Reviews: Bloomsbury A Square Mile
Bloomsbury is home to the British Museum and numerous educational institutions, including the University College London and the University of London. The location is also known for being the home of the Bloomsbury Set, a group of famous British intellectuals, including author Virginia Woolf and economist John Maynard Keynes. However for many visitors to the area, despite the Georgian streets and attractive garden squares, Bloomsbury is not really considered a place to explore.
A new book by Edward Arnold entitled Bloomsbury, A Square Mile challenges many assumptions about Bloomsbury and explores the area’s rich past and its dynamic present. The author in his introduction considers the book as a history and present-day guide of the Bloomsbury area. The book is also a personal journey for the author who was born and spent his early years in the area.
One of the early questions in the book is where is Bloomsbury? This is a good question because like many London neighbourhoods, there are often debates around boundaries. The author decides to create his own boundaries with Euston Road in the north, Gray’s Inn Road in the east, Holborn to the south and Fitzrovia to the west.
The book features a short history of the area that gives some insights into its unique development. For centuries, Bloomsbury was a rural area before development started in the 17th century, the Russell family in particular owned considerable parts of the estate. The founding of the British Museum in the 18th century and the development of education and medical institutions in the 19th century gave the area its particular character and attracted residents from the upper or middle classes. The book includes a section on the Bloomsbury Group who fascinated and shocked British social attitudes at the beginning of the 20th century.
The main part of the book takes the reader through various distinct areas within Bloomsbury to explore some of the well known and not so well known stories. The fascinating story of the Foundling Hospital includes the Sad Tale of the Marchmont Street Tokens. Sections on the development of the Great Ormond Street Hospital and other medical institutions illustrate the pioneering spirit of the area, it is hardly surprising that Charles Dickens lived and prospered when he lived in Doughty Street.
The author makes the valid point that the entire central part of Bloomsbury can be described as one large university campus with the various educational institutions including the University of London and University College London. Where there are students, there is usually a lively social scene and the book includes a number of pubs and shops of interest.
Modern Bloomsbury is not ignored, with sections on the Brunswick shopping centre and many of the quirky bookshops in the area. Many of the famous squares in the area that are a welcome oasis of peace for students and visitors have their own interesting stories.
One of the strange aspects of Bloomsbury is that it is familiar yet little understood, this fascinating and informative book gives the reader considerable insight into one of London’s more enigmatic areas. This comprehensive book with plenty of illustrations and photographs is useful to those who want to explore the area for the first time and seasoned London explorers who wish to find many of its hidden delights.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
“A guidebook you will actually read from cover to cover.”
Enthusiastically written by Edward Arnold, - this guidebook meanders through the streets of London’s Bloomsbury revealing its history and not so obvious places of interest through brief and interesting stories. This link between Bloomsbury’s past and present makes it one of the most entertaining guidebooks I have ever read.
The book is indexed and referenced in a user-friendly way that helps you select places to visit with ease. The book covers all the famous places and introduces the Bloomsbury Group as you would expect. But what sets this book apart from the rest is the bite-sized abundance of really interesting information along with the authors fresh and personal approach.
The clear maps and photographs are an added bonus to this full colour, compact and informative upbeat book.
Highly recommended: Packed with fascinating information and very well written. I thoroughly enjoyed this practical guide/history book. It is packed with fascinating information that includes entertaining short histories on every place of interest. The structure of the book and content is straightforward yet very comprehensive. I did not realise how much Bloomsbury had to offer and thanks to this book, I extended our stay by another day. It is quite remarkable how the author has included such a wide range of topics into 190 pages that takes you beyond the average guidebook. The historical stories are as multifaceted as Bloomsbury itself and includes (to mention a few); spies, squatters, a ghost or two, a corpse on display in a university hallway, London’s first university, witchcraft, medical and social pioneers and of course the Bloomsbury Group and other revolutionary writers, artists and thinkers. The author’s passion for Bloomsbury reflects in his writing style and tone and I highly recommend this pleasant, informative and well-written book.
This book is one of the most enjoyable and entertaining travel guides I have read for a while. The author’s love of Bloomsbury shines through. This is an informative travel guide and history of London’s intellectual quarter. Edward Arnold shares short and interesting stories about the many liberal-minded pioneers, writers and politicians who helped shape modern London and indeed the world.
This is not a heavy read; it is very straight forward giving one a good insight into one of London’s most original and unspoilt areas. The book is full of useful maps and images and is arranged in a logical manner.
I would highly recommend this book even if you do not visit London, simply because it explains the impact Bloomsbury has had on the world.
The book is a really light read about a corner of London often taken for granted. The writer's depth of knowledge never feels dusty or laboured - there's a real sense of joy that translates from the writer to the page, to the reader. I learned a lot from the book and would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone looking to learn about more than just London's touristy, superficial histories!