Day 36 – Chancery Lane – Fetter Lane – Fleet Street

“If you wish to have a just notion of the magnitude of this great City you must not satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares but must survey the innumerable little lanes and courts..” These words, which could stand as a mission statement for this blog, were spoken by Dr Samuel Johnson, creator of the first proper dictionary of the English language and the man who also coined the immortal aphorism “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life”. We visit Dr Johnson’s house in Gough Square towards the end of today’s itinerary but before we get there we have to wend our way through the labyrinth of streets and squares and courts that huddle in between Chancery Lane and Farringdon Street as well as picking out the major points of interest along the north side of Fleet Street.

Before all that though here’s a quick update on how much of the designated target area we’ve now covered overall since beginning this a year and a half ago..And I thought I’d be done in six months !

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Anyway back to today’s route..

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Starting point is on Chancery Lane by the eastern gate of Lincoln’s Inn. From here we head north and take a right into Southampton Buildings where we find the former home of the Patent Office, purpose built at the turn of the last century some fifty years after the founding of the Patent Office in 1852. In 1991, having outgrown these premises, the Patent Office (now called the Intellectual Property Office) was relocated to Newport in South Wales.

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Just around the corner is Staple Inn which is the last of the so-called Inns of Chancery to survive largely intact. The building dates from the the second half of the 16th century and the original half-timbered Tudor frontage still adorns High Holborn in incongruous fashion. The rest of the building behind this was pretty much fully reconstructed in 1937 though the courtyard and garden at the rear retain their original structure. Since 1887 it has been the London home of the Institute of Actuaries and was Grade I listed in 1974.

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Once out onto High Holborn by Chancery Lane tube station we turn right briefly then venture south down Furnival Street. Next turn is into the dog-leg that is Took’s Court where the early 18th century property at no.15 has been renamed Dickens House, not because this was another of the writer’s residences but because this building featured in Bleak House (under the guise of Cook’s Court).

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Took’s Court emerges onto Cursitor Street where we turn right and come out onto Chancery Lane again; opposite a blue plaque installed by the Cromwell Association in commemoration of John Thurloe (1616 – 1668). Thurloe joined Cromwell’s government after he seized power, first as Secretary of State then as Head of Intelligence and finally as Postmaster General. In 1660 following the Restoration he was arrested for high treason but never tried (he was released on condition that he assist the new government on request). He died at Lincoln’s Inn in 1668 and was buried in the chapel there.

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After a quick detour to Quality Court (which doesn’t really live up to its name) we double back down Cursitor Street, nip back up Furnival Street and then swing right into Norwich Street. This takes us into Fetter Lane where we head north to Holborn Circus then switch south again down New Fetter Lane. Cut back westward along Plough Place then continue on Greystoke Place before Mac’s Place takes us through to Breams Buildings. (This area was hit particularly hard in the Blitz so there was a lot of post-war rebuilding which has been undergoing redevelopment in recent years). Anyway just here on Breams Buildings is what remains of the overflow burial ground for St Dunstan-in-the-West Church (which we shall come to later) dating back to at least the 17th century.

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Turning right on Breams Buildings returns us to Chancery Lane where to south you have the Law Society’s Hall on the west side and King’s College Maughan Library to the east. The Law Society is the professional association representing the interests of the UK’s solicitors (barristers have the Bar Council). It was founded in 1825 then acquired its first Royal Charter six years later as “The Society of Attorneys, Solicitors, Proctors and others not being Barristers, practising in the Courts of Law and Equity of the United Kingdom”.   No doubt to everyone’s relief, a further Royal Charter in 1903 changed this to simply “The Law Society”. Women members were first admitted in 1922. It’s not entirely obvious from the pictures below but today the building is also home to the swanky 113 Restaurant.

