This walk is through one of the first areas to be built over in the great expansion of London in the eighteenth century. The land was owned by the Russell family, whose aristocratic titles of Bedford, Tavistock and Southampton appear in the street names. Tavistock Square is shown above.
You may want to linger in beautiful Georgian squares, most of which have gardens open to the public, and no doubt youíll rush through streets featuring only the backsides of commercial premises. Spot your own blue plaques: Iíll mention the Bloomsbury Set whose fame outstrips that of their literary works, and Sir Robert Smirke who designed the impressive British Museum but lived in a terraced house, both of which are on our route. If you feel ill you should be able to find a specialist hospital in Queen Square, or a doctor in Harley Street.
The start isnít in Bloomsbury, but takes us up Charing Cross Road, once famed for its bookshops. Some remain, including Foyles, once the largest in the world.
Ignoring the noise and traffic chaos near the Crossrail building works, we find music shops in and around Denmark Street, once known as Britainís Tin Pan Alley, the haunt of music publishers, producers and of course musicians.
St Georgeís Bloomsbury is a temple-like church with an unusual steeple, its quirkyness the trademark of the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor.
Bloomsbury Square was one of the first London squares to be laid out, in the late 1600s. Much hacked about over the centuries, itís not in the least uniform but contains some fine houses. The Duke of Bedfordís grand house was knocked down in the Georgian period to make way for the terrace pictured above, an act no doubt denounced at the time as vandalism.
The walk goes through the British Museum (pictured left) for a quick glimpse of a few exhibits, and so you can see the courtyard (recently given a spectacular glazed roof). Itís free, but if you decide to linger itís only right to leave a donation.
Bloomsbury is now dominated by London university. Queen Square is packed with medical establishments, but the first place you encounter is a pub, The Queenís Larder, where Queen Charlotte kept food for George III when he was being treated for Ďmadnessí elsewhere in the square.
The church of St George the Martyr is crammed into a constrained site next to the pub. Drink and religion aside, the signs and plaques in Queen Square will reveal the existence of hospitals, research and teaching organisations for specialisms which you probably didnít know existed. Thereís a statue of a queen in the gardens, but no-oneís sure who she's meant to be.
Notice the Hotel Russell in Russell Square, a riot of red Victorian terracotta (pictured right). If you find it a bit much to stomach, the Georgian restraint to be found in Woburn, Gordon and Tavistock Squares a couple of minutes away will come as a relief.
Gordon and Tavistock Squares feature white pilasters (low relief pillars) against dark London brick, unusual and effective, as shown in the heading photo. Itís in Gordon Square where youíll find plaques to Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey and others of the Bloomsbury Set.
Woburn Way (see left) is claimed to be the first pedestrianised shopping street. Itís difficult to believe that nobody rode a horse there in the pre-car era, but in any case itís a rare example of Regency shop fronts.
Round the corner in Duke Street is The Place. Built as a headquarters for the bizarre idea of an army regiment specifically for artists, itís now a dance school with a cheap cafť in the basement, where you can eat surrounded by sylph like dance students.
Close by is St Pancras church with its unusual caryatids Ė statues used as pillars. They were sculpted in a studio and transported to the building site, only to find they didnít fit. Chopping a few inches from their midriffs hasnít spoiled them.
In amongst the many houses which have been taken over by University College London (UCL) is the grand main building of UCL itself, where the gigantic front steps are usually strewn with resting students. On the opposite side of the road, the Cruciform Building is named after its plan view. Originally UCL Hospital, it's now a research establishment.
Further down the same road, Gower Street, you could easily miss the Art Deco front of RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. This is where all those actors in black and white films learned their clipped accents.
In the eighteenth century builders would make small variations to house designs, within guidelines set by landowners, while most streets and squares have intrusions from later times. Bedford Square is the exception. The design is uniform and no alterations have been made. The picture on the right can't convey this; you have to be there to appreciate it.
Tottenham Court Road is unattractive but contains audio and electronics shops and, just beyond where we turn off into Goodge Street, Healís furniture store which was founded in 1818, and remained a family busines until the nineteen eighties. It's still going strong.
In Charlotte Street above a shop is the blue plaque to architect Robert Smirke. There are views of the BT Tower, one of the first tall buildings in London, and unusual amongst them in inspiring affection. Itís not an office block but is really a large aerial. The round section at the top was originally a rotating restaurant. Itís now private, but still turns sometimes for British Telecommís guests. (And yes, the view is wonderful).
Fitzroy Square (above) is a rare survivor of work by the Adam brothers, and the surface decoration on the southern side is typical ĎAdam Style.í Much damaged during the war, the terraces were restored sympathetically. Several blue plaques in evidence here.
It's difficult to imagine Warren Street lined with second hand car dealers, as it once was. Nearby Holy Trinity Church was built in 1818 to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon. John Soane, designer of the massive wall around the Bank of England, was the architect.
Portland Place was part of John Nashís ceremonial route from the Prince Regentís house in St James's to Regentís Park. Several embassies occupy original houses, while an art deco building contains the Royal Institute of British Architects.
Right at the end of Portland Place is the distinctive base of the BBC, surely one of the most admired broadcasting organisations in the world. (Pictured on the right).
