjacent red-brick No. 13 was originally the vicarage and is still today used as a private home.

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Nearby Providence Court provides a prime example of the vogue for redevelopment that involves propping up historic frontages and completely rebuilding behind them.

P1040568George Yard takes us back to Duke Street from where it is a short hop to Grosvenor Square. As already noted this is dominated by the monstrous incongruity that is the American embassy. Chap with his hands on his hips is Dwight Eisenhower. He’s joined at the southern end of the building by Ronald Reagan whose statue was unveiled in 2011. I suppose the thinking was that the one was a hero of the Second World War and the other of the Cold War, though the equivalency escapes me.

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Pride of place in the gardens in the centre of the square goes to a statue of Franklin D. Roosevelt and on the eastern side there is a pavilion and memorial garden created to honour the victims of September 11. The building in the background is the significantly more discrete Italian Embassy.

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Leave the square via Carlos Place which is the location of the Connaught Hotel and also the Timothy Taylor gallery where one of the works in the current exhibition provides today’s selfie of the day.

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Duck through Mount Street Gardens, created in 1889 out of a former burial ground, passing the rear of the Jesuit Church of the Immaculate Conception before entering onto South Audley Street. Here we find the 120-year old Mayfair Library which is still just that, a public library run by Westminster Council. It’s quite difficult to imagine any of the residents of this part of town popping in to borrow an actual book so perhaps it’s not surprising that the library has expanded its services to include offering itself as an approved venue for wedding ceremonies.

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Opposite the library is the Grosvenor Chapel which was built in the 1730’s and whose Anglican congregation was swelled during the Second World War by the presence of American servicemen and women.

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South Audley Street is also, at no. 57, home to James Purdey and Sons, Gun and Rifle makers by Royal appointment. Still no sign of Joanna (tenuous cultural cross-reference of the day).

P1040586Right, we’re nearly done now. Aldford Street and Rex Place bring us back to Mount Street and a stretch which is the location of the Brazilian Embassy proper and a swathe of high-end boutiques and restaurants (which in fairness the buildings do deserve).

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Finish off with Adams Row, Reeves Mews and then Grosvenor Street where the final pause of the day is to clock the embassy of the Principality of Monaco at no.7. Not quite sure why they feel the need for an embassy as most of their residents will be too scared to visit London in case they get asked to pay some tax (God forbid!)

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Day 7 – Euston – Somers Town – Bloomsbury

Today’s route sees us heading north again to cover the area around Euston Station starting in the locality of Somers Town which bridges the gape between Euston and Kings Cross. We then head across the Euston Road encroaching into Bloomsbury before finishing off in the streets surrounding University College London.

Day 7 Route

From Euston Station we head north along Eversholt Street which is somewhat reminiscent of the vicinity of Kings Cross before it was tarted up. Though it does have the impressive 1930’s built Euston House at no.24, originally the HQ of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway it later became the home of the British Railways Board (now of fond memory).

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Further up it looks more like this. I don’t think I’ve seen one of those multi-coloured plastic strip curtains since about 1981. Interesting to note that the misused apostrophe isn’t a particularly modern phenomenon – though whoever put this up has obviously hedged their bets.

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Turn eastward along Polygon Street where at no.16 is the site of the  the former Jubilee pub closed in 2003 but nice to see the splendid frontage still in situ. We are now venturing into Somers Town which like the area immediately east of Regents Park still has a good stock of social housing and a bit of an old-school community feel. Right down Werrington Street and left along Pheonix Road and we hit Ossulton Street which heading south flanks the new British Library.

The site just to the north of the library is supposedly being redeveloped as the Francis Crick Institute, intended to be one of the largest medical research centres in Europe. I say supposedly because the poster below proclaims an opening in 2015 and as you can see from the other photo there’s still basically just an empty space.

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Quick right onto Euston Road and back northward on Chalton Street, a pleasingly tree-lined thoroughfare with an interesting mix of retail and hospitality outlets. Including one with a secret garden – though it’s obviously not that secret once you advertise it on your billboard.

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Drummond Crescent, Doric Way, Churchway and Grafton Place complete the set of streets east of Euston and somewhere amongst these is this rather novel storage solution.

Then we’re back out by the supremely unlovely Euston Station from where heading east along Euston Road we pass the headquarters of the Unison Trade Union at no. 130.

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Cross over Euston Road and skirt round the back along Flaxman Terrace which segues into Dukes Road where we find The Place, home of contemporary dance.