The neo-Gothic Maughan Library building was originally built between 1851 and 1858, to a design of architect Sir James Pennethorne, in order to house the Public Record Office. The PRO had been formed in 1838 to streamline the maintenance of government and court records. The Domesday Book was one of the records transferred here, in 1859 from Westminster Abbey. It now resides at the National Archives in Kew, the successor to the PRO, formed in 2003 when that merged with the Historical Manuscripts Commission. King’s College took over the building in 2001 to create the largest new university library in Britain since WW2 with a £35m renovation. The library is named after, Sir Deryck Maughan, an alumnus and major benefactor of King’s College.

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The library contains a dodecagonal reading room which features in The Da Vinci Code (I’m sure the University is delighted with that !). The bronze statue of Confucius in the garden was donated in 2010 by the Confucian Academy to mark the official launch of the Lau China Institute.

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Entering Fleet Street from Chancery Lane and turning east we reach the aforementioned St Dunstan-in-the West church. There has been a church on this site since around the turn of the first millennium, named in honour of St Dunstan who was elected as Archbishop of Canterbury in 960 and was instrumental in bringing about peace with the Danes. That original church lasted right up until the early 19th century when it was rebuilt in 1831. The most well known feature of the church is its clock, which dates from 1671, and was the first public clock in London to have a minute hand. Figures of two giants strike the hours and quarters, and turn their heads. The courtyard also contains statues of King Lud, the possibly mythical ruler of pre-Roman times, and his sons. Lud gave his name to Ludgate, one of the original gateways to the City of London, where these statues stood before they were moved to the church.  Above the porch where they hide away is a statue of Queen Elizabeth I from 1586, the only one known to have been carved during her reign.

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As well as being an Anglican church, St Dunstan’s is home to the Romanian Orthodox Church in London. The beautiful iconostasis (altar screen) was brought here from a monastery in Bucharest in 1966. The high altar and reredos are Flemish woodwork dating from the seventeenth century. The church hosts classical music recitals on Wednesday lunchtimes so I was fortunate enough (along, sadly, with only about half a dozen other people) to hear a young pianist from the Guildhall giving the ivories a proper working over.

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Fleet Street is of course synonymous with the newspaper and magazine publishing industry even though the actual printing presses and the businesses that ran them have long since departed. In the pictures of the exterior of the church you will have seen glimpses of its next door neighbour, the London office of Dundee-based D.C Thomson, best known  as the publisher of the Beano and the Dandy. Thomson also print a number of Scottish regional newspapers and when in 2016 they relocated the two London-based correspondents for their Sunday Post paper its was perceived as being the very final end of newspaper journalism on Fleet Street.

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Heading back up Fetter Lane we pass, on the corner with Rolls Buildings, a statue to the radical English parliamentarian John Wilkes (1725 – 1797). Wilkes was expelled from Parliament on several occasions for his outspoken views but he was far from your typical social reformer. As well as being a member of the Hell-Fire Club, infamous for its debauched gatherings and Black Mass rituals he was also not beyond voter bribery in his efforts to get elected to the Commons. In 1754 he stood for election in the constituency of Berwick-upon-Tweed and was unsuccessful despite bribing a ship’s captain to land a boatload of opposition voters coming from London in Norway instead of Berwick.

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Forking right into New Fetter Lane and following this to its northern end we then turn tight into the heart of the modern developments I referenced previously. So we can move rapidly through Bartlett Court, Thavies Inn, St Andrew Street, the upper part of Shoe LaneNew Square, Great New Street, Nevil Lane, West Harding Street and Red Lion Court with nothing to detain us apart from this, frankly quite unexciting, water feature in New Square.

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So now we’re back on Fleet Street and the next little alleyway to the east, Johnson’s Court, will via a rather torturous route take us appropriately up to Gough Square where we finally encounter the house occupied by Dr Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784) while he was compiling his dictionary. That was during the years from 1747 until 1755 when the dictionary was published. It wasn’t the first dictionary of the English language produced but it was far greater in scope and erudition than any of its predecessors. Its pages were nearly 18 inches (46 cm) tall, and the book was 20 inches (51 cm) wide when opened; it contained 42,773 entries and it sold for the (then) extravagant price of £4 10s. Not surprisingly therefore it didn’t sell terribly well and Johnson and his publishers were forced to rely on subsequent abridged versions to make any money from it. Johnson had married Elizabeth Porter, who was 20 years his senior, in 1735 and when she died in 1752, Francis Barber, a former slave from Jamaica, joined his  household as a servant along with his wife and children.. He lived with Johnson for more than 30 years and was ultimately named as his heir.

