Tag Archives: Bloomsbury

Tavistock Square

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Tavistock Square is one of the many open spaces in Bloomsbury, built during the development of land owned by the Dukes of Bedford as London expanded north from the mid 18th to the early 19th centuries.

I have marked Tavistock Square with a red rectangle in the following map:

Tavistock Square

The name comes from the Duke of Bedford’s second title, the Marquis of Tavistock, a title created in 1694, and named after the grant of land belonging to Tavistock Abbey to the family.

As can be seen from the above map, Tavistock Square is one of a number of open spaces in a built up area. The Euston Road is just to the north, and the A4200 runs along the eastern side of the square, a busy road that carries traffic between the Euston Road and Holborn.

Euston Station is a short walk to the north.

Standing in places such as Tavistock Square today it is hard to imagine that a couple of centuries ago (a relatively short period in the history of London), all this was fields and pasture on the northern boundary of the built city.

An area crossed by tracks and walkways across the fields, streams and ponds.

Rocque’s 1746 map of London shows the northern limits of the city. Queen Square had recently been built, along with Bedford House, and Montague House is located where the British Museum can be found today. I have marked the location of Tavistock Square with the red rectangle:

Tavistock Square

Russell Square would be built just north of where Bedford House is shown (Russell is the family name of the Dukes of Bedford / Marquis of Tavistock), and the family were major landowners across this part of London.

The Duke of Bedford and his landholdings featured in a map created in 1909 by William Bellinger Northrop and titled “Landlordism Causes Unemployment”.

Landlordism Causes Unemployment

Map from Cornell University – PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography and reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) Unported License

The aim of Northrop’s map was to show how “Landlordism” was strangling London, with large areas of the city being owned by the rich and powerful. Northrop claimed that the Duke of Bedford owned 250 acres, and that this estate produced an annual rent of £2,250,000.

Northrop claimed that Landlordism:

  • Paralyses the building trade;
  • It Pauperises the Peasantry;
  • 12 Landlords “own” (?) London, taking £20,000,000;
  • 500 Peers “own” (?) and entire one-third of England;
  • 4,000 Landlords “own” (?) and entire half of England:
  • the Land Octopus Sucks the Lifeblood of the People.

In many ways, this has not changed that much across the country, although in many instances the landed aristocracy has been replaced with very wealthy individuals, foreign investment, often state owned companies, and private development companies.

Tavistock Square was laid out in the late 18th century, and a terrace of houses along the eastern side of the square had been completed in 1803. These are believed to have been built by James Burton, a prolific London builder, and perhaps one of the most important since Nicholas Barbon.

The houses built by Burton in Tavistock Square had an unusual feature, where the staircase was configured to rise towards the front door, so when you went upstairs, you were walking towards the front of the house, with a landing at the front of the house, and the main rooms towards the rear, looking on small gardens at the rear of the houses, rather than the square.

These houses were demolished in 1938.

The following photo was taken from the southern part of the central gardens, looking north:

Tavistock Square

On the south west corner of the central gardens, we find Virginia Woolf:

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf, the writer, lived in Tavistock Square between 1924 and 1939, in a house along the southern side of the square, which was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War, indeed there was a considerable amount of bomb damage around Bloomsbury, which explains why many of these squares, and some of the surrounding streets, have lost their original terraces of houses, and why you often find a post-war building in the middle of an early 19th century terrace.

In the south east corner of the gardens, is a memorial to Louisa Brandreth Aldrich-Blake (1865 to 1925):

Louisa Aldrich-Blake

Louisa Aldrich-Blake was a pioneering surgeon, from a time when it was difficult for women to have such roles in the medical profession. She was Dean of the London School of Medicine between 1914 and 1925, a Consulting Surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital between 1919 and 1925, and a Surgeon to the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital between 1895 and 1925.

The memorial dates from 1926, and the base, seating and plinth were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, with the bust of Louisa Aldrich-Blake being by the sculptor A. G. Walker.

The monuments to two pioneering women sets the tone for the rest of the gardens, as they contain different memorials to the normal London square, and there is not an aristocrat in sight.

Walking along the central path in the gardens, to the north, and there is a Maple Tree which was planted in 1986 by the League of Jewish Women:

Tavistock Square

In the centre of the square is a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, the lawyer and campaigner for India’s freedom from British rule:

Mahatma Ghandi

The memorial looks recent, but dates from 1968, and was unveiled by Prime Minister Harold Wilson in May of that year. It is Grade II listed, with a base of Portland Stone, with the bronze figure of Ghandi by the sculptor Fredda Brilliant.

The relevance of Tavistock Square to Gandhi is that he attended University College London in Bloomsbury where he studied English literature, and also learning law at the Inner Temple.

