Where does a self-respecting bluestocking hang out in Bloomsbury? Here’s a selection of my favourite places.
For anyone heading that way, I compiled a list of favourite places in East Anglia, during my summer as a temporary resident of the Broads.
Books: An embarrassment of riches.
There’s the London Review Bookshop on Bury Place, where literary biography and history is particularly strong. Not to mention a civilised cup of tea and a cake. And for those all-important second-hand academic moments, find me in Judd Books on Marchmont Street. Finally, who could resist a bookshop with a piano? Not me, which is one reason to drop into the Brunswick Centre’s Skoob Books (another being the palindromic title).
But for a bookshop that makes my heart sing with joy, it has to be Persephone Books on Lamb’s Conduit Street. A street of many charms, but none greater than this bookshop-come-spiritual-home for Bloomsbury ladies. For the uninitiated, Persephone publishes books, mainly by women, that have fallen out of print. They are a treasure house of forgotten classics, taking in recipe books and household tips (the incomparable How to Run Your Home Without Help), poetry (It’s Hard to be Hip After 30) and heaving-bosom novels (I defy anyone not to enjoy The Making of a Marchioness). All most elegantly presented in dove-grey covers. It’s the sort of venture that really shouldn’t exist in the modern world. But oh, it does, it does. Time to go and buy another one.
Tea and cake
Oh, the delights of a nice cup of tea and a cake. The LRB, as above, does pretty well. But I love the pretty little Patisserie Deux Amis on Judd Street more. Patisserie Valerie in the Brunswick Centre is nice, but they’re everywhere now and somehow that little bit less special than they were.
A relatively new arrival on Marchmont Street: Fork Deli serves terrific coffee and pastries.
Something a little stronger
Bloomsbury Real Ale women favour The Lamb on Lamb’s Conduit Street (see review) for a quiet lunchtime half of ale. The Euston Tap is fun, too, a tiny pub in an odd little classical lodge right outside Euston Station. There’s a wide selection of ales on tap and a vast selection of bottled beer. Real ale connoisseurs head for CAMRA favourite, The Bree Louise on Coburg Street, but it was a tad spit’n’sawdust for me last time I went.
I’m rather partial to the tumblers of red wine they serve in the Norfolk Arms on Leigh Street. And the eclectic mixture of Spanish tapas and rib-sticking main dishes that come with it. A mere totter away in Covent Garden is the Covent Garden Hotel, whose bar does a very fine glass or two of champagne. And rather a nice afternoon tea, come to that.
Museums and galleries
You probably don’t need me to tell you to go to the British Museum (although I can now direct tourists there in several languages, within a 2-mile radius). But while you’re fighting your way through to the Rosetta Stone and the Egyptian mummies, take a moment out to visit the Print galleries, which are much quieter and often have some lovely things on display. I find the Korean galleries a haven of tranquility, too. I’ve often contemplated moving into the serene scholar’s house, all parchment colours, tea bowls and beautiful writing implements. Surely a Macbook would fit right in?
Just across the Euston Road, the British Library holds treasures. I find nothing induces calm like popping into the library at lunchtime to take a long, refreshing view of the Lindesfarne Gospels, or Caxton’s printing of The Canterbury Tales. Who needs to worry about deadlines with examples like these?
A little further along Euston Road, the Wellcome Collection is endlessly diverting. There are usually three distinct galleries open. My favourite, Medicine Man, shows the collection of Henry Wellcome himself, an eccentric American who made a fortune out of tablets and spent it on collecting anything and everything to do with medicine, health, the human body. The resulting collection is astonishing, terrifying and hilarious by turns. And the tea and cakes are of a high standard too, with Peyton and Byrne running the catering.
Essential for city living, and Bloomsbury is rich in them. There’s Gordon Square, recently re-landscaped, where you can wander round and gawp at the blue plaques. Mind you don’t trip over the UCL students lying on the grass.
Russell Square is a busy crossroads, but it’s fun to watch children playing in the central fountain. I like to go early, with a newspaper, and have a cup of coffee outside the cafe, watching the commuters bustle by.
I counted 12 dogs being walked the other morning in St George’s Gardens, a slip of land with lovely planting, between Judd Street and Mecklenburg Square. It’s a local park, for local people (and lots of office workers at lunchtime).
Another wee gem is Camley Street nature park, down by the Regent’s canal. It’s full of delights, including woodland, meadows, ponds and water gardens, where butterflies and dragonflies flit and flutter. There’s a teepee, a woodcraft centre and you can even buy plants.
Close by is St Pancras Old Church’s church yard. It’s a tiny church, surrounded by a charming graveyard. No really. Go for the John Sloane memorial, shaped like the telephone boxes he inspired, and the Hardy tree, where Thomas Hardy was (bizarrely) responsible for moving graves out of the way of the railway, and grouped them around a single tree. Fellow bluestockings will like to know that Mary Wollestonecraft is buried there – and that her daughter Mary was courted by the young Percy Shelley at her graveside.