On one of our trips to London, Himself and I stayed in a small Bloomsbury hotel—a lodging located only the depth of two narrow streets from where the No. 30 double-decker bus was destroyed by a terrorist attack on July 7, 2005. Here's my contemporary journal on the neighborhood from our 2000 visit. Click the links and walk with us.
In September 2000, we stayed in a small hotel in the heart of London’s Bloomsbury district, the point being to lodge within walking distance of the British Museum. Our lodging suited that purpose beautifully, but as we soon discovered, there is much more to this area than just the museum.
Indeed, when Victoria ascended the throne of Britain, Bloomsbury was a prestigious address—and much of the graciousness of that period has endured. Our hotel, for example, was located on a quaint 19th-century crescent lined with graceful, comfortable townhouses facing a park—a town residence straight out of Masterpiece Theater. By the late 19th century, Bloomsbury became a literary and publishing center, and during the early decades of the 20th century, it served as the unofficial headquarters of the Bloomsbury Set, the creative rebels and trendsetters of their era. "Blue plaques" adorning exterior walls throughout Bloomsbury provide a long list of illustrious former residents, including Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charles Dickens, and Virginia Woolf.
We were pretty much oblivious to this distinguished past as we took the first of our pre-breakfast walks near our hotel. Despite our eager anticipation of a "full English breakfast," we had the presence of mind to notice that our Bloomsbury neighborhood "felt" very much like a village. At street level, small shops of all types displayed their wares, with offices and flats located on upper floors. The smell of fresh-baked goods tantalized our appetites as we turned a corner, and a whiff of coffee caught our notice. Fittingly for a first morning in London, we stopped to purchase a stash of real English Cadbury and a small supply of postcards at a shop located on the ground floor in a building of indeterminable age. We noted that Bloomsbury doesn't suffer from a shortage of pubs, most of which were small and seemed entirely local—not a chain store in sight. As the days passed, we would happily sample food and ale at several of those pubs.
Our first walk took us out of our crescent and over to Euston Road, then to St. Pancras Station, opposite the intersection of Euston Road and Judd Street. With its magnificent red sandstone facade, St. Pancras is always glorious. Our draw on that first morning in early autumn was a misty vale of softly filtered light that reflected the sandstone in hues of pink and dark rose and muted orange—like an impressionist canvas. We turned south on Judd, then made our way back to the hotel via Tavistock Road, enjoying the ambience and quiet of this well-ordered community.
Along the way, we also passed Brunswick Square where we encountered a ‘60s-vintage concrete apartment block that could have been straight out of a Soviet 5-year plan. It had a good deal less ambiance, its principal quality being a drabness undistinguished by a respectable patina of age. No antique this: it was a bona-fide product of the late 20th century—and it looked entirely out of place. Its courtyard opened onto a retail center of the same approximate age. Here we found the neighborhood Safeway and other assorted modern shops. From the plaza, we found that the back side of the apartment block was terraced rather than strictly vertical. Here we discovered (not for either the first or last time) the British talent for making flowers grow in unlikely places. The terraces with their floral adornments made the drab-looking block of flats seem far more inviting.
Other walks in Bloomsbury took us around Russell Square , past buildings belonging to the University of London, and, of course, past the stately structure that houses the British Museum. On a last excursion during the pre-dawn hours, we found genuine calm within the giant, ancient metropolis of London. We saw and heard virtually no traffic, and the only other persons we encountered were a street cleaner and a cabbie. The sleeping city and its streets and sidewalks were ours, the moon shone brightly above us, and we felt absolutely safe and content.