Ghandhi’s approach to non-violent protest is reflected in many of the memorials in Tavistock Square, such as the International Year of Peace shown above, and also with another tree, the Friendship Tree planted in 1997 by the High Commissioner for India:

Freindship Tree

And another tree was planted in 1967 in memory of the victims of the atomic bomb dropped on the city of Hiroshima in Japan:

Tavistock Square

At the northern end of the gardens is a large stone memorial which dates from 1994 and is to Conscientious Objectors, “To all those who have established and are maintaining the right to refuse to kill“:

Tavistock Square

The Tavistock Hotel is a large, red brick building, that occupies the whole southern part of the square:

Tavistock Square

The space occupied by the hotel was originally a run of terrace houses. but these were badly damaged during the war. The remains of these buildings were demolished, and the Tavistock Hotel was built in 1951, and became the first hotel built in London after the war.

One of the houses that once occupied the site, was the one where Virginia Woolf and her husband lived whilst in Tavistock Square, and to the side of the entrance to the hotel there is a plaque recording her residence on the site:

Virgina Woolf

All sides of Tavistock Square suffered bomb damage, with the southern, eastern and northern sides being completely rebuilt.

The western side of the street suffered bomb damage at the ends of the long terrace, leaving the majority of the terrace undamaged:

Tavistock Square

This lovely stretch of terrace houses was completed in 1824, and were built by Thomas Cubitt. Although Burton’s terrace on the eastern side of the square were demolished long ago, they were described as being inferior to Cubitt’s terrace, and the terrace is well built, with a pleasing symmetry along the length of the terrace, which is in an Italianate style, with Ionic columns in rows of four, running the height of the terrace from above the ground floor to the balustrade and roof line.

A number of the houses in the terrace are Grade II listed.

Although the terrace looks as if it is comprised of individual terrace houses, the terrace is owned by the University of London and University College of London, and the interiors have been modified and combined to accommodate this new use.

Along the terrace, at number 33, is a plaque between the two ground floor windows:

Ali Mohammed Abbas

The plaque records that Ali Mohammed Abbas lived in a flat in the house between 1945 and 1979.

Abbas arrived in London from India in 1945 to study law and became a Barrister. Following the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan on the 14th of August 1947, Abbas used his flat as an unofficial Pakistan Embassy until the new country set up a full embassy in London.

After Pakistan became an independent country, Abbas remained in London and continued work as a barrister. He also helped set up twenty eight schools all over the country to help Pakistanis who had arrived in the country, speak, read and write in English.

The house in Tavistock Square was his home until his death in 1979.

At the north western corner of the square is another red brick / Portland stone building – Tavistock Court:

Tavistock Square

Tavistock Court is an apartment block, built between 1934 and 1935. It did suffer some light damage during the war, but this was repaired, and the building today looks impressive in the sun, hopefully as the original architect intended.

Next to Tavistock Court, along the north side of Tavistock Square is Woburn House:

Tavistock Square

This a post war building, due to bomb damage to the building originally on the site.

The building is owned by Universities UK, the organisation that represents 140 member universities across the UK, and is another example of the concentration of educational establishments across this part of Bloomsbury.

There are two plaques on the corner of the building which can just be seen in the above photo. The one on the left is to Otto Schiff, who was the founder and director of the Jewish Refugees Committee, which was based in a pre-war building on the site:

Otto Schiff

Otto Schiff and the Jewish Refugees Committee were responsible for persuading the Government to allow Jewish refugees to enter the country, and that they would be funded by Jewish organizations, charities and individuals. The committee also helped with the travel arrangements of transporting refugees from Germany to the UK, and their housing and general support after they had arrived.

The plaque illustrates the dreadful impact on the Jewish population of Europe before and during the second World War, and the second plaque on the corner of the building illustrates another way the war impacted London:

Tavistock Square

There was a significant amount of bomb damage around Bloomsbury. Whether this was trying to target the railway stations along the Euston Road, or just the indiscriminate bombing of London, I do not know, but the plaque does provide a reminder of those in the fire service across the City.

The Auxiliary Fire Service was formed in January 1938 to provide a large uplift in the number of fire fighters to assist the full time fire service. Those who staffed the Auxiliary Fire Service were usually those who were too young or too old for service in the armed forces,

Although being an auxiliary force, they faced the same dangers as the main force, and Stanley and Harry were two of the 327 fire fighters who lost their lives across London during the war.

Standing next to Woburn House, and looking at the north east corner of Tavistock Square, we can see the northern part of the buildings of the British Medical Association:

BMA

The rest of the BMA building is shown in the following photo taken from the gardens at the centre of Tavistock Square:

Tavistock Square

BMA House is an impressive building, and the organisation have occupied the building since 1923 when they purchased the lease. The BMA had originally been based in the Strand.

BMA House was originally designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for a very different organisation, the Theosophical Society, as the future site for their offices and temple. Construction started in 1913, however the First World War intervened and the parts of the building that had been completed were taken over by the Army Pay Office.

When the war ended, the Theosophical Society appears to have run out of funds to complete construction, and the site was taken over by the BMA. The Theosophical Society are still based in London, but at much smaller premises at 50 Gloucester Place.

