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Aesop

Aesop


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“Everything is driven by the product itself and the quest for superior quality…”

Even on a crowded London high street, there’s a certain store that stands out from the crowd. There aren’t many brands that have successfully mixed aesthetically pleasing design with high quality skincare products, but Aesop has done exactly that, and much, much more.

It all started in Melbourne in 1987, when hairdresser Dennis Paphitis launched a small range of hair products that formed the basis of the Aesop brand; fast-forward to today, and Aesop has gone on to create some of the most thoughtfully designed and curated concept stores in the world, including one right here in Bloomsbury. Aesop’s brief is to formulate skin, hair and body care products of the very finest quality. With this in mind, they look far and wide to source both plant-based and laboratory-made ingredients, using only those with a proven record of safety and efficacy.

Thomas Buisson, Aesop’s General Manager in Europe, tells me about the serious-minded brand with an eye for design. “I was always captivated by the product and concept. I was intrigued, and it led to a meeting through a mutual contact with Aesop founder Dennis Paphitis and CEO Michael O’Keeffe, all the way back in 2008. I was convinced to join the European team and can thankfully say that it has been a rewarding and enlightening journey ever since.” It’s a role that sees him working closely with colleagues in deciding specific aspects of new Aesop products, with everyone in the team giving their own local perspective, and suggesting some aspects of development. “We are all involved in new product development. For instance, fragrances are of particular interest to us in Europe while our Asian colleagues are usually focused in the development of light serums for their hot and humid climate. Every region is able to impact on our new product. New products are introduced only if they make absolute sense within the range and we are able to formulate them in a way that meets our standards of excellence on all fronts: sourcing, ingredients, quality and efficacy.”

The striking and highly individual design of Aesop’s retail outlets is the product of a similarly thoughtful approach. Each location first goes through a carefully controlled creative process, led by Thomas and Aesop’s talented design team. “As we go through this process we take into account the local environment, elements of the space itself, and of course our functional requirements. In this capacity, and depending on our inspiration, we work closely with our design team either in collaboration with external or in-house architects,” he says. In each of the brand’s unique spaces, consultants display the Aesop range to guide customers’ selections and decisions, in a setting as carefully crafted and curated as Aesop’s products themselves. Due to the strong cultural ties that Aesop has always had with the Old World, when the decision was made to open spaces outside Australia, Europe was high on the company’s priority list. “The first store in Europe opened in Paris in 2006, closely followed by London in 2008. When we move into a neighbourhood, our idea is to build something for good, both in terms of architecture but also in terms of establishing links with the community and neighbourhood. The first London store opened in Mayfair on Mount Street and was designed by Ilse Crawford. It was a homage to British elegance and savoir vivre that embodied our will to build stores that celebrate the city and the area where we build them with a light and respectful touch,” Thomas says.

Bloomsbury’s Lambs Conduit Street store opened in 2015, giving the brand the ability to reference the history of the street and the space. “The water installation inside the store is a destination in itself and combines beauty with fascinating engineering. Residents and retailers alike have responded incredibly well to this project. Even though Bloomsbury is very much in the centre of London, it retains a village-like feel. It’s a true gem of the city, with some of the best retailers – and personalities – in London. We have very much enjoyed being a part of the Lambs Conduit Street Traders Association and always look forward to hosting the meetings in our basement; perhaps it’s a nod to the Bloomsbury Group of old.”

Thomas thinks of the Aesop brand as a set of ideals and beliefs translated into skin, hair and body care. The best ideas, he tells me, are rarely the ones that happen on spreadsheets or via structured brainstorming. “They’re about blood, sweat and many tears. We began with a small range of hair products in 1987. From there we explored the many variables of body care, and by 1991, we were ready to devote ourselves to developing the best skin care possible. Everything is driven by the product itself and the quest for superior quality. It doesn’t matter what you do; the point is to do it well – with sincerity and conviction.”

As to the future, Thomas says that the intention is “to continue to open locations where we see the opportunity to focus on strong, meaningful and respectful retail. This takes time and means that we need to remain flexible and agile so that our development is always consistent with who we are. We will continue to develop innovative new products and will build appropriate capabilities to support our business.” In addition to this, Aesop aims to launch more initiatives and partnerships to further enhance its difference from other brands in the beauty industry. Continuing to support the arts is one avenue through which Aesop plans to inspire, learn and communicate; hosting exhibitions and events, collaborating on film projects and publishing new writing online are just some of the ways that Aesop continues to be about much, much more than just its fantastic products.

Jack Bond

Jack Bond


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


“You know, when you have these extreme situations working with people, it sticks with you forever…”

The first time I met Jack, I wanted to be him. In his late 70s, whereas many people might opt for a slower pace of life, Jack still continues to pursue his undying passion for filmmaking – an extensive career which has spanned six decades – along with other favoured pursuits, including drinking and smoking. He’s charming, handsome, oozing with wit, sophistication and an infectious energy – everything I’d hope to be in my later years! Film director Jack Bond remains one of Bloomsbury’s most creative residents – and one of its best storytellers.

A Londoner through and through, Jack was born, quite literally, at Hyde Park corner, in what was then St. George’s Hospital, and was raised in East Sheen, Richmond. His youth was spent observing the sights and sounds of a wartime city regularly bombed by Nazi Germany. “I was fully conscious of the war as a child,” he says. “My Dad was away fighting in it, and my mother and I elected to stay in London and not to evacuate. Every night, you’d hear the sirens going, and then the sirens would be followed by the droning of the bombs. We just sat there underneath an iron bed for protection. The windows came in, but we weren’t ever actually hit, except for one incendiary bomb, which didn’t go off. I pleaded with the air raid wardens to let me have it, but they wouldn’t give it to me. Bastards!” he laughs. “I spent the war talking to German officers through the fence at the prisoner of war camp in Richmond Park and dismantling bombs with my friends in my father’s shed. Now I look back, none of this did me any harm. These were life-forming experiences for me.”

Leaving school at 18, Jack found himself doing the then two years of compulsory National Service, something he didn’t much take to. “The Army loomed… In those days, the way it worked was if you didn’t want to go in the army, they’d throw you in prison. So, I opted for two years of obligatory military service. I thought: “Oh Christ almighty, this is going to be terrible. The first three months were pretty rugged. That was an ordeal, particularly if you weren’t inclined to be so obedient. One icy morning I slipped in my boots and made a mess of a turn. A very brutal Sergeant came up to me, stuck his stick in my gut and said: ‘I’ve got a fool on the end of my stick’. I replied ‘Oh really, which end?’ Straight in the slammer for a week I got for that,” Jack remembers. During his years in the military, he was offered the chance to go to Beaconsfield to train as a schoolteacher. On completing the training, he was based in Hong Kong, where he remained for the rest of his military service, later becoming headmaster at the school.

At the end of his time with the Army, Jack made the decision to refocus his energies in a new direction. “I got back to England, and that was it, I was out,” he says, “I thought, ‘I know what it’ll do, I’ll go and join the BBC and become a filmmaker.’ The only way to get in at that level was to have a university degree. Although I didn’t have one, they let my service as a teacher count as if I did.” With his foot in the door, Jack started off not making films but trailers, the first being for director Philip Savile. “It was for a television play called Mad House on Castle Street. My habit was to go and sit in the control room whilst they were rehearsing and take notes about what aspects would make for the best trailer,” he explains. “I was sitting up in the control room, and suddenly I heard a voice. It was American – a man singing and playing the guitar. I said to the PA, ‘Who’s the guy with the guitar?’ because I couldn’t make out from where I was sitting. She said to me, ‘I don’t really know, Jack, I think his name’s Bob Dylan, and Philip has put him in the play.’ Bob and I afterwards did some separate recordings in a different studio, and these were the makings of my first trailer. You know, when you have these extreme situations working with people, it sticks with you forever. If you remember a great experience working with somebody, it means you’re benefiting from the talent they bring to the process.” After just four months, Jack moved on towards making full-length television films.

Directing The Pity of War (1964) and George Orwell 1903-1950 (1965), Jack next latched on to a dream project; making a film about Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali. “They’d already been trying to get him for 15 years. Everybody at the BBC told me to forget it – nobody thought I’d get him,” he says. “I contacted Dali’s manager, who told me, ‘Its nothing personal, he just wont make a film with anybody.’ So I kept ringing him over and over and annoying him, until one day Dali came back to him and asked to meet me for tea, making it clear that there’d be no film.” Accepting the offer, Jack set off to meet Dali for tea in Paris. En route, he kept turning over in his mind a speech that might persuade Dali to work with him on a film about his career. “Tea arrived, and I was a bit awed by this startling figure of Dali sat in front of me. He was sitting in this high-backed chair with a cane in his hand. Nothing could prepare you for the shock of actually meeting him – he had such a powerful presence, and it was seriously unnerving. He caught me off guard, and said to me: ‘If we were to make a film together, which we never will do, what would have been your intention?’ And so I sat in a frozen position trying to remember the speech. Nothing came out – silence. I forgot everything I wanted to say. I said to him: ‘My intention would have been… my intention… err… to drill a hole in your head to destroy and penetrate your unconscious once and forever from the inside out! Where these words came from, I do not know” he laughs. “Dali went silent, and I was thinking about how I’d fucked it up. We sat for about three or four minutes and not a word was spoken… and then suddenly he pointed at me and said: ‘I will make a film with you.’” Jack and Dali’s collaboration, Dali in New York, was released in 1966, and remains one of the most notable films in Jack’s filmography.

