Bloomsbury

The Post Office Tower
The Post Office Tower

The Post Office Tower

So far we have not mentioned Bloomsbury, which is well known to many visitors if only by reason of the number of hotels it contains. Bloomsbury extends north from Holborn and Oxford Street to the Euston Road and west from Gray’s Inn Road to Tottenham Court Road, which is marked from afar by the 580 foot Post Office Tower, the tallest building in Britain. Of particular interest to the average visitor are the observation galleries and the revolving restaurant. The tower has been built to provide more long-distance telephone circuits and more television channels by means of microwave radio channels. Eventually it will provide for 150,000 simultaneous telephone conversations and up to 40 television channels.

Bloomsbury’s next highest building is the tower of the Senate House of the University of London which is 250 feet high and the dominant feature of a huge modern block housing administrative staff, the University Library, the Institutes of Education and of Historical Research and the School of Slavonic and East European Studies. The University of London was founded in 1836 as an examining and degree-conferring body. It became a teaching university in 1900 and now comprises 10 specialised Institutes, 33 ‘schools’ or colleges and boasts more than 25,000 internal students.

Well worth a visit are the Courtauld Institute Galleries in Woburn Square, with valuable collections of pictures by old masters, 19th century French painters and 20th century artists.

The origins of the British Museum, whose main entrance is in Great Russell Street, were the library and collection of Sir Hans Sloane and the famous Harleian manuscripts which were purchased in 1753 with the proceeds of a lottery. Innumerable valuable additions have since been made, such as the Elgin Marbles in 1816 and George Ill’s library in 1823 and the process is still continuing. It is of course quite impossible in this publication even to hint at the formidable range of unique and priceless treasures from the ends of the earth which the British Museum contains. The Museum contains immensely valuable ethnographical, archaeological and other collections, but it is almost as important as a library – indeed it is one of the largest libraries in the world. Fifty miles of shelves hold six million volumes excluding a great newspaper repository at Hendon. For permission to use the Library apply in writing to the Director, stating your purpose.

The heart of Bloomsbury is Russell Square, a very pleasant resting place during a round of sightseeing. Bernard Street in the north-east corner leads to the site of the Foundling Hospital founded in 1734 by Capt. Coram and removed to Hertfordshire in 1926. Many well known people supported his worthy cause and at the offices in Brunswick Square are paintings given by Hogarth, Knellerand Gainsborough. Handel gave the Hospital the score of the ‘Messiah’ and here is the keyboard of his organ.

From Brunswick Square to Guilford Street and so to Doughty Street and the Dickens House library and museum, of the greatest interest to all Dickensians. Southward Doughty Street leads us to Gray’s Inn, one of the Inns of Court, with a pleasant tree-shaded lawn surrounded by offices occupied mainly by members of the legal profession. A few yards farther south we come to Holborn, one of London’s busiest east-west traffic routes. Across the road is a group of Elizabethan timbered houses belonging to quaint little Staple Inn, much damaged during the war but now happily rebuilt. The tall red brick building over the road is the Prudential Assurance headquarters and between it and Gamage’s department store is Leather Lane, with a street market best seen about mid-day when it is patronised by city workers during their lunchtime. Beyond Gamage’s is Hatton Garden, an unassuming street which is nevertheless the centre of the world’s diamond trade. In Ely Place is St. Etheldreda’s Church, the only pre- Reformation church in London which has been restored for Roman Catholic worship. Note the lovely east window, and the oak roof, and looking at the fig tree in the garden recalls Shakespeare’s Richard III where Gloucester reminds the Bishop of Ely, ‘When I was last in Holborn I saw good strawberries in your garden there . . .’ Ely’s garden became Hatton Garden, but the strawberries are no more to be seen.

We are now at the end of the quarter-mile long viaduct spanning the old valley of the Fleet river and look down on the restored St. Andrew’s church, built by Wren, and neighboured by the City Temple, ‘The Cathedral of the Free Churches’. We can descend to Farringdon Street, thence to Ludgate Circus and Fleet Street and so back to Charing Cross and Trafalgar Square.

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