Sir Edwin Lutyens was reemployed to complete parts of the building and the interior, and to finish the overall site,  Cyril Wontner Smith completed the central entrance from Tavistock Square between 1928 and 1929, and Douglas Wood worked on extensions to the overall building between 1938 and 1960.

The building is Grade II listed.

There is another plaque on the BMA building, recording that Charles Dickens lived in a house near the site of the plaque between 1851 and 1860, his last London home before moving to Gads Hill in Kent.:

Charles Dickens

So there is much to discover in Tavistock Square, where just over 220 years ago there were just fields.

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Building The Tybalds Close Estate

After the devastation of the last war, there was an urgent need to rebuild and housing was a key priority in post war redevelopment. The construction techniques and architectural style were often very different from pre-war housing and new estates sprung up to replace the old street plan. One such location is the Tybalds Close Estate, just north of Theobalds Road.

My father took a couple of photos of the first blocks of the estate being built in 1949:

Tybalds Close Estate

The following photo was taken looking to the right of the above photo and shows the tallest of the first blocks to be built, along with a house in the lower right corner which enabled the location to be identified and also surprised me by showing that you cannot believe that buildings are the age they appear – more on that later in the post.

Tybalds Close Estate

Approval to develop the Tybalds Close Estate was given in 1946 and the estate gradually grew from the late 1940s (when my father’s photos were taken) through to the 1960s when the final tower block was complete.

The first blocks were of a steel frame construction and consisted of one block of 10 storeys (the one on the right in the above photo) and four 7 storey blocks (two of which can be seen on the left of the above photos with the remaining two being built later).

The architects were Robert Hening and Anthony Chitty. They had started their architectural work in the years before the war when their work included a number of regional airports. One of these airports was at Ipswich where despite being Grade II listed, Hening and Chitty’s airport terminal buildings were demolished in 2005.

After war service, Hening and Chitty reformed their partnership and worked on a number of housing developments, commercial, industrial and schools. As well as the Tybalds Close Estate, Hening and Chitty were also responsible for the housing blocks alongside Cromer Street in St. Pancras. The style of both sets of housing blocks is very similar, although the Cromer Street blocks have been through a complete re-cladding.

The buildings were constructed by William Moss and Sons, a company original founded in 1820 and with a long history as an independent construction company until being taken over by the Kier Group in 1984.

The following map shows the location of the Tybalds Close Estate. The overall estate being roughly within the blue oval, with the original parts of the estate as shewn in my father’s photo being within the red oval.  (Map  “© OpenStreetMap contributors”).

Tybalds Close Estate

As can be seen, the area between the housing blocks and where my father was standing was open ground. Originally dense housing, but badly bombed with the area cleared ready for reconstruction.

It is impossible to get a similar view today as the area has been completely built over with large office blocks. The following photo is looking across in the general direction of the original photos. My father was standing somewhere under this large office block to take the originals.

Tybalds Close Estate

The taller of the blocks on the right of the second photo is Blemundsbury House. This is the view of Blemundsbury House today, looking down Harpur Street.

Tybalds Close Estate

This is Windmill House. Not yet started when my father took the original photos, but of the same style and one of Hening and Chitty’s designs. To the left of Windmill House can be seen one of the buildings that was also a steel frame in my father’s photos, at right angles to Blemundsbury House.

Tybalds Close Estate

I mentioned earlier in the post that the location of the photo could be identified by the old house in the lower right corner and that I also found something that demonstrates you cannot always believe what you see.

The following is an extract from the second of my father’s photos. It is an enlargement of the house at the lower right corner of the photo.

Tybalds Close Estate

The house is on the corner of Harpur and Dombey Streets. The following is a photo of the same house today.

Tybalds Close Estate

The house in the original photo looks the worst for wartime damage, however the layour of the windows is the same, the same entrance door, the same seperator at the top of the 3rd floor and the street name sign is in the same place on the corner of the house.

What is really stange is that in the original photo there is no building to the right of the corner house, although today there is a substantial house which looks original in all aspects.

Tybalds Close Estate

This is another view of the two houses. The further being the one in the original photo and the house closest to the camera must be a post war reconstruction of the original house on the site.

The attention to detail is remarkable. The brickwork is the same, the style of the house is the same as the houses in Dombey Street. If I did not have my father’s photo for evidence I would have thought that this was an original Georgian house.

The entrance door to the reconstructed house is shown in the photo below. Note how identical the brick work and the size of the coarse between the bricks is to the wall on the left. There must have been piles of bricks in the area from the bomb damage and I can only assume that bricks and probably door and windows were reused from demolished houses to construct this new house.

Tybalds Close Estate

In the enlargement of the original photo there is a doorway visible to the right of the main house and this was probably the entrance to the original house, but not to Harpur Mews as the sign above the entrance advertises today.

The following map is an extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey map.