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On the opposite side of Gough Square is a statue of Dr Johnson’s favourite cat, Hodge, unveiled in 1997 by the Lord Mayor. The statue shows Hodge sitting next to a pair of empty oyster shells on top of a copy of Johnson’s dictionary, with the inscription “a very fine cat indeed”. Unlike today, in Johnson’s time oysters were plentiful around the coasts of England and so cheap that they were a staple food of the poor (and cats).

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Moving on we wind our way through Pemberton Row, East Harding Street, Gunpowder Square, Hind Court, St Dunstan’s Court and Bolt Court dipping in and out of Fleet Street until we reach the Grade II listed Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub at no.145. Reportedly there has been a pub here since 1538 and according to the sign outside the current hostelry dates from 1667 when it was rebuilt after the Great Fire. Inside the pub is a warren of numerous wood-panelled rooms all deprived of natural lighting which lends a sombre, conspiratorial air even when the several open fireplaces are lit in the winter. Past patrons of the pub are said to include the ubiquitous Charles Dickens along with Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, P.G Wodehouse and G.K Chesterton. Dr Johnson must also have been a regular though his writings coyly neglect to mention it by name.

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Running up the side of the pub is Wine Office Court at the entrance to which is affixed this handy resumé of its history (from where you will see I nicked the opening to this post).

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We follow Wine Office Court up to Printer Street and then return to Fleet Street via Little New Street and the lower section of Shoe Lane (shown below).

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Now we’re right in the epicentre of Fleet Street‘s historic association with the Fourth Estate as we emerge in between Peterborough Court, the former home of the Daily Telegraph at nos. 141-135 and the Daily Express building at 128-121. These two very different looking buildings are both icons of the Art Deco age and both Grade II listed. Peterborough Court, with its “monumental facade” and Egyptian themed decoration, was built in 1927-8 and designed by architect Thomas Smith Tait. The Telegraph group decamped in the 1980’s post-Wapping and this is now the European HQ of mega-Investment bank Goldmans Sachs (who reputedly pay rent of £18m a year to the Qatari owners of the building).

 

The slightly younger Daily Express building with its striking black vitrolite panelling was built in 1931-2 and designed by architects Ellis and Clarke with the assistance of Sir Owen Williams. The flamboyant lobby, designed by Robert Atkinson, includes plaster reliefs by Eric Aumonier, silver and gilt decorations, a magnificent silvered pendant lamp and an oval staircase. The drawn curtains on the ground floor ensure that this, one of the very finest masterpieces of British Art-Deco, is invisible to the public except on Open House weekend. If you’ve never seen it I would urge you to seek out that opportunity (as I did many years ago though I couldn’t locate the photographs I took at the time so the one below is courtesy of http://manchesterhistory.net/architecture/1930/dailyexpress.html.)

The Express Group left the building in 1989 and following a major redevelopment of the site in the nineties it was also let to Goldman Sachs in 2000.

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Beyond the Daily Express Building we turn north again up Poppin’s Court into St Bride Street from where we criss-cross into Farringdon Street via Harp Alley, Stonecutter Court and Plumtree Court before finishing up under the Holborn Viaduct whence we shall return in the not-too-distant future.

