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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.