Tybalds Close Estate

Harpur Street can be seen to the lower right. Harpur Mews is in the middle of the block and there is no entrance to the mews from Harpur Street. the entrance was from East Street (now Dombey Street) as shown by the building with the X which denotes a building above a through entrance.

The map also shows the dense housing across the area, much of which is now covered by the Tybalds Close Estate. Blemundsbury House occupies the space occupied by the houses to the north of East Street, starting from just to the right of the junction with Harpur Street and running to the left.

I could not find too much information on the area, however I did find a photo of Ormond Yard, the largest space in the centre of the map and now occupied by the Tybalds Close Estate. The following photo was published in The Sphere on the 2nd December 1933 and is one of a series of photos taken by a Mr. William Clark in 1918. Mr. Clark was apparently a Birmingham businessman who was fascinated by London in the time of Dickens and set out to photograph what he could find that was typical of Dickens time and also mentioned in Dickens novels.

The following photo is titled “Ormond Yard, Bloomsbury – Galleried cottages of Dickensian days whose quiet charm is in strange contrast to 20th century London”.

Tybalds Close Estate

The first mentions that I could find of Ormond Yard date back to 1770, and through one hundred plus years there are the usual reports of the casual crime, accidents and violence that could be found across the dense housing of London.

The pub in the centre of the yard was The Crown. A report in the Sporting Life on the 2nd of June 1885 offers a glimpse of life in the yard:

“The Crown, Ormond Yard, Bloomsbury – A high class show took place at this establishment on the 31st, the exhibits consisting of bulldogs, bull terriers, mastiffs, pugs, dachshunds, and almost every variety of choice toy pets. The house, as usual, was well attended by fanciers and dealers. the chair was occupied by Mr. Alfred George faced by Mr Currie, supported by the following;- Messrs Strugnell (champion pugs), Clarke (bull dogs), Anderson (white half-bred dogs), Painter (champion spaniels), Matthews and Taylor (toy black and tan terriers) and Nicholls (mastiffs); also a gentlemen with some remarkably fine dachshunds, and many others together with many strangers. The handsome silver collar for the best bull terrier was taken by Mr. A. George’s Prince, a very handsome dog.

The land on which the Tybalds Close Estate is built was part of the early 18th century expansion of London. Rocque’s map from 1746 shows the area below:

Tybalds Close Estate

The fields to the north and west show that the area at the time was on the edge of built London. At the time, and as probably built, Ormond Yard was a separate smaller yard and the main area was Ormond Mewse – the two areas would later combine as shown in the 1895 map.

The area in which the Tybalds Close Estate is built was originally part of the land donated by Sir William Harpur in 1566 by Sir William Harpur. See my post on Tracing Harpur’s Bedford Charity Estate.

One final point, the larger of the two blocks being built in my father’s photo is Blemundsbury House. The name provides an old connection to the area of Bloomsbury.

Blemundsbury was the original name of Bloomsbury. In turn, Blemundsbury took its name from a 13th century drainage ditch in the area known as Blemund’s Dyke.

The Tybalds Close Estate is at the heart of a fascinating area.

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Senate House And The Ministry Of Information

The University of London was founded in 1836 and went through a succession of locations within London, firstly in Somerset House, then Burlington House, from 1870 in Burlington Gardens, then in 1900 to the Imperial Institute, before starting the move to their new, custom built head offices, Senate House in Bloomsbury, one hundred years later in 1936.

In 1951 my father took a couple of photos showing the building which at the time was the tallest office building in London.

Senate House

The same view is shown in the photo below, taken in 2018 from Keppel Street.

Senate House

The Senate House building looks much the same and just as impressive. The building on the left of the photo is the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. In the 1951 photo there are some wonderful street lights either side of the entrance to the building on the left. They demonstrate how today there is far more street furniture, and there is far less design of what is installed along the streets above the minimum needed for functional and cost effective operation. In the same street today there is a parking pay station, a street lamp and a number of street signs – very different to the 1951 view with a clean street scene and a pair of well designed street lamps.

The following photo was taken from Montague Place, looking across to the tower and one of the lower office blocks that radiate out from the central tower.

Senate House

The same view today is shown in the photo below. The small trees which can be seen in the above photo have grown significantly over the intervening years. Had I taken the same photo in a couple of months, leaves would have almost fully obscured the views of Senate House.

Senate House

Senate House is a very impressive building. It is surprisingly well concealed as you walk around  local streets, the view of the tower will suddenly appear then disappear between buildings. An aerial view is needed to really appreciate how the building stands out. The photo below from the Britain from Above website shows Senate House soon after completion, in the centre of the photo, with the clean Portland Stone facing of the building helping it to stand out from the surrounding streets.

Senate House

Senate House today is a remarkable building, one that I suspect that if there were proposals to demolish would result in lots of complaint and demonstrations, however it replaced a dense network of Georgian buildings.

The following extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey map shows the area around Senate House, with the outline of the overall complex shown by the larger red rectangle, with the smaller central rectangle showing the future location of the tower.

