Archive for July, 2011

East of Bloomsbury, Part 1: Around Brunswick Square

July 26, 2011 2 comments

This is the first part of a walking tour following a Pevsner Perambulation in part of Bloomsbury, London. See the introduction for fuller details; page references are to the Pevsner Buildings of England series volume London 4: North.

The tour starts at Russell Square Underground station. If arriving by train, come out of the exit and turn right into Bernard Street. Diagonally opposite a bit further along looms the Brunswick Centre, of which more in a moment. First, we cross over the road to look at the station itself, not noticed by Pevsner, dating from 1906 with red glazed brick typical of Underground stations of this period.

Russell Square Underground Station

Russell Square Underground Station

12-28 Bernard St, London WC1

12-28 Bernard St, London WC1

12-28 Bernard Street are immediately beside the station, a neat brick terrace of 1802 from the original development of this area. These are typical of the streets round about here; clearly they are now all owned by the same organisation, presumably the University, and it looks as if they have all been restored together at some point. Certainly the doorways and windows are all nicely scrubbed.


International Hall, Brunswick Square

International Hall, Brunswick Square

Continuing along Bernard St which becomes the southern side of Brunswick Square, we find International Hall, a University Hall of Residence (see p281), a large uninteresting slab built between 1958 and 1967 which more or less fills that side of the square.


Foundling Hospital Museum

Foundling Hospital Museum, Brunswick Square

Brunswick Square isn’t really a square, in the usual urban sense, as the east side is missing. I assume there never have been buildings on this side, as it was where the Foundling Hospital previously stood, and is now Coram’s Field. The buildings now surrounding the gardens in its centre are now so unalike that it has lost any sense of unity. We walk through the gardens to the opposite (north) side. In the corner is the Foundling Hospital Museum, a neat enough building of 1937 but which is really picked out for the survival within of some furnishings from the original Hospital. I haven’t been inside. In front of it stands a statue of the founder, Thomas Coram.

Thomas Coram statue

Statue of Thomas Coram, Brunswick Square

School of Pharmacy

School of Pharmacy, Brunswick Square

Immediately next to the Foundling Museum filling the rest of the north side of the square is the large bulk of the School of Pharmacy (see p.280), “grimly symmetrical” according to Pevsner. Personally, I didn’t find it the most grim building on the tour.

Brunswick Centre from Brunswick Square

Having ignored it until now, it is time to address the Brunswick Centre which dominates the west side of the square. This is a huge concrete fortress built between 1968-72, and quite why anybody thought this would enhance the area visually I have no idea. Pevsner has a lot to say about this building, but what he fails to say is that it is an ugly concrete lump. A refurbishment programme started in 1998 after Pevsner was published and seems to have softened it a little. It presents its most brutal face to the square, including the main entrance, which stands out prominently, if starkly.

Brunswick Centre piazza

Brunswick Centre piazza

We now go through the entrance in the centre (by the cinema entrance) to the central piazza, which is rather more humane, being full of shops at the (raised) ground level with flats above and is where the cascade design at higher levels can be best appreciated. The Brunswick Centre’s own website gives additional views (including some aerial ones) and background information.

Marchmont St Brunswick Centre

Brunswick Centre, Marchmont Street side

Leaving via the NW corner (by Waitrose) into gives us a chance to look at the side adjoining Marchmont St. This face gives another good view of the stepped design of the upper levels and the greenhouse-style windows which soften the overall harshness of the concrete.

Marchmont Street

Marchmont Street

Immediately opposite the exit from the Brunswick Centre is a terrace on the west side of Marchmont St, stretching northwards. This is part of the original development of the early 1800s and provides a contrast to what we have seen; Pevsner invites us to “ponder” on it.

The next section of the tour continues in Herbrand St, which is reached via Coram St, opposite the exit from the Brunswick Centre.