 

 

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Day 22 (part 2) – Gray’s Inn – High Holborn – Red Lion Square

So with an hour so in hand there was just time for a second leg of today’s journey which took care of the streets within the more or less rectangular area bounded by Southampton Row to the west, Theobalds Road to the north, Gray’s Inn Road to the east and High Holborn to the south. A large proportion of this territory is occupied by the land and buildings owned by the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn, one of the four Inns of Court (all in London) which are the professional associations that all barristers in England & Wales must belong to one of. By contrast, in the western section of the quadrant lies Red Lion Square which has associations altogether less aligned with the establishment.

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So I hop off the bus on Theobalds Road and turn left down Drake Street which is part of both the A40 and the Holborn one-way system. It’s also where you’ll find the second abandoned site of Central St Martin’s School of Art (the one that won’t be hosting a pop-up theatrical performance in May starring James Norton 0f War & Peace and Happy Valley fame – that’s the site on Charing Cross Road that featured a couple of posts back).

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Swiftly take another left to skirt the northern side of Red Lion Square including a trip up  and down Old North Street. In the north eastern corner of the square sits the Conway Hall which is owned by Conway Hall Ethical Society and was first opened in 1929. The name was chosen in honour of Moncure Daniel Conway (1832 – 1907), anti-slavery advocate, out-spoken supporter of free thought and biographer of Thomas Paine. Nowadays it hosts a wide variety of lectures, classes, performances, community and social events and is renowned as a hub for free speech and independent thought. Its Library holds the Ethical Society’s collection, which is the largest and most comprehensive Humanist Research resource of its kind in the United Kingdom.

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Head east away from the square via Lambs Conduit Passage then briefly south on Red Lion Street before resuming eastward along Princeton Street. No.1a (aka Tudor House) is now the London home of Novelty Automation which is a collection of, frankly, bonkers alternative amusement arcade machines. Didn’t have time to go in but having experienced the delights of the sister operation on Southwold pier would recommend a visit if you’re ever in the vicinity.

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Next up is a circuit of Bedford Row which has to be one of the widest residential streets in the capital. If you were wondering who can afford properties like these then the clue is in the opening paragraph.

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Continuing east we get to Jockey’s Fields, one side of which is taken up by the western wall of Gray’s Inn. The equestrian origins of the name of this former mews of Bedford Row have unfortunately been lost in the mists of time. As you will note, the entrance to Gray’s Inn, at the southern end of the wall, is suitably forbidding.

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Just inside the gate to the left is a private road on the right side of which are the series of chambers known as Raymond Buildings. And behind you, on the wall itself, is a sign which continues the forbidding theme. The Servants of the Inn are a bit like the Deatheaters from Harry Potter I believe.

The Inn’s substantial gardens are known as The Walks and are only accessible to the general public between 12.00 and 2.30 on weekdays.

Apparently none of the Inns has a verifiable date of foundation. For many centuries it was the view that the starting point of the Inns of Court was a writ of Edward I made on the advice of his Council in 1292. The formal records of Gray’s Inn only date back to 1569 however. During the 16th century when Queen Elizabeth I herself was the Inn’s patron lady there were many more members than those who went on to be admitted to the bar including Lord Burleigh, the Queen’s First Minister, Lord Howard of Effingham, the Admiral who defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588, and Sir Francis Walsingham, the Chief Secretary who founded the Queen’s secret service.

Passing the southern entrance to the gardens we head through the arch leading into Gray’s Inn Square.

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On your right as you enter the square is the Chapel at Gray’s Inn which predates the Inn itself in that its earliest in carnation is purported to have been around from 1315. The current building is largely a post-WW2 bombing reconstruction however.

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Behind the chapel is the South Square which houses the Library of over 75,000 books and journals. In the centre of the square is a statue of Francis Bacon (1561 – 1621 ) which was erected in 1912. Bacon was admitted to the Inn in 1576 and called to the bar in 1582. He was elected Treasurer of the Inn in 1608 and held the position until 1617, when he was appointed Lord Privy Seal.

Exit the square by its south-west corner and emerge out onto High Holborn. Turning right we pass the Cittie of Yorke  which, although it looks (especially inside) like something from medieval times, actually dates from the 1920’s. Nonetheless this Samuel Smiths’ pub is distinctive enough to have earned a Grade II listing.

