Tag Archives: Bloomsbury

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.

librairie-internationale-22

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

librairie-internationale-21

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:

librairie-internationale-23

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.

librairie-internationale-24

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:

librairie-internationale-26

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.

librairie-internationale-25

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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