Jack’s career went on to see him work on the South Bank Show, contributing films about figures ranging from Werner Herzog to Patricia Highsmith, directing a number of feature films, and not least making a number of documentaries about artists. Most recently, Jack completed a documentary about Essex-based Chris Moon, a self-taught artist who was formally a painter and decorator, with no prior training or experience in fine art. An Artist’s Eyes (2016) received a warm reception when it premiered privately at the Charlotte Street Hotel late last year. The film focuses on the creative process behind Moon’s work, tracking him from his studio in Essex to a London exhibition and another in the Chelsea district of New York, concluding with a road trip across Spain in Moon’s vintage Mercedes Benz. “There’s no talking to camera in this film. I really hate that as a technique. There’s no interviews, only talking and sound,” says Jack, “Chris is now a highly priced artist who discovered that he had the knack for art. I was particularly happy with the finish of this new film. As an artist, there is no greater critic than yourself, and watching the immense pressure and depression that an artist like Chris has to overcome to enable him to work was something I could relate to and admire.” Today, Jack resides in Bloomsbury’s Brunswick Centre, which he describes as like living in the sky. Jack’s energy and humour show no sign of dimming any time soon, and neither does his career, with a new film project already on the horizon.

Miles Copeland

Miles Copeland


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


“I’ve stuck with it, and it’s become a part of my character. Music is embedded in me….”

We’re on the third floor of a Georgian house on Lambs Conduit Street, where Miles Copeland and I are looking through a collection of carefully arranged records in his home. He passes me a few, and together we examine the sleeves. Zooey, Angelina, Luca: the names of just a handful of artists signed to the WONDERFULSOUND record label, founded by this charming and remarkably humble DJ and record producer. “It’s got a sort of 70s sound to it, a soul and feel that I don’t think you hear around anymore,” he says, showing me the sleeve of Angelica’s new album, Vagabond Saint. With his roots firmly in Bloomsbury, Miles has built a business that takes in music consultancy, publishing, and production. He’s built a reputation for working with new and independent artists, bringing love and passion to the journey of producing music, continually searching for that wonderful sound that remains the ultimate destination of all his projects.

Miles was born in London and raised in Bournemouth. His relationship with music began as a youngster, when he started collecting records; soon, his growing knowledge and passion for sound set him on an a whole new path. By coincidence, when he was just 14, he was asked to DJ, which begun to set things in motion for him. “It was a mate of mine, my sister’s friend. He used to work as a sort of jazz wine bar place, and he knew I was into my music; so he asked me to DJ for him. I turned up with a little bag of records, wearing a Miles Davis T-shirt, and DJed from 8pm until 1am,” he laughs. “God knows how I did it! I assume I must’ve started playing the same records over and over. That was it – that was the first time I DJed. After that, it began a semi-regular thing for me, and I became known among my friends as the one that was into music. I’ve stuck with it, and it’s become a part of my character. Music is embedded in me. I wouldn’t call myself a vinyl snob, but as far as streaming and downloading goes, I have my own preference. I like the idea and aesthetic of listening to a record – the actual process of putting a record onto a turntable and listening to it is a totally different medium of sound to me.”

Miles originally moved to the West End to study sound art, but he also began to learn about how to work in the music industry and become a sound engineer. “It was about thinking outside of the box, thinking about and working with sound from a more left-field, avant-garde point of view. I had tried to make my way into the music industry already at this point, but going to college was my way of trying to work out what I wanted to do.” On leaving, Miles came to set up the company that became WONDERFULSOUND. Many people in the industry at the time believed that artists could operate as individuals, without the support of record labels. “At this point I was actually in a band, and we sort of fell for it and begun putting our own records out under the label. About a year into it, the distributor we were working with was pressing for us to move forward with another record. Thus it became clear to us that you needed to have wider support to make a success of your own music,” he says. “This is where we really begun to redouble our efforts, and begin enhancing the record label side of WONDERFULSOUND. Naturally and organically, we began to start producing records through people we already knew and various contacts.”

His company brings together a number of specialisms under the umbrella of WONDERFULSOUND. “There’s a record label element, and also music consultancy. I produce music for fashion shows, providing help when clients require live music and mixes. It’s no doddle; producing six minutes of music for a fashion show can be really tricky work, and can easily be done badly, but you get there eventually,” he explains. “A big part of what I do is consulting with designers on music, including menswear label Oliver Spencer, whom I collaborate with on a regular basis. In essence, this involves me taking their vision of a fashion show and bringing a sound to it, which reflects the collection and the show. With Oliver, I’ve come to act as his ‘mouth’ when it comes to dealing with musicians and artists for his shows, on the day and beforehand,” he says. “I’ve been doing fashion shows for just over 12 years now, including Jasper Conran, Margaret Howell, Asprey, and assisting Paul Smith.”

Bloomsbury, and Lambs Conduit Street in particular, has been Miles’s home for just over 15 years. When he first arrived, the street was a very different place. Back in the early 2000s, many of the street’s celebrated stores were mostly empty shops, or businesses on their way out rather than their way up. “It’s an infectious area,” enthuses Miles. “It’s such a brilliant neighbourhood, I wouldn’t want to give it up for anywhere else. It was far from what it is today when I first came here. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, let’s leave people to be the judge. It’s certainly a conduit for artists and the creative, and no other street in London has amassed so much talent in one single place,” he says. “I try to live up to the street’s name too –to be a conduit for artists. I want the young, creative people that I meet to thrive. I want to promote, publish and record the work of those whose talents I truly admire. A lot of creatives are really struggling, so I try and enhance their talents however I can. From the artists that produce the sleeve artwork for my records to the people that work on them, that’s what WONDERFULSOUND is all about.” Miles is as enthusiastic about the work of others as he is disarmingly modest about his own, but his love for recorded sound and soulful pop, often on a budget, continues to shine and find new outlets. When he’s not producing records with his artists or providing the soundtrack for some of the biggest names in UK fashion, you’ll find him indulging his passion in yet another way – hosting a regular DJ spot on the independent station Soho Radio.

Christina Harrington

Christina Harrington


Words Vaneesha Ritchie

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“I want it to be a place for people to come and come back to and build a connection to and weave into their own histories.”

Where do curious people go? How have people made sense of their world in the past, and how do they do it today? Welcome to Treadwells. Christina Oakley Harrington opened her bookshop in 2002. It was named Treadwells, after her grandmother, and its inception marked a point in Christina’s life where knowledge, ancestry, belief, strength and a desire to share and pass these things on all came together. Christina’s father worked for the United Nations in the programme for developing nations, so the young Christina, brought up in West Africa and Southeast Asia, was exposed every day to the local forms of what Western culture might see as esoteric, or even pagan, practices and beliefs.

“In Liberia, the religions are very localised and un-named, and my exposure was via playmates and through my family’s beloved cook and housekeeper Daniel, who took us to his village numerous times. We also had Liberian friends who kindly took us to parts of the country where most Westerners weren’t interested in going, to ceremonies for local village communities. The first religious ceremony I ever remember – in my entire life – was in upcountry Liberia in a tiny village by the edge of the scrubby outlands, from where there appeared a hundred girls marked up in white chalk. It was the final stage of the girls’ initiation into womanhood, when they came out of seclusion to be welcomed back to the community. There was dancing, drumming and the elders were in a state of trance possession and wearing masks. I was quite disturbed but fascinated, and clung tightly to my mother’s hand. In Burma, we lived in Rangoon and went with Burmese family friends to many, many pagodas, monasteries, shrines and community religious festivals.”

Eventually, when she was in her mid-teens, the family moved to the USA, where Christina noticed that, compared to the environments she’d grown up in, there was a certain ‘lack’. There were, of course, the formal organised religions, and while some traces of pagan heritage could be still found, as with Halloween, it was the actions that had survived, while the underlying meanings hadn’t. As a compulsively curious individual, Christina found herself on a quest to find meaning in her new environment, searching for the kinds of threads that run through most ‘esoteric’ beliefs: nature, ancestry, tribalism, community, symbolism, a language of meaning, and meaning within meaning. It was a search for magic – something you can harness, that’s already there, but isn’t yours.

So Christina voraciously read whatever she could get her hands on and kept searching. Eventually, during one of those long, late night conversations at university, a friend told her about Wicca. This sounded like the ‘it’ that she had been looking for: so she packed her bags and moved to London.

As with many alternative belief systems or ‘sects’, there was a certain element of secrecy involved, and Christina had to feel her way around the fringes, finding the ‘ins’ and the clues: the little hidden gem of a bookshop providing a pointer, the meetings with a contact. Finally, her persistence paid off. She found her way to the ‘centre of the flower’ and became first an apprentice to Wicca, and eventually a Wiccan high priestess – a white witch. Sadly, magic and witchcraft don’t pay the rent! So she applied her trademark sense of curiosity to a day job of lecturer in medieval history at St Mary’s University College. Medieval art and culture are filled with rich symbolism and meanings hidden within meanings – the visible and the invisible. Christina became adept at understanding this particular era, interpreting the breadcrumb-trails of codes and symbols to arrive at a more complete understanding of how people thought at the time. Coincidentally, the study of esoteric beliefs and practices was having something of a boom at this point, at last being taken seriously as a genuine area for research and study.