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Duck back up the alley that is Fulwood Place, the north end of which (opposite the entrance to the Walks) is guarded by these stone griffins. The badge of Gray’s Inn  (as opposed to a true coat of arms) is a gold griffin on a black background encircled with the motto Integra Lex Aequi Custos Rectique Magistra Non Habet Affectus Sed Causas Gubernat, or “Impartial justice, guardian of equity, mistress of the law, without fear or favour rules men’s causes aright”.

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Make our way back to Red lion square now traversing en route Warwick Court, Brownlow Street, Hand Court, Sandland Street, Red Lion Street and Princeton Street (again). Despite its small size, Red Lion Square has something of a colourful history. Legend has it that beneath this site lie the bodies (but not the heads) of Oliver Cromwell, his son-in-law Henry Ireton and the judge John Bradshaw, the chief architects of the regicide of Charles I. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, parliament had the bodies of the three men disinterred and posthumously tried and executed at Tyburn. Their heads were then cut off and displayed on the roof of Westminster Hall while the bodies were initially buried near the gallows. Rumour has it though that the bodies were exchanged while being kept at the Red Lion Inn the night before the hanging and the real remains buried behind the inn where the square is now situated.

The square itself was laid out around 25 years later by a property speculator by the name of Nicholas Barbon. This didn’t go down that well with the lawyers of Gray’s Inn however. Ironically though their legal attempt to prevent the development of the land failed and they ended up taking the law into their own hands. Around 100 of them attacked the workmen on the site, armed with bricks and other building materials. In the ensuing pitched battle the workmen came out on top and the building work carried on.

In the 1850’s Dante Gabriel Rossetti, founder of the Pre-Raphaelites lived here as did his friends William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.

Back in the present day; there is a bust of our old friend Bertrand Russell on the eastern side of the square (which the local pigeons have shown scant respect to) and on the west side a statue of the politician and anti-war activist Fenner Brockway (1888 – 1988). Living to the ripe old age of 99 meant that he got to be one of the few people to unveil their own statue.

After circling the square it just remains to visit Dane Street, Eagle Street, Catton Street and Fisher Street before calling time on today’s excursions.

 

 

 

 

Day 15 – Bloomsbury – British Museum – Holborn

Another short one, at least in terms of distance travelled, but there are a lot of points of interest contained within today’s route. This takes in the area between Tottenham Court Road and Holborn tube stations to the south, east and west of the British Museum and includes a brief incursion into the BM as well as a visit to the, somewhat lower profile, Cartoon Museum.

Day 15 Route

Kick off at Tottenham Court Road tube station (with its spacious Crossrail- ready new ticket hall) and head over to the Dominion Theatre. The theatre opened in 1929 but before that the site was occupied by a brewery which was the source of the 1814 London Beer Flood (not quite the lark it sounds as it was responsible for more fatalities than all of the rainwater based flooding of recent years). The theatre is currently showing the musical version of Elf (presumably in tribute to the old maxim about no-one ever going broke by underestimating the taste of the public). Still anything has to be better than We Will Rock You (which had 12 years of mugging gullible punters here).

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Head north up Tottenham Court Road and turn right down Bayley Street which leads into Bedford Square. On its own the latter is endowed with more plaques commemorating the residence of notable public figures than the whole of some of the areas previously visited. I only mention a couple here; first of which, at no.22, is the ornate memorial to the actor-manager Johnston Forbes-Robertson (1853 – 1937). J F-R was educated at Charterhouse – which just shows that in those days it was still possible for someone from the upper middle classes to forge an acting career.

No.6, on the right above, was the home of Lord Eldon  (1751 – 1838) who was Lord Chancellor during part of the reign of George III. At the age of 21 he eloped to Scotland with Bessie Surtees, the daughter of a Newcastle banker, fortunately without being disowned by his family.