Senate House

Although a significant part of Keppel Street was demolished to make way for the Senate House complex, a small section still survives leading up to Gower Street. Within this section of Keppel Street is an old boundary mark which illustrates the age of the streets.

Senate House

Planning for a new location for the University of London started in the 1920s when Sir William Beveridge persuaded the Rockefeller Foundation to provide funding of £400,000 for a new university head office.

A 10.5 acre site in Bloomsbury was purchased.

In 1931 Charles Holden was selected as the architect for the new building. As well as Senate House, he was also the architect for a number of London Underground stations as well as the head offices of the London Underground at 55 Broadway – he has certainly left London with some iconic buildings.

His proposals were for a building that would last 500 years and offer the University a significant amount of space to consolidate their resources and offer space for expansion.

Holden did not go for a steel structure, rather his design was based on a self supporting masonry structure with internal brickwork and stone facing, which he believed would be more durable.

Holden’s initial design proposed a much larger building than we see today. It was cut back considerably to match the funding available. This initial design is shown in the following drawing which includes the large tower and surrounding buildings that would be built, however the structure continuing back towards a smaller tower stretched the available budget too far and remains one of the many “what ifs” of building design across London.

Senate House

The following aerial photograph shows the proposed site for the new university building outlined by the white line. The photo was taken before construction started. Senate House was built on the area to the right, in the area that had already been cleared. Holden’s original plans would have occupied the whole area bounded by the white line.

Senate House

Construction started on the 29th December 1932 with over 1,300 concrete piles driven into the ground below basement level to provide support for the building that would rise above.

On the 26th June 1933, King George V laid the foundation stone for the new building. It was an impressive ceremony with over 3,000 people attending. The foundation stone is still to be found in its original setting.

Senate House

In 1934 work started on the building above ground level. Up to first floor level engineering brick was used, faced by grey Cornish granite, the walls at ground level were 3ft, 4.5 inches thick. Above first floor level, Portland Stone was used to face the brickwork.

By 1936 the lower administrative block were ready for occupation by university staff.

The tower of 209 feet would be completed in September 1937 with the lower north wing being completed one year later. Further development of the complex continued until the outbreak of war in 1939.

John Curry of Personal Films Ltd was commissioned to film the construction of Senate House, however his work only ran up to the placing of the foundation stone. To mark the 50th anniversary of Senate House, the University of London took the individual parts of the film and released as a single copy. It is a fascinating view of the initial stages of construction as well as 1930s construction techniques when health and safety equipment extended to a flat cap and rolled up shirt sleeves.

The film can be found here – it really is worth a watch.

I have taken a couple of screen shots from the film. The first shows Charles Holden (on the right) with Dr. Edwin Deller, the Principal of the University of London. They are surveying the location of Senate House in the early days of site clearance.

Senate House

Dr. Edwin Deller would later tragically die in November 1936 following an accident onsite during construction when a skip fell on a group of University staff.

Another screenshot shows a view across the construction site:

Senate House

The north and south wings of Senate House along with the tower had been completed by the end of 1938, and staff from the University of London had moved into the building, however their occupation of the new landmark building would not last for long.

The Ministry of Information

On the outbreak of war in 1939, Senate House was taken over by the Ministry of Information – a function for which the design of the building, particularly the tower seemed very well suited. After the war, George Orwell would use Senate House as the inspiration for the Ministry of Truth in his book 1984.

The Ministry of Information was responsible for an extensive range of Government communication and information, including, censorship, news, publicity and propaganda, films, radio broadcasts, pamphlets, exhibitions at home and across allied countries.

A large room was set up in the Senate House for news briefings. Other activities carried out included reviewing and censoring news and photographs, the design and build of travelling exhibitions, design of posters, planning and implementation of publicity campaigns, teams for photography and filming to support the aims of the Ministry of Information.

The following photo shows a Ministry of Information mobile film unit leaving Senate House:

Senate House

Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205195723

One of the ongoing publicity campaigns of the Ministry of Information was to show what could be achieved despite the very significant rationing of so many different products.

This included clothing and fashion and the Ministry of Information produced photos and the supporting messages to show what could be achieved with limited resources. Many of these photos were taken in the area around Senate House, including the following photo of a model on a rooftop in Bloomsbury with Senate House in the background. The message was that austerity fashion does not have to be drab and the model is wearing a design by Norman Hartnell with the material being available for seven clothing coupons.

Senate House

Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205192912

From the start of operation, the Ministry of Information was very unpopular with the news media. The requirement for censorship, the limited provision of information, and how information was controlled and distributed were all a cause for concern.

The speed with which the Ministry of Information was set up, along with the majority of people working for the Ministry having no media background caused a rather chaotic start.

This was not helped by the rapid change of ministers in charge of the operation. The Ministry of Information went through three different ministers before stabilising under Brendan Bracken in July 1941.