One day, St Mary’s embarked on one of their restructuring drives, as universities are wont to do. And it was at this point in her life – with at least two demonstrable academic specialisms, a few good omens and a small inheritance from Grandmother Treadwell – that the bookshop was born. It wasn’t a straightforward birth. The young chap in the loans department of the bank was very sceptical about the long-term prospects for books, never mind bookshops – wasn’t it all going digital? But the plan was for more than ‘just’ a bookshop. It was to be a meeting place for practitioners and scholars, offering classes and lecture series, and a place in which like-minded and curious people could understand, communicate and experience rituals. It started in Covent Garden, with an orange box for a counter and volunteers to keep it open, but once again fate stepped in, or rents stepped up. Christina found herself drawn to Bloomsbury’s Store Street – situated near the Petrie Museum of Egyptology, the Folklore Society, Fitzroy Square, the British Museum, SOAS (the School of African Studies) and the rich seam of curious people who frequented the locale.

So, she mixed a great big potion, made a few incantations to the Moon on the third Tuesday of spring and – poof! – got a shop on Store Street. Ok, so that’s a fib; the truth is rather more prosaic, but she did get the shop, and people came. And that’s one of the surprising things about Christina and Treadwells: it’s not some kind of ‘cloud cuckoo land’ enterprise, but an extremely well organised and curated, research-rich resource providing history and information on anything you could possibly imagine (and plenty you can’t) about the beliefs and cultures of the world. It informs about magic and the occult, which are rooted in folklore and offer an alternative path to that of ‘Enlightenment’ rationalism. New Age, it is not: Christina is not of the school that believes that positive thinking can cure everything. She tells me that they often get people in the shop talking about how ill they feel and enquiring about books on healing. The staff ask gently if they have been to see their GP. To me this seemed (as one entirely clueless about occult matters) a contradiction, but as our conversation happily meandered I realised that the whole idea behind these fairly randomly grouped and quite disparate beliefs that are called esoteric is that they are quite willing to embrace what’s current and new; they don’t view it as a threat to their way of life or system of belief, but as a potential enhancement to their understanding of the world and the people living in it.

So what about the clientele? Who comes to Treadwells? “A very mixed bunch,” says Christina, ”but there are trends – like when Harry Potter was big in the early 2000s there was a lot of interest in magic. Interestingly, there is a strong feminist thread through many of these alternative beliefs which value the role of the female, unlike some strands of organised religions, which don’t; so we have a number of younger female participants who are seeking a strength from within themselves which is offered in alternative beliefs. So I’m pleased about that. My main wish is to ensure that we have what people need, or want, or are curious about, so that when have an interest, it doesn’t die on the vine.” With so much to find out about it’s hard to know where to start, but here are a few good recommendations for beginners: The Book of English Magic by Richard Heygate and Philip Carr-Gomm, The Secret Lore of London by John Matthews, and What is a Witch? by Pam Grossman. Asked what she wants for Treadwells in the future, Christina replies after some thought “Longevity. I want longevity for Treadwells. I want it to be a place for people to come and come back to and build a connection to and weave into their own histories.”

Gay’s The Word

Gay’s The Word


Words Roland Glasser

Photography Kirk Truman


“You get a sense that people feel they are in a space of their own.”

A smile plays across Jim MacSweeney’s face as he sits, pensive, clasping a mug of tea in his nook at the rear of the shop. His eyes twinkle as he stares at a point in space just over my shoulder, contemplating visions of the past and future projected on the spines of the books packed tightly on the shelves behind me. Jim has been working here for nearly three decades, two of those as manager. What Jim doesn’t know about Gay’s the Word, the UK’s only remaining dedicated gay and lesbian bookshop, probably isn’t worth knowing.

Gay’s the Word opened in 1979, just 12 years after homosexuality was legalised in the UK. In those days, mainstream bookshops simply didn’t have dedicated sections for gay and lesbian writing. If you were lucky you might have been able to track down a particular book in one of the more niche independent or secondhand bookshops, but it was very hard to get hold of certain titles, particularly non-fiction. Mail order from the USA was often the only option. Gay’s the Word was a lifeline, even though it took a number of years for HM Customs and Excise (who carried out a raid in 1984, seizing hundreds of books) to finally accept that the place was a serious bookshop not a porn peddler.

The long, narrow space contains an astonishing breadth of content. The front part of the shop has a strong fiction section with the usual display of new titles, but keep going, past a slim revolving stand of DVDs (feature films and documentaries), and you’ll find works of non-fiction, poetry, plays, biography, art, erotica, theory, history, fashion and music. An important part of Jim’s job is scouring publishers’ catalogues for anything of “queer interest” (he explains that he uses the term “queer” to cover gay, lesbian, bi and trans, because it’s easier). “There are some novelists who happen to be gay, but the key thing is whether their books have gay themes or protagonists. If so, we’ll consider whether they will be of interest to us. Colm Tóibín is an example. Some of his books are gay, and a whole load of them aren’t. And we will sell less of the ones that aren’t gay because people are coming in here specifically to look for lesbian and gay writing. And obviously we’ll stock novels with gay themes even if the writers are not. Now if it’s poetry, John Ashbery or Mary Oliver, for example, both of whom happen to be gay and lesbian, their work doesn’t deal directly with passion or sexuality or desire, but we’ll stock them because they happen to be queer and they’re poets. We want to have as wide a range as possible, but we need titles that sell. Esoteric books, we might only get one or two copies in, while others like queer theory, will become part of our core stock.”

For many years, the shop was a focal point for gay and lesbian activists and community groups. The rear of the premises, including the very nook where Jim and I are chatting, was where many of them used to meet. There was tea and coffee, a piano for sing-a-longs and a large noticeboard where people posted ads, flyers and leaflets about anything and everything. The piano and coffee bar have long gone to make way for more bookshelves, but several groups still meet at the shop – the Lesbian Discussion Group has been meeting here for over 35 years – and there are regular events, readings and book launches. I am amazed when Jim tells me they can seat 45 people on folding chairs.

Gay’s the Word still plays an important role as a portal for those seeking advice or support, or simply exploring their own queer identity through literature, regardless of age or gender. Jim recounts how a woman recently came in with her 14-year-old daughter: “She sat down in the teen section and looked at the books, and the mum chatted to me and then went off for a coffee, letting her daughter work away. When she came back, her daughter had chosen and her mum paid for the books. And I loved how relaxed she was, and how things have changed. Because it’s so easy to think of difficult times, bricks through the window or homophobic abuse. We get very little of that now.”

I wonder what place there is for Gay’s the Word today, given how easy it is to find many of these titles in large bookshops or online. Jim is adamant: “A lot of the sections in mainstream bookshops aren’t very good, with a few notable exceptions, or else they focus on erotic fiction, more obvious stuff. They are also getting smaller as they run out of space. People come in here because we have an extraordinary range of books pulled in from everywhere. We really know the stuff, and we read. It’s also a non-judgmental space. There’s a community feel. I really like the amount of young women and men we now get coming in since the film Pride, which really made people aware of the history of the place. They ask for recommendations, they talk about books, they ask questions. You might see some of them holding hands, or stealing a quick kiss at the back. And of course we get people from abroad who search us out. You get a sense that people feel they are in a space of their own. Whereas if you’re in a mainstream bookshop, say, and you’re buying a book on coming out, or erotica, or gay spirituality, you might feel uncomfortable as you go up to the counter, but here this is what we do.” Love, indeed. Love of books and love of people. In these uncertain times, Gay’s the Word remains as special and as vital as ever.

A Bloomsbury Garden

A Bloomsbury Garden


Words Yvonne Craig

Illustrations Alexandria Coe


It has been said that one of the most beautiful private gardens in Bloomsbury is that enjoyed by the residents of Ridgmount Gardens. From the windows of their Bedford Estates’ mansion flats they watch the seasons changing the magnificent trees from spring gold to autumn bronze. When one of these was destroyed in a storm some time ago, its mighty branches crushing a resident’s car, his first words were: “Poor tree!” This love of our garden is shared by passers-by, who also delight in the summer fragrance of the cascading mimosa and stop to photograph it – just as the pilgrims do for the Bob Marley blue plaque outside my flat.

The garden has a fascinating history. The Bedford Estates have kindly provided archival information about its construction, after an earlier one, of unknown date, was demolished. The 1890 Surveyor’s Specification, “for His Grace the Duke of Bedford”, showed that he, like subsequent members of his family, was concerned to meet the highest standards, which should conform to those of the Royal Institute of British Architects and Master Builders’ Association. One example was the Duke’s insistence that “trees were not to be disturbed unless permitted by his Forester”, and that roots were to be carefully “bridged”. It seems that the garden’s construction relied on the Surveyor, it being too early for a landscape designer. The current Head Gardener, Thomas Abbott, devoted to arboreal care, now has fewer employees, although he has been able to plant new trees, including the Persian Ironwood and Chinese Sacred Bamboo. The North American Smokebrush has an alliterative Latin name: Cotinus coggygna! We always delight in the autumnal multi-coloured Maple, and are intrigued by the recent wood sculptures fashioned from trimmed upturned roots. Plants like the appropriate London Pride or Heuchera, the spring bulbs, and the glorious gardenias graciously add seasonal colour to the garden.