Opposite is the back entrance to the imposing neo-classical St Pancras New Church. Built in 1819–22 to the designs of William and Henry William Inwood; the most impressive features of this Grade-I listed building are the two tribunes on either side of the eastern end with their four terracotta caryatids modelled on those at the Erechtheum in Athens.

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Inside the entrance to the church is a plaque commemorating a family of worshippers who were amongst those lost when the Steamship City of Boston sank en route from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Liverpool in 1870.

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The crypt, which extends the whole length of the church, was designed to contain 2,000 coffins, but fewer than five hundred interments had taken place by 1854, when the practice was ended in all London churches. It served as an air-raid shelter in both world wars and is now used as an art gallery. The kinetic installations in the pictures below are the work of Irish-French artist Malachi Farrell.

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Running parallel to the south side of the church is the self-consciously quaint Woburn Walk which trumpets its Georgian origins along with the facts that WB Yeats is a former resident and Dickens used to buy his tobacco here. It’s a popular location for anachronistic TV and advertising shoots most notably episodes of Poirot. As you can see it’s not all about the past – the future is catered for as well, if you dare seek to know it !

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Moving back westward along the south side of the Euston Road we pass Friends House, the Quakers’ top joint, before reaching the Wellcome Collection. This is part of the Wellcome Trust, founded in 1936 by the munificent Henry Solomon Wellcome as a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. As well as its permanent collection of medical-related artefacts the Collection also puts on regular free artistic and historical exhibitions. If you’re quick you can still (up until 18 October) catch the work of Alice Anderson who has “mummified” an astonishing array of items using layers of thin copper wire.

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Crossing on to the north side of Euston Road we encounter the headquarters of the Royal Society of General Practioners, yet another grand London edifice at the disposal of members of the medical profession.

From here we head back north along Hampstead Road before doubling back down Cardington Street then turning onto Drummond Street, which used to be wall-to-wall Indian vegetarian restaurants but now only has a couple left. Cobourg Street adjoins Starcross Street where we pause at the pub of the day, the Exmouth Arms, for a pint and a burger (though not your actual Juicy Bastard I’m sorry to say).

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North Gower Street leads back to Drummond Street and on the corner of this and Melton Street sits one of those red-tiled disused former tube stations. This was one of two separate tube stations built to service Euston just after the start of the 20th century. This one, which was part of the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway was only in use from 1907 to 1914 when both the original stations were closed (though the other one did reopen in the twenties). The current Euston underground station dates from 1968 like the Victoria Line on which it sits.

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We turn right onto Euston Street and then circle back to the station via Stephenson Way where I completely (and perhaps aptly) fail to spot the (Harry Potter-ishly named) Centre for the Magic Arts which is the home of the Magic Circle. I guess they must keep it shrouded in some kind of invisibility cloak during the daytime..

At the Euston Road entrance to the station can be found the last remnants of the original station which was built in the 1830’s and demolished (surprise, surprise) in the 1960’s. The two lodges which originally flanked the grandiose Euston Arch (despite being Grade-II listed this failed to survive the redevelopment) are now in use as bars. The war memorial in the background below also made it beyond the decade of destruction.

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Turning south again on Upper Woburn Place we find the home of the British Medical Association ( I refer you to my earlier comment). This photo doesn’t do it justice and I’ve missed off the plaque noting that Dickens (him again) lived on this site for ten years or so from around 1860. On the upside what’s not to like about those trousers ?

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We arrive at Tavistock Square which encircles and eponymous garden whose centrepiece is this statue of Mahatma Gandhi, sculpted by the Polish artist, Fredda Brilliant (real name), and installed in 1968 ( as big a year round these parts as it was in Paris seemingly).

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Via Endsleigh Street, Endsleigh Gardens and Taviton Street we reach Gordon Square. This is now firmly within the bailiwick of Bloomsbury as evidenced by the plaque at no 50. celebrating the whole Bloomsbury set and another at no.51 dedicated to Lytton Strachey (1880 – 1932) alone. Thankfully I managed to avoid the recent TV series on the set and I won’t dwell on them here though I suspect they will crop up again in a subsequent post.

More interestingly, no.46 was home to the great economist John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946) from 1916 until his death. In 1999, Time magazine included Keynes in their list of the 100 most important and influential people of the 20th century, commenting that: “His radical idea that governments should spend money they don’t have may have saved capitalism.” As we know just nine years later that idea came into its won once more.

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On the other side of the square is Dr Williams’ Library. The gardens in between are much frequented by students of University College London whose campus occupies a large site to the west of Gordon Street and a smaller one to the east.

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So large in fact that bypassing it takes us, via Gower Place and Beaumont Way, all the way back to Warren Street tube and the end of today’s journey.

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