Press reaction to the Ministry of Information can be understood by the following article printed in “The Sphere” on the 7th October 1939:

The recently created Ministry of Information (it came into official being only on the outbreak of war) has aroused a storm of criticism from all sections of the nation in the brief month of its existence – both on account of its Censorship activity and on account of its meagre bulletins and ‘statements’. The position fairly stated would be (1) that what the public wants to know the Ministry will not tell it; and (2) that what the Ministry tells it the public do not want to know.

Even the Times, strong supporter of the Government, has been roused to make the strongest criticism of the Ministry.

The most serious criticism, however, came in the House of Commons last week when it was revealed that the total staff employed at the headquarters of this newest government department number 872, with a further 127 in regional offices.

But of this total of 999, only 43 were actually engaged in the profession of journalism at the time of their appointment. What the qualifications of the other 956 are for inclusion in a Ministry of Information we have not yet been told !”

The qualifications of those who worked in the Ministry of Information can be seen in the following photo which was captioned “Squadron Leader Elsdon (on left) censoring photographs at Senate House, London University”:

Senate House

Another example of photography produced by the Ministry of Information. This one titled “How a British Woman dresses in wartime: Utility clothing in Britain in 1943”

Senate House

Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205200189

The photo shows a utility suit purchased from Dickens and Jones for eighteen clothing coupons and 82 shillings and 2 pence. the photo was taken at the entrance to Senate House.

The Ministry of Information was also concerned with countering perceived threats to the nation’s willingness to fight. The ministry also set up local committees who would take action where there was a challenge, and the following article from the Worthing Herald on the 12th March 1940 titled “Organised False Pacifism To Be Fought” illustrates the actions of the ministry:

“The Ministry of Information is going to do everything it possibly can to fight the ‘organised false pacifism’ of the Peace Pledge Union. 

This declaration was made at a Worthing meeting on Tuesday by Mr. H.S. Banner, Regional Information Officer, after he had been told by Councillor J.A. Mason that classes were being held ‘not far from here’ at which young men were given all the answers they might need when they come before Conscientious Objectors’ Tribunals.”

Travelling exhibitions were designed, tested and built at Senate House before being distributed across the country. The following photo shows part of a “Make Do And Mend” exhibition, with the poster on the left calling the population to “Make War On Moths”. The poster on the right titled “Forget About Clothes Convention” is advising people that they do not need to stick to conventions such as always wearing a hat, and that a hat was only required in specific weather conditions. This would help reduce the need for clothing materials. Campaigns such as this go some way to explaining how in pre-war photos people would nearly always be wearing hats, whilst post war, this convention had dropped significantly

Senate House

Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205195736

The following photo shows a typical Ministry of Information travelling exhibition, parked outside Senate House.

Senate House

Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205195734

The aim of the exhibition is to encourage the collection and recycling of materials essential for the war effort, or, as the sign on the side of the car proclaims “Private Scrap is in town…come and meet him”.

On the side of the van facing the rear of the car is a book collection point, “for the forces, blitzed libraries, and salvage”.

The Ministry of Information also had a fleet of travelling cinemas as this newspaper report explains:

“The Ministry of Information’s fleet of travelling cinemas is to give over 3,600 shows during 1942 in the Eastern region, according to a statement just issued reviewing the work of the past year and plans for the future. By the end of this year approximately 2,500 shows will have been given to an estimated audience of half a million people.

The story of the Ministry of Information’s ‘Celluloid Circus’, as it is sometimes affectionately called is a fascinating one. Since its birth a year ago the units have traveled thousands of miles, setting up their equipment each night to show their films in village halls in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire.

it is a business of ‘one night stands’ – and then on to the next village next day. Sometimes it will be a ‘midnight matinée’ between shifts at a war factory; sometimes a ‘fit-up’ in a barn for a group of the new agricultural workers.”

It is remarkable how many operations and activities were undertaken by the Ministry of Information. All coordinated from the head offices of the ministry in the Senate House.

Towards the end of the war, various activities of the Ministry of Information started to wind down and academic staff and students began to return to Senate House. The Ministry of Information was finally disbanded in March 1946.

There are still some reminders of the streets that Senate House obliterated. For example in the courtyard of Senate House there is the plaque shown in the photo below to the Trollope family who lived in Keppel Street.

Senate House

The building is a remarkable example of 1930s architecture. It is intriguing to wonder whether it will last for 500 years as proposed by Charles Holden. The building could also have been very much larger if full funding had been available and this part of Bloomsbury would have been very different. London is full of such speculation.

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Russell Square And Librairie Internationale

For this week’s post, I am in Russell Square in Bloomsbury, just north of Holborn Station. At 73 Russell Square was the Librairie Internationale and my father took three photos of this location in 1953. I suspect this may have been to capture people walking past and entering the shop. The three photos are shown below:

Russell Square

Russell Square

Russell Square

The location is easy to find and is on the corner of Russell Square and Guildford Street. A new building is on the site and rather than the Librairie Internationale, the site is now occupied by a Pret. The buildings on the left in Guildford Street remain unchanged.