The garden’s wild life is as competitive as that of humanity, and swooping seagulls demonstrate this. The squirrels swing on our nut feeders and fight off the tits, which fly to the nearby fatballs. The ubiquitous pigeons are called avian rodents because they spread disease, so we discourage them by withholding our breadcrumbs, although we welcome the thrushes, blackbirds, starlings and occasional wagtails. These and smaller birds like the London sparrows, finches, wrens and our beloved robins, especially delight us, although they are scarcer now, as leaf-blowing sweeps away the tiny insects on which they feed. It is rumoured that many years ago nightingales could be heard, and we have occasional visits from exotic birds-on-the wing, while the colourful jays and jackdaws may hunt for eggs, and crows herald the dusk. The nocturnal foxes, with their vixens and cubs, chase up and down the garden and also the street, where they tear open the black refuse bags left overnight and devour the food scraps inside. Although our excellent porters place large-print hall notices warning residents not to “feed the foxes”, they always outfox us. Dog owners are compliant, however, as the Bedford Estates forbid the entry of our furry friends into the garden to avoid soiling of the grass and paths where residents and their children sit, walk and play.

Residents of all ages love and enjoy our garden. Babies roll about on rugs on the grass. Toddlers tumble, jump and run around, while older children play hide-and-seek among the shrubbery. They all delight in dancing under the hosepipe or splashing in their plastic pools. Parents relax, rejoicing that their children can play safely away from the traffic. Elderly people enjoy watching it all, and also the passers-by dressed in the colourful clothes of international and still Bohemian Bloomsbury with its surging numbers of students. Some of these reside in Ridgmount Gardens while studying at UCL, SOAS and RADA, and they grace the grass with their beautiful young bodies as they lie there with their textbooks before the summer seasonal exams. Residents also include permanent professors at Bloomsbury colleges as well as temporary visiting ones from overseas. These tend to sit in the shade with their laptops, perhaps composing their magnum opus.

Such diversity leads to a great variety of garden activities. There are all kinds of parties. Children’s birthdays are made magical by balloons and streamers festooning the trees, while the grown-ups have cocktail parties, and couples cuddle together with champagne when it grows dark. The Residents’ Ridgmount Garden Association (RGA) Committee regularly hosts soirees when we bring drinks and bites to share, while flags are hung on the railings for special occasions. One was the Queen’s birthday, when we all sang the national anthem. A long time ago, when I had tenure of the RGA committee chair for eight years, I bought a potted Christmas tree for the garden, decorated with apples for the birds, and we all sang carols around it. These events, and our private garden in general, always attract the interest and envy of passers-by, although residents are free to bring in their guests. Now, at the age of 91, my greatest joy is to rest in bed, watching the sun’s rising and setting illuminating the garden, its life, and ours.

Eclectics

Eclectics


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“We formed a collective in order to reach our fullest potential and keep our craft fresh.”

In the private gardens of the Bedford Estates, a strikingly beautiful young girl steps forward. She slips into a heavy REMADE Schneetarn Anorak by English fashion designer, Christopher Raeburn. First, she begins to shimmy from side to side, then to flex her body, the fabric following her limbs in their every move. Her face wears an elusive smile as she begins to dance. She is immersed in her passion: her name is Valerie Ebuwa.

I’ll come clean: dance is something of a riddle to me, simply because I can’t do it to save my life. Which only increases my admiration for the profound commitment and sheer passion for performance that this group of young artists share. Valerie and her team of urban contemporary dancers captivate me, so I’m fascinated to learn more about the origins of their Eclectics dance and performance group and hear about their relationship with the Bloomsbury area.

Valerie tells me that Eclectics was something she and her colleagues had always foreseen. The group is made up of a trio of close friends who met during dance training at Bloomsbury’s The Place, a powerhouse for dance development that leads the way in training, creation and performance. Though they all received frequent individual offers of work from a variety of different events and agencies, their shared interests in dance, music, and fashion led them to take their passion to the next level by becoming a group. “Having a variety of multidisciplinary skills, we formed a collective that performs, choreographs and teaches in order to reach our fullest potential and keep our craft fresh,” explains Valerie, “and having many different backgrounds within the group we often teach each other too – so it’s a constant, ever-growing collective.” The group comprises London-born Valerie Ebuwa and Ryan Munroe, and Claire Shaw from Wales. Together, they manage bookings, events, rehearsals and choreography, collaborating with a mix of independent businesses, venues and brands, including some international names such as Nike.

As individuals, the members of Eclectics naturally have their own personal ambitions, but as a collective their aim is to promote contemporary dance to new audiences who may not know much about this particular world; it’s a way to both inform and inspire others. “The contemporary dance world has a niche, elitist audience – usually contemporary dancers, their friends and families. It’s our aim to educate people about what exactly contemporary dance is whilst also changing the face of contemporary dance. Not too long ago, dance degrees could only be obtained by those whose families could support vocational training. As a result, contemporary dance companies have often been made up of people from similar backgrounds and ethnic origins,” says Valerie. “These people often do similar work because they have all been trained in the same way. Eclectics aims to have mixed ensembles of talented individuals from all backgrounds in order to change the perception of contemporary dance for good.”

The group spent three years in training at the London Contemporary Dance School (aka The Place), the UK’s number one school for contemporary dance. As the school is located on Bloomsbury’s Duke’s Road, the three then-students spent much of their time in and around the neighbourhood for the duration of the course. “Having spent three years here, we as a collective realised that Bloomsbury residents were still unaware of how the area plays such a huge role in the future of contemporary dance,” says Valerie. Once they’d graduated, they decided to make their keep their base in the area, choreographing site-specific works that would both educate people about contemporary dance and also pay homage to the area that had nurtured them and so many other UK dance artists.

When I asked Valerie to explain what makes Eclectics different from other contemporary dance groups, she emphasised just how multidisciplinary the collective is and how it lives up to the promise of its name. “We not only choreograph and train in contemporary dance, but we regularly perform hip hop, dancehall, samba, commercial, African and jazz choreographies. We integrate all of our different styles together, rather than just contemporary dance. We often travel to different countries to enhance our understanding of different dance styles and genres and also use other movement art forms such as yoga, capoeira, kung fu and other martial arts to enhance and inform our work,” she says. Eclectics also design all of their own sets, costumes and lighting: “So all the work comes from us.”

This is an exciting time for the group, who have plenty of plans for the future. “We are be looking to expand our connections with local residents and this year’s graduates of London Contemporary Dance School in order to keep the promotion of contemporary dance within the area alive and fresh. We hope to bring contemporary dance to the foreground in Bloomsbury, and get it out of its current somewhat backyard existence,” says Valerie. The group are also in talks for many more events, shows and residencies, as well as music video performances. As I watch Valerie, Ryan and Claire improvising together, I try and define what it is that makes their performance so captivating. It’s a matter of personality and spirit, of sheer love of dance, but of something else too. As they dance, jump and stretch, I notice that their eyes meet as they constantly observe and react to one another: and it’s clear that what makes Eclectics special is that they are three friends who share a close, courageous creative bond.

 

Louise Russell

Louise Russell


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


 

“Bloomsbury is a centre of culture, joining together education, history and diversity at every turn…”

We have left behind the leafy street corners of Bloomsbury and find ourselves in the green fields of Woburn, Bedfordshire. Through the country lanes full of ferns that lean toward the roadside, we make the approach to the 13,000-acre estate of Woburn Abbey. Although it is 50 miles from London, this is the home of a family that has been integral in helping develop Bloomsbury into the place we know and love today. As we walk through the corridors of the Abbey, soaking up the sense of history and admiring the many portraits that line the walls, a lady approaches with a small dog in tow. Her Grace, Louise Russell, The Duchess of Bedford, lives at the Abbey with her husband Andrew, the 15th Duke of Bedford, and their two children. Though it is 50 miles from London, this is the home of a family that has been integral in helping develop Bloomsbury into the place we know and love today. It soon becomes clear, as Louise talks about Bloomsbury’s Bedford Estates and her role as Patron of the upcoming Bloomsbury Festival, that this is very much an ongoing relationship.

The Russell family has been part of the fabric of the Bloomsbury neighbourhood for over 300 years. When William, Lord Russell, married Lady Rachel Wriothesley in 1669, the Bloomsbury Estate came into the ownership of the Russell family. Rachel had inherited the estate upon the death of her father, the 4th Earl of Southampton, two years earlier. He had died leaving three daughters but no male heir, thus his estates were divided equally between his children. William, Lord Russell, was the eldest surviving son of the 5th Earl of Bedford. He became implicated in the Rye House Plot of 1683 and was executed for treason. The family was later pardoned, and the Dukedom was created in 1694. The couple had lived at Southampton House in Bloomsbury with their children, including the future 2nd Duke of Bedford. Southampton House became the primary ducal London residence and was renamed Bedford House in 1734 and later demolished in 1800, facilitating the creation of Russell Square. Much of the landscape and architecture of Bloomsbury is the work of past Dukes and Duchesses of Bedford. It was the formidable Duchess Gertrude, widow of the 4th Duke, who created the much admired Bedford Square and Gower Street, while Tavistock Square takes its name from the courtesy title given to the eldest sons of the Dukes of Bedford: the Marquess of Tavistock.

Louise has a passion for Bloomsbury, describing its notable architecture, fine Georgian squares and rich history as captivating and unmatched in Central London. “I hate the term up-and-coming, though there is something really quite unique about Bloomsbury that defines it as different from nearby neighbourhoods such as Fitzrovia, Soho and Marylebone,” she says. “Bloomsbury is a centre of culture, joining together education, history and diversity at every turn. Iconic literary and intellectual figures throughout history have made Bloomsbury their home, from Charles Dickens to Virginia Woolf. The Bedford Estates is proud of this heritage.”