No.41 was once the residence of the novelist, Anthony Hope (1863 – 1933), best known for The Prisoner of Zenda.

No.46 is occupied by the Angolan Embassy and no.52 was apparently used as the contestants’ house in the 2010 series of the Apprentice.

The eastern side of the square is where Gower Street morphs into Bloomsbury Street and at no.2 of the former is a plaque to the splendidly named Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847 – 1929), one of the leading lights of the Suffragist movement. Suffragists were proponents for votes for women but not necessarily Suffragettes (who were a specific and highly militant group). Millicent campaigned, often in vain, on a wide range of Women’s rights issues. However as the head of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), which unlike the Suffragette WSPU kept up its campaigning during World War One, she played in key role in securing the vote for Women (or at least some of them) in 1919.

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Next up is Bedford Avenue with its very distinctive Victorian terrace on the north side.

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Adeline Place then takes us south to the western section of Great Russell Street where, before rejoining Tottenham Court Road, we pass the headquarters of the Trades Union Congress and the Central London YMCA. The latter is on the site of the original YMCA founded by drapery trade worker, George Williams in 1844. It also proclaims itself as the largest gym in central London.

After turning left at the Dominion again to join New Oxford Street we fork left along Bainbridge Street which merges in Streatham Street where there is further evidence of the work of the Peabody Trust.

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Dyott Street then takes us back to New Oxford Street from where we continue eastward into High Holborn all the way to Holborn tube station. On the way we pass James Smith & Sons, purveyors of highest quality umbrellas and walking sticks on this site since 1857.

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Also en route is Holborn Town Hall, a legacy of time (from 1900 to 1965) when Holborn was a distinct and separate metropolitan borough. In 1965 it was merged with the boroughs of Hampstead and St Pancras to create the London Borough of Camden. The Grade II listed town hall with its Portland stone façade dates from 1908 and is now used as office space.

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From Holborn tube head north up Southampton Row then veer left down Sicilian Avenue, a well-preserved Edwardian commercial development still popular with shoppers and al-fresco diners.

Having crossed over Bloomsbury Way it’s a circuit of Bloomsbury Square next. This is reportedly the oldest London square; licensed to Lord Southampton in 1661 (Covent Garden is older but considered a piazza rather than a square). The eastern side of the square belongs to the massive Victoria House , designed by architect Charles W. Long. Construction of this behemoth of a building with its grand Beaux Arts facades began in 1924 but it wasn’t finally completed until 1932 by which time it was the largest office block in the country apart from Whitehall and incorporated 125 miles of electric wiring, 5000 tons of steel frameworks and 5.25 million bricks.

The square itself was at first very simply landscaped, but was laid out by Humphrey Repton in about 1806 in a more romantic manner in accordance with Regency tastes. At the north end is Westmacott’s statue of Charles James Fox (1749 – 1806), gazing towards his friend the Duke of Bedford in Russell Square. CJF, who served as Foreign Secretary under three different prime ministers, was notorious for his drinking, rakishness and gambling as well as his corpulence and unlovely appearance. As such he was reputedly the most-ridiculed figure of his era, principally by the cartoonist James Gillray (who, by dint of serendipity, we shall hear more of later).

Cross back over Bloomsbury Way and go down Southampton Place then back via Barter Street. On the corner here is Swedenborg House home of the Swedenborg Society named after the eponymous Emanuel (1688 – 1772), Swedish Philosopher, Inventor and general renaissance man.

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Another great polymath is recognized with a blue plaque at no.3 Russell Chambers on the conjunction of Bury Place and Galen Place. Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) lived in a flat here during the 1910’s. Best known as a philosopher and mathematician (and a combination of the two) Russell won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 (something I was previously unaware of).

On Bloomsbury Way again we pass the Pushkin House, home of Russian culture in London. This is named of course after the great Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin (1799 – 1837), who is alleged to have fought around 29 duels, the last of which, against his wife’s reputed lover (and brother-in-law) resulted in his premature demise.