Russell Square

It has been a challenge to find out more about the Librairie Internationale and any information would be greatly appreciated.

From what references I can find, the Librairie Internationale appears to have been somewhat of a Communist / Anarchist bookshop perhaps associated with the anarchist bookshops of the same name in France in the 19th Century (again, this is very sketchy information, so any corrections or further information would be appreciated).

I have found references to the Librairie Internationale selling copies of Karl Marx publications in the 1920s and in the 1930s as one of the bookshops in London where you could purchase pamphlets such as those produced by the London Freedom Group, whose paper “Freedom – A Journal of Libertarian Thought, Work And Literature” included the address of the Librairie Internationale in Russell Square as one of the London bookshops and newsagents where Freedom could be purchased.

Freedom makes interesting reading. It was published by the London Freedom Group and had an editorial address at 163 Jubilee Street, Mile End.

Despite being something of an anarchist publication, Freedom has a very polite tone. The issue of January 1931 contains an obituary of a Mrs Dryhurst and reads:

“Mrs N.F. Dryhurst’s smiling, charming face was, since the late 80’s, noticeable at all meetings of the Anarchist cause, speaking, debating, handing out bills, or going round with the collection plate; nothing was too much or too little for her to do.

In ‘Freedom’ she occupied a most important position: often editing while Mrs. Wilson was away; writing up notes and comments on contemporary events; corresponding with comrades all over the country; getting them to send up reports of propaganda; putting ship-shape all their notices and reports.

With her command of foreign languages she was able to render great service to ‘Freedom’ in translating and reviewing works; while her inborn Irish humour added charm to all her writing.

I cannot but recall with feelings of deep gratitude how Mrs. Dryhurst, during those years, would in spite of her middle-class education and upbringing, cordially interest herself in and render help to every comrade of the most down-trodden class who was fortunate enough to come in contact with her.”

In the correspondence section there is a letter from the Polish Anarchist Committee which reads:

“The Committee of Polish Anarchists abroad wish to inform all those comrades who desire to get into contact with us that our new address for correspondence and money is Madam Andree Peche, 15 Rue du Faubourg, Saint-Denis, Paris.”

I have ready many books and documents in researching articles for my blog and I am often struck by words that have been written many decades ago which you could also find being written today.

Take the following paragraphs from an article in Freedom of January 1931, 86 years ago this month.

“It has been pointed out that just as the old individualist capitalist is passing away, becoming, in the face of International Capitalism, merely a kind of rudimentary organ in a newer and world-wide industrial system, so national governments become more and more helpless to remedy unemployment. They belong to a passing era.

Still, in spite of the impotence of governments, the present slump, like previous ones, will liquidate itself largely  at the expense of the workers, and be followed by a boom period, in which the lessons of the present will be largely forgotten unless we are able to increase our propaganda and keep them alive. As soon as the boom appears, financial operations in industry – now passing more and more into the hands of the big banks and international financiers – will be busy transforming industrial undertakings wherever they are ripe for it, into international concerns.”

Echoes today of the way that international concerns treat taxation and the inability of individual governments to exercise control.

Probably unfair to base a view of the Librairie Internationale on the contents of one publication that could be purchased at the shop in 1931 – however I have been able to find very little information about this book shop.

When my father took these photos in 1953, global politics were entering a very new era compared to the 1930s and I wonder if the Librairie Internationale was still selling the types of publication available pre-war. Looking at the detail in my father’s photos it looks very much like a normal bookshop / newsagent.

Around the door are copies of American magazines including Life and Colliers Magazine and in the shop there are large maps on display along with signs advertising Easter Cards, Book Tokens and a sign to “Scatter Sunshine With Greeting Cards”, along with pictures of Queen Elizabeth II.

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In the entrance to the shop, it is just possible to make out lettering on the pavement.

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The same sign (or perhaps a later reproduction) remains to this day at the entrance to Pret. The Turkish Baths that the sign is pointing to were a short distance away from the Librairie Internationale, in the original Imperial Hotel.

Russell Square

There is still an Imperial Hotel in Russell Square, although the existing building replaces the original which was demolished in 1966 and was the home of the Turkish Baths Arcade. View of the current Imperial Hotel from opposite Pret.

Russell Square

The full view of the Imperial Hotel.

Russell Square

The original Imperial Hotel was design by Charles Fitzroy Doll and built between 1905 and 1911. View of the Imperial Hotel in the 1960s before demolition:

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Hermione Hobhouse in her book Lost London from 1971 writes the following about the Imperial Hotel:

“The Imperial Hotel was demolished in 1966, partly because of its lack of bathrooms, and partly because, in the words of the G.L.C., ‘the whole frame….was so structurally unsound that there was no possibility of saving it if a preservation order had been placed on the building.’ It may have been a victim, too, of the time-lag in official taste – it is interesting to see that in 1970-1 the owners of the Russell Hotel, a similar but less extravagant terracotta building designed by Doll in 1898, now on the statutory list of historic buildings, are spending £1 million on restoration, rather than just demolishing and rebuilding.”