Since it was established in 2006, The Bloomsbury Festival has become a focal point of the neighbourhood calendar. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the festival is a creative explosion of arts, science, literature, culture and fun. It’s a unique event, representative of the neighbourhood’s spirit, bringing together over 100 world-leading institutions, from drama, dance and visual art colleges to creative businesses, theatres, cinemas, ground-breaking scientists, thinkers, and publishing houses. Led by festival director Kate Anderson, the 2016 Festival takes place over five days from 19th to 23rd October, with a schedule of about 150 events in venues across the neighbourhood – streets, parks, museums, galleries and public and private buildings are all involved. For 2016, the theme of the festival is language, marking the Centenary of SOAS and also reflecting the rich diversity of the neighbourhood’s population. The interpretation of the theme is broad, promising a varied programme that will bring it to life: expect street parties celebrating the language of dance, debates on the language of social change, poets battling it out against technology, a sound installation of endangered languages, and many more wide-ranging creative projects and performances throughout the festival’s duration. Throughout the weekend of the festival, Store Street’s unique independent shops and restaurants will remain open later than usual and will each house a different art or music experience.

The Bedford Estates is one of the lead partners of this year’s Bloomsbury Festival, and has supported the event for many years, with Louise acting as Patron. The Duchess is an ambassador for the entirety of the programme, meeting with the festival chair and director throughout the year to discuss strategic plans, development and fundraising. Louise takes an active role in all of these capacities, hosting a number of receptions to help raise the festival’s profile and support its fundraising drive. The Duchess is a particular advocate for work that involves the community at all levels, especially the Step Out Store Street event, which this year takes place on Friday 21st October. “I would love to encourage as many people to come as possible – it’s really worth coming along! It’s a happy, vibrant and relaxed atmosphere, which captures the essence of the neighbourhood. If this corner of London is accessible to you, it would be a shame to miss it. Last year’s event on Store Street was a huge success,” she says. “It was attended by some 3,000 people, and the street was lined with fire sculptures inspired by 2015’s theme of light.”

The 10th Bloomsbury Festival is set to both captivate and represent the neighbourhood over its five days, and it’s one way in which the Bedford Estates maintains its historical links with the neighbourhood and continues its work here in modern day Bloomsbury, working closely with various stakeholders and the local London Borough of Camden to enhance the public realm and celebrate the cultural heritage of the area.

Cathal McAteer

Cathal McAteer


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“I fell in love with clothes, the idea and process of making the best clothes that I could…”

Folk is a word that can refer both to a sense of tradition and to the ordinary people who sustain it. Making your way along Lambs Conduit Street, it’s also a word you’ll see adorning two shop-fronts: one at No 49, and another at No 53. Here, on one of Bloomsbury’s premier streets for both independent shops and bigger high-street names, Scotsman Cathal McAteer, founder of Folk Clothing, has established a brand that is now a name for refined style and quality.

Folk offers elegance enriched by subtle details to its products for both men and women. In essence, it’s about style without the drama. Detail is key to the brand: from the stitching and buttons to the fabrics themselves, there are no shortcuts or half-measures.

“We don’t try to be mainstream. We’re niche – it’s all about the small things” says Cathal. “We don’t go to the button shop. We take care of every single detail ourselves: we never compromise. The thing we come back to quite a lot is to have more than you show. We like things to be instantly recognisable, without a label or a brand on them. Everything is in the details – and in the hidden details, the textures and fabrics too. Some people might say we care way too much, or waste too much time doing these things, but we think this finishes pieces off in a way that makes us satisfied with the garment. It just happens to be how I like to do things, you know?”

Cathal founded Folk in 2002, and has since navigated between streetwear and the architect-designer aesthetic, helping create a scene for well-made casual clothing with a modern British edge. Cathal grew up in Glasgow, where he started out working in shops from an early age. “I’ve been working in fashion since I was about 17. I’m not from a design background, I started out working in shops and then later on ended up working as a buyer,” he explains. “My friend told me I should call it Folk, so I did. Sometime later he wanted to call his brand Folk, but I was already too far gone!” he laughs. “I basically always knew it was going to happen. It was a natural progression from what I was doing before. I’d been in Japan with a friend of mine, and these guys had asked me when I was going to start my own brand. Some people offered to pay for their orders in advance, which helped me get things started. For about five years I’ve always had another business that helped to fund Folk. The profits went into the brand, until we began working with a selling agency further down the line. It kind of started organically, and from there it went on to become what it is now. I fell in love with clothes, the idea and process of making the best clothes that I could, and making them as accessible as possible to consumers.”

Beginning as a menswear line, Folk has since gone on to expand into footwear, accessories, furniture and womenswear. Bloomsbury has long been the backdrop for the brand, with the first store having opened on Lambs Conduit Street more than a decade ago and its head office based just round the corner on Emerald Street. “I guess I’ve always been a bit of a hippy at heart,” says Cathal. ”Our customer is really into clothes. They recognise quality and craft in products – they posses a real vanity for covering up vanity.” Looking back, he admits “the first few collections were truly shit. But as time went on we found our way. A friend of mine asked to meet me for a pint on Lambs Conduit Street way back. He told me if I was ever going to have a shop, I should have it here.” It turned out to be a wise decision. “Back then, there was nothing here compared to what there is today. To me, it’s a great position in London – it’s set perfectly in the middle of town. I’ve worked all over, but this is as perfect as it gets.” In the future, Cathal intends to evolve Folk and keep it embedded here in London, mentioning the possibility of a potential third store on Lambs Conduit Street in the near future. Whatever lies ahead for the brand, Folk’s roots will remain right here in Bloomsbury where it all started.

 

Grant Museum of Zoology

Grant Museum of Zoology


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“He was a biologist 30 years before Charles Darwin ever published. He taught Darwin evolution. Grant was his mentor…”

One of the great pleasures of living in Bloomsbury is its constant ability to surprise, to give up a new secret, to reveal another hidden gem. I’m almost ashamed to admit that it was only a couple of years ago that I discovered one such secret, a wonderful cabinet of curiosities that had hitherto gone under my radar. I speak of Bloomsbury’s Grant Museum of Zoology on University Street. I met Jack Ashby of the University College London Public and Cultural Engagement Department to learn something of the history of this remarkable collection.

Jack tells to me that the museum’s name derives from Professor Robert Edmond Grant (1793-1874), who established the Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy in 1827 to serve as a teaching collection at the then newly founded University of London (what you and I now know as University College London). Born in Edinburgh, Grant studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and became best known for his work on marine invertebrates, in particular sponges, sea pens and molluscs. “Nobody has ever heard of him. He’s not in any way famous, though he should be. He was one of the earliest evolutionary biologists. He was a biologist 30 years before Charles Darwin ever published. He taught Darwin evolution – Grant was his mentor,” says Jack. Grant was the first Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy in England, and upon arrival at London University found there were no teaching materials with which to conduct his courses – so he immediately began to amass specimens, material for dissection, diagrams and lecture notes. On his deathbed, he was persuaded by colleague William Sharpey (1802-1880) to leave his considerable collection of books, academic papers and natural history specimens to the college. This ensured that successive generations of students would have access to his knowledge. While, sadly, Grant’s personal papers have never been found, his collection forms the basis of the museum today.

The collection has grown organically over time up, getting considerably larger between the early 1980s and early 2000s when other colleges and universities throughout London began to donate their own collections to the Grant museum. “They had decided they no longer required any sort of collection of zoology,” says Jack. “Animal biology had begun to go out of fashion, with people just teaching molecular biology and genetics. Today many universities in London have realised that you can’t teach a student what a tiger looks like by looking at its genes – you actually need some whole animal bits too!”

In absorbing a whole variety of collections, the museum has effectively become a museum of museums. Today, it houses a collection from the Gordon Museum – a collection of animal brains from the comparative anatomy collections at King’s College London – and Imperial College London’s entire fossil, skeletal and spirit specimen collection, which was transferred to UCL in the 1980s. Soon after, in the 1990s, primatology and fossil hominid materials were donated from the Napier Collection, along with subsequent donations from a variety of other sources throughout the city. A large majority of the specimens in the collection originate from the Victorian era, with many others having been on display for over 180 years. Among them you’ll find one of the rarest skeletons in the world, that of the extinct quagga, an unusual half-striped zebra from South Africa. It’s the only mounted quagga skeleton in the UK, and no more than seven quagga skeletons survive globally. The museum also boasts a number of wax models used in teaching and around 20,000 microscope slides, many of which are displayed on a giant vertical light box – which makes for interesting viewing, to say the least.

Having been traditionally only made available to students, the collection was fully opened to the public in 1997 for two afternoons a week; today, teaching takes place every day in term time and the Grant Museum is open to visitors six days a week. In over 170 years much has befallen the museum. In 1884, a ceiling collapse destroyed a number of specimens; there were further ceiling collapses and flooding in the 1890s; and by the 1970s the roof was completely missing. During the dark days of the Second World War the entire collection was evacuated to Bangor, and in subsequent decades it faced numerous threats of closure. In recent years, however, the museum has gone from strength to strength.