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Further along is St George’s Church, the sixth and last of the London churches designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and completed in 1730. The stepped tower is influenced by Pliny the Elder’s description of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world), and topped with a statue of King George I in Roman dress. Its statues of fighting lions and unicorns symbolise the recent end of the First Jacobite Rising. Continuing the earlier Suffragette theme, this was where the funeral of the martyr to the cause, Emily Davison, was held in 1913.

That just leaves the remaining streets between Bloomsbury Way and Great Russell Street before we get to the two museum stops. So after Museum Street, Coptic Street, Willoughby Street, Stedham Place and Gilbert Place we arrive on Little Russell Street, home to the Cartoon Museum. This was opened in 2006 as a venue dedicated to the celebration of British cartoon and comic art from the 18th century to the present day. A visit to the upper floor is recommended to anyone who recalls the glory days of the Beano, Dandy, Beezer, Sparky, Cor !, Whizzer & Chips, the Victor and perhaps slightly younger aficionados of Viz and 2000 AD.

Current exhibition (to 17 January 2016 so be quick) is entitled Gillray’s Ghost and looks at the work of the aforementioned 18th and early 19th century political cartoonist, James Gillray (1756 – 1815) and his influence on his contemporary equivalents such as Steve Bell and Martin Rowson.

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This brings us finally to the British Museum which I obviously don’t have space to do justice to here so I’m just going to leave you with a selection of images, mainly of artefacts relating to my current favourite ancient civilisation, the Assyrian Empire (approximately 1900 to 612 BCE). Warning: unfortunately some animals were harmed in the making of these.

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Day 11 (part 2) – Tottenham Court Road – University College London – Bloomsbury

Second leg of today’s walk resumes at the north side of Russell Square then concentrates on the constellation of buildings and institutions that constitute the “Bloomsbury Site” of the University of London, principally UCL.  This was originally an area of eleven acres stretching from Woburn Square to the British Museum and its acquisition, from the Duke of Bedford (see last post) in 1927, was partially funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. It ends with visits to the two wonderful in-house museums belonging to UCL, the Grant Museum of Zoology and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.

Day 11 Route pt2

We begin by heading north up Bedford Way then after turning left into Gordon Square venture south again via Woburn Square and Thornhaugh Street before returning to Russell Square and exiting that by the south-west corner. This takes us into Montague Place which runs along the back of the British Museum (more of which in a later post).

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As mentioned above the creation of this new hub for the University of London in the thirties was facilitated by an endowment from the Rockefeller Foundation – £400,000 which was a pretty immodest sum back then. The centrepiece of the development was the (still) imposing Senate House on Malet Street. Construction of this iconic Art Deco edifice (often claimed as London’s first skyscraper) began in 1932 and although some staff moved in during 1936 it wasn’t fully completed until 1937 by which time it had been scaled back from the original designs due to a shortfall in funds.

The building was used by the Ministry of Information during WWII and this, combined with its monolithic appearance no doubt, inspired both Graham Greene’s “Ministry of Fear” (adapted for the cinema by Fritz Lang) and George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth as featured in “1984”.

There is even an actual Room 101 inside on the first floor though there is not thought to be any direct correlation between this and Orwell’s home of nightmares made flesh (despite the fact that his wife worked for the MoI during the war).

The right-hand image below is of a map in The Chancellor’s Hall showing the location of all the constituent colleges of the University of London in 1939. The actual painting, by MacDonald Gill, is 4m across.

The building mainly functions as the administrative centre for the University of London but also houses its main library. On the left below is the Senate Room itself; these days used only a handful of times a year for meetings of the actual Senate (which is largely ceremonial) though it is available for hire.

To the north of the Senate House is Torrington Square where reside  Birkbeck College and The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Opposite the latter is the Brunei Gallery (no prizes for guessing where the funding for that came from) which is well worth a visit, not only for its exhibitions but also its Japanese roof garden.