Harley Streetís fine Georgian terraces, occupied by private doctors, bring us to a fitting conclusion. Harley was the family name of the Duke of Bedford on whose land Bloomsbury was built.
Distance 8.6 km / 5.4 miles.
1. Start at Leicester Square station. From the exit by the Hippodrome, turn left into Charing Cross Road.
2. Charing Cross Road (Foyles founded 1903. Was next door, biggest in world).
3. Turn right into Denmark Street. (Once Londonís Tin Pan Alley, centre of the music business).
4. Turn right into St Giles High Street.
5. Turn left into Shaftesbury Avenue.
6. At a confusing junction, pass High Holborn on your right (donít go along it) but bear right into Bloomsbury Way.
7. Pass St Georgeís Bloomsbury on your left. (A classical Hawksmoor church with a weird spire).
8. Continue into Bloomsbury Square, passing the gardens on your left. At the corner of the gardens, look across to Sicilian Avenue.
9. Turn left along the long side of the square. (Pillared office block is on your right).
10. After a few paces, take the gate into the gardens and turn right along the path. (Some of the original houses are visible straight ahead).
11. Follow the path round behind the statue of Charles James Fox, leave through a gate and turn left.
12. Go out of the square into Great Russell Street.
13. Turn right to go into the British Museum, straight through reception into the courtyard. From the courtyard go left into the building to see the Rosetta Stone and Elgin Marbles.
14. Return to the courtyard and turn left. Go into the building towards the back entrance, crossing the Africa section on the level.
15. Reach some steps; donít go up the ones straight ahead, but bear left to go down steps to leave the Museum.
16. Turn right onto Montague Place.
17. At the end of Montague Place, bear slightly right in order to continue in the same direction, with the garden of Russell Square on your left.
18. Go straight across Southampton Row from Russell Square and turn right.
19. Turn left into Cosmo Place (pedestrianised).
20. At the end of Cosmo Place, St George the Martyr is on your right. Turn left past The Queenís Larder pub into Queen Square.
21. Walk to the corner of the square (noticing all the medical establishments) and turn right.
22. Turn left out of the square into Queen Anneís Walk.
23. Turn left again into Guilford Street.
24. Turn right at the end. Youíre back in Russell Square, walking on the east side next to the red terracotta Hotel Russell.
25. At the corner of the square, turn left across the road to walk along the north side of the square.
26. When you reach the corner of Russell Square, turn right into Thornhaugh Street with SOAS (School of African and Oriental Studies) on your left.
27. Continue as it becomes pedestrianised, holding to the right hand side of Woburn Square gardens. (Note UCL, University College London, signs on the houses).
28. Reach Gordon Square and turn left to reach a pedestrian crossing. Go over the road and turn right, then first left to see the blue plaques on houses 51 and 46. This is where the Bloomsbury Set of literary figures lived.
29. Turn round and return, turning left out of the square.
30. Reach Tavistock Square and turn left through the gate into its garden.
31. At the end of the garden, turn right then left into Upper Woburn Place, passing the British Medical Association on your right.
32. Cross the road at the first crossing, and continue on its right hand side.
33. Turn right into Woburn Walk, said to be the first pedestrian shopping centre, built in Regency times.
34. Turn left into Dukes Road. (The Place dance school is in the former HQ of the Artistís Regiment).
35. Turn left into Euston Road, admiring St Pancras Church which is on your left.
36. At the lights, cross Upper Woburn Place then turn left to walk along its right hand side.
37. Turn right into Endsleigh Gardens. (This is a boring bit, be patient).
38. Continue straight on into Gower Place.
39. Turn left into Gower Street.
40. Go left into the courtyard of UCL (University College London) and back out, to continue down Gower Street.
41. Look out on the right for the Cruciform Building, once UCL Hospital, now a research centre. (The Georgian houses in Gower Street are nearly all used by UCL. Youíll pass RADA, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, on your left).
42. Turn right into Bedford Square, viewed by many as the finest Georgian square in London.
43. Go straight on into Bayley Street.
44. Turn right into Tottenham Court Road.
45. Turn left into Goodge Street. Youíre now in Fitzrovia rather than Bloomsbury.
46. Turn right into Charlotte Street, and continue into Fitzroy Street.
47. Turn left at Fitzroy Square, go round clockwise and leave via Conway Street.
48. Turn left onto Warren Street.
49. At the end, turn right onto Cleveland Street. See Holy Trinity Church ahead.
50. Turn left out of Cleveland Street onto the busy Marylebone Road, navigating your way over crossings to pass a tube station on your left, staying on the main road.
51. Turn left into Park Crescent.
52. Turn left into Portland Place. Youíll pass embassies, the Royal Institute of British Architects, and the BBC.
53. Cross the zebra crossing near the BBC (but do take a diversion to look at it first), and go almost straight on through the Langham Hotel porch.
54. Turn right into Chandos Place but look left to the Chandos Institute.
55. Follow the road as it turns left. Notice the stone built Chandos House at this point.
56. Turn left into Harley Street, full of expensive doctors.
57. Go straight on into Cavendish Square.
58. Turn left/right into Holles Street.
59. Go left along Oxford Street to Oxford Circus tube station.
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