The museum itself has relocated many times. When it was opened to the public in 1997, the collection moved to the UCL Darwin Building. In March 2011, the museum was moved again, this time to the wonderful Rockefeller Building on University Street, which was formally the Medical School Library. The museum continues to be used as a teaching collection, just as it was in Professor Grant’s day. Today, it is fully accessible to more people than ever before through outreach and through public displays. Remarkably, the museum remains something of a secret from the wider Bloomsbury neighbourhood in which it rests. Jack Ashby and the staff at the museum fully encourage visits from the general public and are always keen to raise awareness of this hidden gem. The Grant Museum is sure to stimulate the imagination of anybody who steps into its corridors and explores its numerous odd exhibits. After all, with such a wonderfully eccentric collection on your doorstep, you’d be mad as a box of quaggas not to pay it a visit!

 

Skoob Books

Skoob Books


Words Chloe Moss

Photography Kirk Truman


“What makes Bloomsbury important is the culture that’s here…”

Exit Russell Square tube station, having conquered its seemingly never-ending steps, bypass the crowded Brunswick Centre, veer off the main shopping drag, and you will find one of the great treasures of Bloomsbury. In an unassuming location – next to Waitrose and down a flight of stairs – is Skoob, the second-hand bookshop that is home to possibly the largest privately owned book collection in the world. Venture down those stairs in search of a particular book and you will not only find it but most likely come away with several other titles you didn’t even know you were looking for. Yes, Skoob is a treasure-trove of a place, its tightly-packed shelves playing host to around 65,000 volumes on the shop floor alone, another 45,000 in basement storage, and around one million in a warehouse in Oxford. If you didn’t believe me when I said it was a large collection, those numbers should do the talking.

It’s fitting that Skoob – which opened 1978 on Sicilian Avenue, near Bloomsbury Square, and has operated from a variety of premises around London – is now back in the literary haven of Bloomsbury, where it has made its home for the past 9 years. With such a vast collection, your first question might be (well, mine was) where does it all come from? Chris, the manager and the man behind the seemingly endless rows of books, tells me that it comes from anywhere and everywhere. Oxford colleges, London academics, people downsizing, or their own lucky finds. Thankfully for Chris, we Londoners are typically short on space and always looking to shed a few volumes. The book collector of today is changing. Space is hard to come by, and even if you do have some room, downsizing is a reality. Not only that, but we’re constantly on the move. So as Londoners find themselves running out of space or leading a transient lifestyle that makes them reluctant to be weighed down, Chris and the rest of the Skoob staff are there to pick up the literary remains. They gather collections both great and small and of every conceivable genre to fill their shelves, which burst with books for every kind of reader.

“We undertake not to shred, and to find another read, another buyer, for a book,” says Chris. All of the books they collect, even yet more Jilly Cooper paperbacks, will eventually end up on the shop floor or on the carefully selected online shop. Skoob is committed to continually replenishing whatever sells with something better, so that customers are never at a loss to find something. Restocking happens every time a sale is made, but the process is not random. As Chris explains: “If I just replace that with any old book, then gradually the quality goes down. So what we need to do every time a book sells is replace it with a better one. Better than the gap that’s left.” It’s the sort of approach that demonstrates how much attention Skoob pays to its customers: the staff always want to find the right book for every shopper. “We recognise that all our customers are individuals and aren’t going to be herded into buying the latest fashion.”

I am one of the many customers to which Skoob caters. As a student I thankfully discovered Skoob not far into my first year of reading English Literature. I say thankfully because had I not taken a friend’s recommendation early on into my first few weeks of living a stone’s throw from Russell Square, my three years of education in London would have wound up being a lot more expensive. Even when I moved out of the area, I still returned to Skoob on a regular basis, not simply for practical reasons but out of a fondness for its packed shelves. I never left empty handed and rarely with just the items on my list; testament not just to my shopping habit, but also to how well stocked this shop is. If I went in looking for an affordable copy of Little Dorrit, I left with an armful of Faulkner as well.

The last decade has seen a huge change not just in the make-up of Londoners, but more specifically in the capital’s student population. They buy fewer books, and when they do, they go second-hand, both online and in penny-saving sanctuaries like Skoob. This is great news for the shop, whether students have grouped together and shared the cost of one reading list, or whether they go solo as I do. It’s great news for impoverished readers too, and makes Skoob an utter haven for people like me, looking to shave off some academic costs so there’s something left for cocktails. The easy atmosphere, extensive back catalogue and low prices make the shop a destination for London’s students, particularly given its location close to many university halls.

For regulars, students or bibliophilic tourists, Skoob is more than just a Bloomsbury institution and a shrine to the area’s literary history. As the shop continues to evolve and grow, as the staff forever restock the shelves, Skoob continues that history in the best possible way. Chris will keep buying books because of his desire to always delight his customers and to maintain the literary legacy of the area.

“One of the things about Britain is the vibrant literary culture”. Bloomsbury, synonymous as it is with the names of Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West, and other key members of the Bloomsbury Group, has played host to much of that cultural history. The plethora of blue plaques and famous landmarks are a testament to this, and people flock here for that very reason. Despite its celebrated history, the area is increasingly in danger of being homogenised. Seventeen bookshops have closed in the area in the last 10 years. That’s why Skoob, in its dedication to continually cultivating its collection and looking to the future, is one of the most important treasures of Bloomsbury. Long may it remain here – if only to convince me that I need more Faulkner.

 

Store Street Espresso

Store Street Espresso


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“We’re one of the few independent coffee shops that has remained independent”

Walk down Store Street and you leave behind the roar of the West End and cross the bridge into the more peaceful world of Bloomsbury. Starting at Tottenham Court Road in the west and ending at Gower Street in the east, Store Street is one of the most diverse in the neighbourhood, indeed in all of central London. Just a short walk from the British Museum and some of London’s top universities, Store Street Espresso has become a favourite with students, locals and visitors alike, making it a serious contender on London’s independent café scene.

Serving delicious artisan coffee since 2009, Store Street Espresso has fast became an institution on the street from which it takes its name and one of the best coffee shops in Bloomsbury. Boasting an excellent selection of sandwiches and pastries, as well as consistently delicious coffee, Store Street Espresso caters for a growing band of loyal customers. As you’d expect, they’re a diverse clientele, drawn from the neighbourhood’s mix of academia and commerce. The café was the brainchild of friends Rog and Jack. Having identified an impending coffee explosion in the city, they opened up with a simple aim: to offer great coffee to the people of Bloomsbury.

“Originally we just wanted to make some nice coffee, work with great equipment and have a cool space for the locals to hang out. On top of that it is always important that we provide a fun environment for people to work in, and for them to feel that they can have influence on what we do,” says General Manager Momo. Coffee is still at the centre of what they do, and their passion and enthusiasm for experimenting and trying new suppliers is evident both in their vast selection and on their Instagram feed, which on any given day is full of shout-outs to their most popular suppliers. “I’m open to all suggestions,” says Momo, “and because of that we were one of the first speciality coffee shops to produce cold brew, bulk brew filter and matcha, all of which has brought us a lot of success.”

It was this success that led to the opening of a second branch, closer to King’s Cross. “Honestly”, Momo tells me, “we were victims of our own popularity. We had reached the limits of what we could do in the space we had, the second store provided us with an opportunity to have an in-house kitchen so we could make our own sweets and offer cooked brunch for customers. It was a chance to try something new and different from the original, but to keep it familiar.” Recognising the need for expansion allowed them to grow the business on their own terms, and keeping their duo of cafes close together has facilitated this. The second Store Street Espresso can be found on Tavistock Place, not far from Russell Square, offering a port in the storm for anyone looking to escape King’s Cross and enjoy a peaceful interlude of coffee, cake and people-watching through the vast street-facing windows.

“All we knew was that we wanted it to be simple, minimal and different.” This signature minimalist style runs throughout every element of both locations. The relaxed café is a haven for students escaping the library, busy freelancers seeking a bit of human interaction and tourists and locals in search of sustenance and a break in their busy day. The minimalist interiors keep the space light and airy, with few distractions other than the array of tempting treats on offer. Store Street Espresso sources from anyone and everyone: local suppliers, recommendations or requests from regulars, or members of the team championing something they’ve discovered. This collaborative approach fits well with the community vibe that the café shares with Bloomsbury in general.

Arriving at 40 Store Street, you’re quickly lured in by the distinct aroma of coffee. The skylights at the rear of the café make it feel a bit like an airy workshop, while the bright walls add to the cheerful feel. At present, those walls also illustrate Store Street Espresso’s dedication to the local community, hosting an art exhibition in conjunction with the upcoming Bloomsbury Festival.

Is Store Street Espresso Bloomsbury’s living room? Perhaps. What is certain is that it guarantees excellent service and some of the best coffee in the area – not to mention the perfect vegetable quiche. It continues to be clear about its aims: great coffee for every taste, and a relaxing environment for people to visit. As Momo puts it, “We’re one of the few independent coffee shops that has remained independent, Jack and Rog still work closely with the team every day.” Expansion will hopefully continue for Store Street Espresso as they explore new locations, but they intend to stay anchored in Bloomsbury – with the area’s unique community feel, it remains the ideal base of operations.

 

Julia Lundsten


Words Chloe Moss

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“When designing clothes I always felt like the body says what the clothes look like… but shoes are always the same.”