Across the road at the top end of the square is the southern end of  Church of Christ the King, Bloomsbury

Here we turn left along Byng Place then head back down Malet Street until we get to Keppel Street which is where London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine lives.

130922 Open House (4)

The creation of this new building for the school, following the granting of its Royal Charter in 1924, was another result of the munificence of the Rockefeller Foundation. The building, which was opened in July 1929, was one of the first constructed around a steel frame. The facade of Portland stone incorporates above the main entrance a carving of Apollo and Artemis riding a chariot. As you can also see above, the first floor balconies are  decorated with a selection of gilded bronze studies of insects and animals infamous for their roles in the transmission of disease.

The sculpted panel above is by Eric Kennington (1888 – 1960) who is mainly known for his work as an official artist in both World Wars. The bust in the library is of Sir Richard Doll (1912 – 2005) considered to be the foremost epidemiologist of the 20th century.

Cross over to Store Street with its uniformly fronted independent shops, galleries and coffee shops and on the corner with Ridgmont Street come across the site of the old Bloomsbury Service Station which was redeveloped in 2012 incorporating the style and some of the features of the original 1926 building into what is now offices and a Byron hamburger joint.

Next up Chenies Street, North Crescent and Alfred Place. The middle one of those is largely comprised of Minerva House, a grade II listed former car showroom and workshop.

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Back on Store Street, South Crescent to be precise, is the Building Centre. Established in 1931, this is now not-for-profit organisation is dedicated to providing education, information and support in relation to all aspects of the built environment. Worth a visit just to see the 3D map which highlights all the current new-build projects in London.

We now take a first dip into Tottenham Court Road and the next turning on the right is Alfred Mews where we come across this somewhat redundant instruction.

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Criss-cross between Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street via Torrington Place, Huntley Street, Chenies Mews and Capper Street. Last of these features another great surviving example of the Art Deco form in Shropshire House which dates from 1932.

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Another cul-de-sac off of TCR is Queen’s Yard where behind this unprepossessing entrance can be found the Government Art Collection. One of the small selection, of the over 100,000 works in the collection, on display is the splendid 4’33” (Prepared Pianola for Roger Bannister) by Mel Brimfield

 

On University Street, where we turn next, there is, appropriately, a pub named after the philosopher, Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832),  who left his body to be publicly dissected by his friend, Dr Thomas Southwood Smith, and preserved as an ‘auto-icon’. Jeremy the auto-icon was bequeathed to UCL in 1850 and has remained there ever since.

 

The Grant Museum of Zoology sits on the corner of University Street and Gower Street and houses around 68,000 remarkable zoological specimens.

 

Founded in 1828 as a teaching collection, the Museum is packed full of skeletons, mounted animals and specimens preserved in fluid. Many of the species concerned are now endangered or extinct. Below are a selection of my personal favourites.

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After leaving the museum we head down Gower Street, stopping briefly for a look at the UCL Main Building also known as the Octagon Building.

To get to the final stop for today, the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology we veer off to the left and left again into Malet Place. The museum was set up as a teaching resource for the Department of Egyptian Archaeology and Philology at UCL. Both the department and the museum were created in 1892 through the bequest of the writer Amelia Edwards (1831-1892). The collection, of over 80,000 Egyptian and Sudanese artefacts dating from prehistory through the time of the pharaohs to the Islamic era, was considerable extended due to the extraordinary excavating career of the first Edwards Professor, William Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) after whom the museum is named. Of course the export of such antiquities from their place of discovery has long been illegal so the collection is a static one. It is also quite astonishing.

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2015 is actually the centenary of the museum opening to the public and in recognition of that here is one final exhibit to hopefully whet your appetite for a visit.

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This is a fragment from the “Book of the Dead” papyrus belonging to a man named Khnumemheb. It shows the ‘weighing of the heart’ scene in which the deceased’s heart is weighed against the feather of truth while Ammut, the monstrous devourer of the dead, sits beneath the balance awaiting the judgement.

 

And on that cheery note…until next time.

 

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.

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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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