The Russell Hotel (now called The Principal London) is still on Russell Square but when I visited the Square the majority of the building was covered in scaffolding and plastic sheeting so very little of the building was visible.

Having found the location of the Librairie Internationale I took a walk around Russell Square in the gradually fading light of a sunny December afternoon.

The Square, and Bloomsbury in general, needs a far more detailed description of this fascinating area, however here is an introduction.

Russell Square is the large square in the upper section of the map below, and Bloomsbury Square is in the lower right. Originally Bedford House looked onto Bloomsbury Square and the house and gardens covered the area now occupied by the land in between Russell and Bloomsbury Square and part of Russell Square.

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Bedford House was the London home of the Dukes of Bedford and in 1800, the 5th Duke, Sir Francis Russell ordered the demolition of Bedord House and arranged for the land of northern Bloomsbury to be developed with the architect James Burton responsible for much of the design. Russell Square was the centre piece of this development and the garden was designed by the landscape gardener Humphrey Repton.

Repton published Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening in 1803 which covered both his ideas on landscape gardening, but also how landscape and architecture should be seamlessly integrated. The book is fascinating and shows the level of detail that went into designing gardens in the 8th and 19th Centuries. The following illustration from the book shows how spectators at different points in a landscape would see a different view:

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John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows Bedford House and gardens north of Bloomsbury Square. The exact location of Russell Square can be identified by comparing with the location of Bloomsbury Square and, on the right, Queen’s Square.

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The following print (©Trustees of the British Museum) was published in 1822 (from an original drawing purchased at the sale in Bedford House) and shows Bedford House. the text reads:

“This Mansion which for more than a Century was the Town residence of the noble Family of Russel Earls and Dukes of BEDFORD: was built under the direction of the celebrated  Architect Inigo Jones on the site of an ancient Mansion called Southampton House belonging in 1667 to Lady Rachel Vaughan, who married Wm. Lord Russell and by this Union conveyed the Estate, including the ground on which Montague House, now the British Museum was built to the Russell Family. In the year 1800 Bedford House was taken down, and upon the site of the Mansion House and Gardens a number of large Houses called Bedford Place and Montague Street were erected by Francis the late Duke of Bedford.”

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Walking up Bedford Place from Bloomsbury Square (which takes you through where the house and gardens once stood) you arrive at Russell Square with the statue of Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford, standing at the edge of the gardens looking down to where his house once stood.

Russell Square

The following print (©Trustees of the British Museum) from 1830 shows the statue of the Duke of Bedford in Russell Square with a group of people gathered to watch a puppet show on the road in front of the statue.

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The gardens were restored in 2002 to Repton’s original design.

Russell Square

Russell Square House on the northern side of the square.Russell Square

This building is on the site of a terrace of houses in one of which lived Sir George Williams, founder for the YMCA which is now recorded by a blue plaque on the front of the building.

Russell Square

Terrace of buildings on the northwest corner of Russell Square. I like the symmetry of the terrace above the ground floor (with the exception of one window on the roof). Not sure why this symmetry did not extend to the ground floor.

Russell Square

On the far right of the above terrace there is the plaque shown in the photo below commemorating Sir Samuel Romilly as a one time resident. Romilly had a distinguished career in the legal profession and was also the MP for Queensborough, but was mainly known for his reforming work by abolishing many of the penalties which were still considered a capital offence.

Russell Square

On the north-western side of the square is a run of relatively modern buildings in a neo-Georgian style.  These are on the site of a terrace of Georgian buildings built soon after 1800 and designed by James Burton. The new buildings were built in this style after so much of Georgian Bloomsbury had been destroyed by the University of London.

Russell Square

The Senate House building of London University seen between a gap in the buildings along the western edge of Russell Square.

Russell Square

Original Georgian Terrace on the south-west corner of Russell Square:

Russell Square

Terrace on the south-west corner adjacent to the junction with Montague Street:

Russell Square

At the corner of Bedford Place with Russell Square is this relatively modern building.

Russell Square

Above the entrance to this building is a plaque which was on the original house on the site from the time of the development of Russell Square, recording that Lord Denman, the Lord Chief Justice of England lived in the original house on the site between 1816 and 1834. The plaque on the left records that the original house had stood on the site from 1800 to 1962.

Russell Square

By the time I had walked around the square, the sun was getting very low and casting the whole of the square into a late winters afternoon shadow, however the sun was now picking out details at roof level which included a number of superb chimney pots including the ones in the following photo.

Russell Square

I am pleased I have found the location of the Librairie Internationale, although I am still unsure of the history of the shop and I have been unable to find any reference to when it opened or closed.  Any information on the Librairie Internationale would be really appreciated.

It was fascinating researching Russell Square as it illustrates the problem I have with writing a weekly post. One photo opened up anarchist organisations in London, the development of Bloomsbury and landscape gardening, a rather interesting mix in just one of London’s many squares.

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