My first thought upon being handed a pair of towering FINSK heels was that I was about to take a tumble. Being slightly lacking in grace and poise, I braced myself for at least a wobble. But once I’d donned the striking colour block shoes with their cut-out heels I soon realised that not only was I not going to fall, but that my feet were surprisingly at home in this initially scary footwear. If even I can stay upright, then it’s testament to the fact that FINSK shoes are as functional as they are eye-catching.

Created in 2004 by Finnish designer Julia Lundsten, FINSK has become synonymous with avant-garde yet entirely wearable designs, championing an architecturally driven aesthetic and a simplified colour palette. With an emphasis on a modern, structural look, FINSK keynotes include cut-out heels and colour blocking, eschewing frills and embellishments and letting the shape of the shoe do the talking. Most importantly, Julia’s shoes take into account comfort, and actually allow the wearer to move. Whilst collaborating with Dutch fashion designer Iris Van Herpen for her Spring/Summer 2016 collection at Paris Fashion Week, Julia was a huge hit with the models, who told her they were in awe of how easy the shoes were to move in. “All the models were like ‘Wow! I feel like I can run around’”. So although the shoes make an intimidating first impression, they are ultimately founded on a strong understanding of practical components, making for incredibly wearable design.

The focus on architectural influences comes naturally to Julia, whose parents both worked as architects. Having studied fashion design at the Royal College of Art, she realised that footwear was her true passion because of her appreciation for structural design. “When designing clothes I always felt like the body says what the clothes look like – because someone is big or someone is thin and they look so different – but shoes are always the same.” After graduating in 2003 Julia worked on a freelance basis for numerous clients whilst honing her own design plans. By working for a Brazil-based company she was able to explore what would become the base for her own future studio and had the opportunity to begin working on her own collection while still learning from other, established brands. After a year or two, Julia launched her first collection and FINSK, with its distinct brand identity, was born.

Having gained access to Brazilian ateliers through her freelance work, Julia made the decision to base her own factory there because of the highly skilled craftsmen, and the opportunity to ethically source every material going into her shoes. Her guiding principle was that “we never use leathers just for the sake of the leather”, so the primary materials for the shoes come from animals farmed for meat, rather than solely for their hides. Basing the atelier in Brazil also allowed her to take advantage of local craftsmanship and the unique techniques used in shoemaking there. With Brazil hosting fourteen people working on the practical side, two others overseeing the work, and Julia and her business partner based in Bloomsbury, FINSK operates with a relatively small team, allowing the collections to feel like a genuinely collaborative effort.

FINSK hash numerous shared credits under its belt, having worked with the likes of Basso & Brooke, Marimekko, Tia Cibani and Ports 1961 to create footwear to accompany their respective runway collections. There is also the collaboration with Iris Van Herpen for Spring/Summer 2016. Van Herpen’s collection combined craftsmanship with technology in a line that involved laser-cut, highly structural pieces. Julia’s footwear, then, with its sky-high and intricately carved heels in nude and black, provided the perfect accent to a collection that focused on sharp shapes.

Another exciting collaboration sees FINSK teaming up with Finish heritage rubber footwear brand Nokian. Famous for their wellington boots made using natural rubber, the brand’s secret formula, created in 1989, is still used today. The challenge for Julia was to combine her own techniques, established over a decade, with those of a European-based factory to create something that represented the FINSK aesthetic. Having worn Nokian boots as a child, Julia wanted to create versions that she could wear as a busy adult. The collection itself showcases the artistry of both brands, with the distinctive FINSK stamps of colour blocking and a structural heel transforming the humble wellington into something that you might even wear to the office.

Having introduced a unisex line, Julia continues to showcase the diverse nature of her designs, as well as responding to the ever-changing landscape of the fashion industry. FINSK has long since ceased to adhere to the traditional fashion calendar, preferring to respond to their clients’ desire to shop the looks they want when they want – and many international brands are now following suit. While some buyers seemed initially bemused by Julia’s intimidatingly architectural shoes, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. FINSK has built a loyal following and continues to offer exciting and challenging designs.

Brunswick

Brunswick


Words Mary-Rose Storey

Illustrations Ross Becker


“…it’s as though you’re living in the clouds, not just looking at them.”

A 1960s concrete housing estate is not an image that springs to mind when picturing the architecture of Bloomsbury but The Brunswick Centre has more in common with the elegant Georgian squares of the area than one might think.

As the architectural journalist Steve Rose wrote in The Guardian “By anyone’s standards, the Brunswick is a radical building. It would be a great setting for a sci-fi movie, with its huge concrete frame, elevated walkways and stepped ranks of apartments with curious angled windows. It’s such an odd building, variously called a “superblock” or a “mega structure”. Its banked ramparts and soaring service towers bring to mind the fantasy designs of the Italian futurist Antonio Sant’Elia; but more commonly, the Brunswick’s raw concrete and structural articulation put it firmly in the new brutalist school, alongside other ambitious structures of the time, such as Sheffield’s Park Hill housing estate or London’s Trellick Tower.”

Built in 1964 by architect Patrick Hodgkinson, based on studies by Leslie Martin, The Brunswick has had a troubled history. Initially it was intended as a private development and planned to be much larger, extending all the way to the Euston Road, but the Ministry of Defence, whose Territorial Army headquarters was in nearby Handel Street, refused permission for Camden Council’s compulsory purchase, using the excuse that the building contained a very large, hydraulically mounted gun – what if war should break out during the moving process?

Another problem for the development occurred when, in 1964, the newly elected Labour government brought in rent controls and agreed to rehouse all tenants evicted by compulsory purchase. Camden Council signed a 99-year lease in 1966, and the potential buyers of The Brunswick flats pulled out when they realised they would be sharing the building with council tenants. The developers still kept ownership of the structure and the shopping areas but the original designs were compromised due to lack of funds.

The concrete exterior was designed to be painted Crown Commissioners Cream, in keeping with the Georgian buildings of the area, but the concrete was left unpainted, resulting in unattractive streaking and water seepage problems. Over the years, the building fell into disrepair, shops began to close and it became litter-strewn and uncared for. Only the Renoir Cinema remained as a beacon of culture.

But salvation was at hand. Allied London Properties bought the freehold in 1998. Luckily, the founder, Michael Ingall, liked the property and hired Patrick Hodgkinson to submit a revised scheme. He brought in David Levitt (who actually lives at The Brunswick) and David Bernstein, who both worked with him on the original design and in November 2002, the £22 million project began. The exterior was cleaned and painted in a cream colour (Desert White). A large Waitrose store opened and The Renoir Cinema became The Curzon Bloomsbury.  New shops, cafes and restaurants were attracted to the centre and it began to be used as the architects’ vision had intended: a London village with a thriving mixture of flats and businesses, the sloping glass roofs giving the residents hours of light and sunshine.

The Brunswick is now Grade II listed and though adored by most of its residents, it has always had a love-it-or-hate-it reaction from the wider public. It has been variously described as a “Bloomsbury Prison”, “Alcatraz”, “Planet of the Apes” or, more affectionately, “Like some giant spaceship landed in genteel Bloomsbury – really cool”. The Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni, who used locations of bleak urban landscapes to depict modern alienation, featured the Brunswick Centre in his 1975 film The Passenger. Its star, Jack Nicholson, can be seen striding across the square to meet Maria Schneider, who waits for him on the (since demolished) steps.

When reviewing Todd Longstaffe-Gowan’s book The London Square, A.N. Wilson remarked on its failure to mention The Brunswick, stating: “It managed to achieve the sort of living space provided by the ideal square. It combines the qualities of Inigo Jones’s sunny piazzas and the domestic intimacy of Canonbury and the Lloyd Baker Estate.” The film director Jack Bond, who recently moved to The Brunswick, finds the building inspiring: “I love its brutal simplicity. Also the sky plays such a dominant part – it’s as though you’re living in the clouds, not just looking at them. From any angle, you tend to look up because you’re in this valley, this trough of buildings created by a triangular centre part. The other thing I like is that it’s a gathering place for people to come and relax, have a coffee or a meal or go to the cinema. When I look across at the flats opposite, it reminds me of those Spanish mountain villages where houses are tiered above each other.”

When architect Brendan Woods moved into The Brunswick 22 years ago, he found it a bit like Eastern Europe in terms of its general decrepitude. He was a personal friend of the architect Patrick Hodgkinson, who sadly died in February this year at the age of 85, and wrote Hodgkinson’s obituary for the RIBA Journal. He likens living at The Brunswick to living on a sailing ship. As he wrote in the Architectural Review in 2007, after the restoration work was completed: “I think the transformation is near miraculous after the years of neglect. ‘The SS Brunswick’ stranded in Bloomsbury (a bit like the SS Great Britain malingering in the Falkland Islands) was weather-beaten and appeared semi derelict.  The stained concrete and render added to its sense of abandonment and neglect. Patrick Hodgkinson had always intended that the building be painted but was thwarted by McAlpine who wanted to save money.”

Woods is hoping to develop the idea of ‘greening’ the building by introducing much more planting (new owners, Lazari Investments, support this idea and have said they will provide irrigation). He loves The Brunswick because he finds it wonderfully private with a sense of being far away from other people. He doesn’t consider the architecture ‘Brutalist’, which he thinks a much-abused term.  “I have grown to appreciate what an extraordinary achievement it is. Few architects can boast of anything comparable.” As Alan Powers wrote some years ago about the portico to Brunswick Square: “Against the evening light, or on a winter’s evening, the tall thin columns standing out against the chiaroscuro background provide one of the few genuinely sublime architectural sights of London.”