(Link updated 18/10/2011)


East of Bloomsbury: Brunswick Square to Gray’s Inn Road

July 25, 2011 4 comments

This is the first of a series of posts that will gradually follow describing a walking tour following a Pevsner Perambulation in part of Bloomsbury, London

Cartwright Gardens

Cartwright Gardens, London WC1

A feature of Pevsner’s Buildings of England series are the ‘perambulations’ – the term must have been archaic even in the 1950s when Pevsner started writing, nevertheless subsequent editors have retained it. Following them can be a good way to get to know a place, and during lunchtimes I have followed the ones within reach of my office. Of these, this one (Holborn 5, in the London North volume) has the greatest variety, containing a mixture of the original early 19th Century private residential development, institutions and later 20th Century public housing.  

This is a part of London that will be familiar to many people visiting for business or leisure, being near to Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross stations and many of the main University of London sites in Bloomsbury. That said, the area covered contains no prominent landmarks, and will probably not be one that most people, even those who regularly pass by, know well.  

To me, it is its very ordinariness that makes it interesting. I am not an architectural historian; my interest is as a sometime geographer, to see how this area has come to be the way it is today and how its past still affects the present. Following Pevsner’s architectural tour is a way to do that.  

Despite Pevsner’s designation, most of this area was originally in the parish (and later Borough) of St Pancras, rather than Holborn, both eventually being absorbed into the London Borough of Camden. It covers the area between Woburn Place in the west and King’s Cross Road in the east, and from Euston Road to the north and Guilford Street to the south.  

Parish markers in Lamb's Conduit St, London WC1

Parish Markers in Lamb's Conduit St, London WC1

It traverses most of the ground within these limits, sometimes in following it we retrace our steps, other times the route loops around and we find ourselves opposite where we were a few minutes before. The distances are quite short, and sometimes what reads like a complicated set of directions is more or less “just over there”.  

Brunswick Centre sign

Brunswick Centre sign

This is quite an interesting area to explore, as it was first developed from just before 1800 and was fully built up by about 1840. Although some of it, especially in the southern part, was initially upmarket, by the end of the 19th century much of it had become filled by sub-standard and overcrowded working class housing. Slum clearances and wartime bomb damage were replaced by some large public housing developments through most of the 20th century. More recently, commercial uses have encroached on formerly residential properties. Despite the dramatic changes in London during the last decade or so, nearly all the buildings identified on the tour when the book was published in 1998 remain standing, and few, if any, obviously significant new ones have been built since then.  

When I quote Pevsner, most of the time of course I really mean the editor of this particular edition, Bridget Cherry. I expect in practice few of the Pevsner’s original comments from the 1950s have survived through to the 1998 version, which has been much expanded on the original, and those that do are often quoted directly.  

Most of the photos were taken during lunchtimes in the spring/summer months of 2008 to 2010, when the weather was fair (which wasn’t often). Some photos are better than others, as light conditions at lunchtime varied and were not always ideal for photographing north-facing buildings, which in a handful of cases simply could not be photographed. As anyone can tell I am not a professional photographer and just have a fairly simple camera. On the whole I haven’t made a point of going back to get a better photograph, so if the best one I’ve got isn’t quite straight or lacks contrast, I hope it is still good enough to illustrate the point. There are also many other photos available on the Geograph site.
More information

Tonbridge St, WC1 view to St Pancras clock tower

Tonbridge St, WC1 view to St Pancras clock tower

The perambulation is found on pp328-333 of London: North, I have also done my best to identify all buildings in other sections (i.e. public buildings) that are in the same area but are not necessarily mentioned in the text.  

This area falls mostly within Ordnance Survey Grid Square TQ3082.  

An older view of most of this area is within this section of Greenwood’s map of 1827.  

Also see the Finsbury West map from 1885.  

Finally, much of the area can be followed by Google’s street view, although there are some gaps. At the time of writing it looks like most of Google’s pictures date from summer 2008.

The tour starts at Russell Square Underground station.


Bridget Cherry and Nicolaus Pevsner (1998), London 4: North (Buildings of England), Yale University Press edition 2002.