Continental Stores

Continental Stores


Words Chloe Moss

Photography Kirk Truman


“We are drawn to Bloomsbury. The clientele, the mix of students, academics, tourists, residents and business workers, provides a wonderful eclectic mix I doubt we could find again in such a small area of London”

The coffee scene in London is pretty crowded. I’m talking physically, of course, given the way in which I navigate, on the daily, through crowds of people in my local haunts with the determination familiar to many a disgruntled, deadline-ridden freelancer looking for their preferred table (close to a plug socket) and a caffeine fix. It’s more than just that, though. Since the city saw a boom in independent coffee shops five or six years ago, everywhere you turn you’re forced to choose between three independent coffee bars, each staffed by men with impressive beards standing behind marble counters with exposed light bulbs overhead. That’s not to say I don’t love the latte art and the highly photogenic interiors that dominate even my Instagram feed; but if we’re honest, such is the embarrassment of riches we Londoners face, it sometimes feels as if we have too much choice. That’s where Store Street Espresso comes in.

The story behind Store Street Espresso begins, predictably, at 40 Store Street, from which the café takes its name. The busy street, home to a multitude of cafés, restaurants, bars and bookshops, sits under the watchful eye of the nearby British Museum, and Store Street Espresso has been part of it since 2009. Initially conceived by friends Rog and Jack, who spotted an impending coffee explosion in the city, its aim was simple: to offer up really great coffee to the people of Bloomsbury.

Momo, the General Manager, explained the initial concept. “Originally we just wanted to make some nice coffee, work with great equipment and have a cool space for the locals to hang out. On top of that it’s always important that we provide a fun environment for people to work in, and for them to feel that they can have an influence on what we do.” Coffee is still at the centre of what they do, and their passion and enthusiasm for experimenting and trying new suppliers is evident both in their vast selection and on their Instagram feed, which is crowded with shout-outs to their most popular suppliers on any given day. “I’m open to all suggestions, and because of that we were one of the first speciality coffee shops to produce cold brew, bulk brew filter and matcha, all of which have brought us a lot of success.”

This success led to the opening of the second branch closer to King’s Cross, a café I’ve frequented on many a daily jaunt. “Honestly”, Momo tells me, “we were victims of our own success. We had reached the limits of what we could do in the space we had. The second store provided us with an opportunity to have an in-house kitchen so we could make our own sweets and offer cooked brunch for the locals. It was a chance to try something new and a bit different from the original, but keep it familiar.” Recognising the need for expansion allowed them to grow the business on their own terms, and keeping their duo of cafes close together has further enabled this. The second Store Street Espresso is nestled in Tavistock Place not far from Russell Square, offering a port in the storm for anyone looking to escape hectic King’s Cross for a peaceful interlude of coffee, cake and people-watching through the vast street-facing windows.

“All we knew was that we wanted it to be simple, minimal and different”. Their signature style runs throughout every element of both locations. The relaxed café is a haven for students needing a break from the British Library, freelancers seeking some human interaction and tourists and locals looking for sustenance and a pause in their busy day. The minimalist interiors keep the space light and airy, with few distractions other than the array of tempting treats on offer. Store Street source from anyone and everyone: local suppliers, recommendations or requests from regulars, or members of the team championing something they’ve discovered. This collaborative approach lends itself to the community vibe that Store Street Espresso shares with Bloomsbury in general.

Just as Bloomsbury, with its rich history, acts as a hub for British literary culture and attracts an eclectic mix of people, so Store Street has become a hub for a similarly diverse clientele. With the surrounding streets crowded with students, tourists, local residents and stressed-out freelancers alike, there’s no shortage of exciting new people to meet as well as loyal regulars. Store Street continues to be clear about its message: great coffee for every taste, and a relaxing environment for the customers. And, as Momo adds: “We’re also one of the few independent coffee shops that has remained independent. Jack and Rog still work closely with the team every day.” Expansion will hopefully continue for Store Street Espresso as they explore new locations, but they intend to stay anchored in Bloomsbury – with the area’s unique community feel, it remains the ideal base of operations.

Dalloway Terrace

Dalloway Terrace


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Simon Brown


Cross Tottenham Court Road to Bedford Square, and you’ve left Fitzrovia and entered Bloomsbury. There’s something quite distinct – unique, even – about this part of London; you feel its charm as you pass Bedford Square’s central garden and make your way down Adeline Place to Great Russell Street. Home to a number of hotels, an art supply shop, a furnishing store, and numerous cafés and restaurants, it’s a traditional London thoroughfare, but one that somehow encapsulates Bloomsbury’s neighbourhood spirit. Recently, a new arrival has added still further character to the street.

A carefully curated collection of eight family-owned luxury and urban hotels, the Doyle Collection is spread across superb locations in London, Dublin, Washington DC, Cork and Bristol. Each hotel has established a strong identity closely connected to its location, and a slice of its cultural setting is woven into the fabric of each building and the experience of its guests. With 153 rooms and suites on offer, all promising luxurious comfort, The Bloomsbury is at the heart of the neighbourhood whose name it bears. Tucked away on one side of the hotel is the newly unveiled Dalloway Terrace, taking its name from the eponymous character in Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs Dalloway. Evoking Woolf’s own literary attachment to the neighbourhood, the new bar and restaurant, like the hotel as a whole, taps into the history and spirit of the area.

Accessible from either the main entrance of the hotel, or via the carefully concealed side entrance, the main terrace area is peaceful and charming, carefully hidden from Great Russell Street and the hustle and bustle of nearby Tottenham Court Road. The fully heated indoor/outdoor space is open throughout the year, offering all-day dining from 7am-11pm and a menu overseen by The Bloomsbury’s Head Chef, Paul O’Brien. From light breakfasts and small plates to more substantial culinary delights, the menu caters for both those working in the local area and guests staying at the hotel itself. Small plates include seared tuna and pickled radish with wasabi, and the all-day dining menu features favourites like Lamb cutlets and broccoli champ with mint béarnaise or hand-dived seared scallops with spinach, chanterelles & teriyaki dressing. There are also daily specials, which change throughout the week.

Dalloway Terrace is also a perfect meeting spot, serving coffee and traditional afternoon tea, as well as a wide range of cocktails, all inspired by the Bloomsbury set, that influential group of English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists that put the area on London’s artistic map. The terrace area feels like a secluded secret garden hidden away from the city; it boasts a fully retractable roof, making it inviting in the autumn and winter and the perfect alfresco hideaway in the spring and summer. The design of Dalloway Terrace was created by Alexander Waterworth, Interior Designer for London’s Annabel’s, Q on The Roof and High Road House, as well as The Musket Room in New York. His work brings an elegant and quintessentially British feel to the space. Tucked away under the terrace is a concealed lower floor, otherwise known as The Bloomsbury Club Bar. Here, Waterworth has taken inspiration from the bohemian 1920s and 1930s and added a modern twist: the results are truly memorable.

In contrast to the tranquillity of the terrace, the lower-floor bar feels discreet and exclusive; as you descend the staircase, you are transported from one realm to another. Upstairs menus feature a floral motif based on the technique of preserving fresh flowers, while downstairs, classic typefaces evoke a comforting sense of nostalgia that blends seamlessly with the stylish contemporary setting. The setting resembles a hidden grotto or an old railway arch. From its glassware, cocktail techniques, hand-illustrated menus and dim setting, it makes quite an impression.

Both venues are appealing enough to while away the evening in. Perhaps the ideal would be to enjoy cocktails and a relaxed dinner above ground and then to disappear quietly below decks for a discreet postprandial tipple: think a fine whiskey or a glass of Champagne. Dalloway Terrace is very much in its infancy, having only opened its doors back in the spring, though what already resonates is its connection with the surrounding Bloomsbury neighbourhood. Having built relationships with many local businesses, residents and figures in the area, Dalloway Terrace has the potential to become ‘Bloomsbury’s living room’ in the years to come. For breakfast, lunch or dinner, for a daytime meeting or an evening drink, stop by at any time and see for yourself.

Maggie Owen

Maggie Owen


Words Chloe Moss

Portraits Kirk Truman


“It was around 4pm on a December evening, when people hadn’t quite closed their curtains, and it just sparkled – Lamb’s Conduit Street just sparkled”

I might be influenced by my lifelong magpie tendencies, but I believe many a great tale starts with a necklace. I know some of my most notable experiences are defined in my memory by whatever (usually gaudy) sparkle I had decking out my neck and hands at the time. We’re not talking Titanic here, but rather more compelling jewellery that one would be less inclined to throw off a boat: jewellery that will captivate, that will be treasured, that will be a talking point on every occasion it gets an outing. We’re talking about the sort of jewellery that you’d only expect to find by stumbling upon a treasure trove.

Maggie Owen London is that treasure trove. Nestled amongst the fellow businesses and homes of Rugby Street, the accessories shop sells work by an array of carefully curated costume jewellery designers. Not only that, but it stocks books similarly lovingly chosen, championing British poetry in a marriage that celebrates the literary and artistic history of Bloomsbury. And it all started with one necklace.

That necklace was the work of designer Philippe Ferrandis, a piece Maggie found in 2001 whilst visiting a boutique in the south of France. Ferrandis’ designs focus on costume jewellery, standout pieces using intricate design and high quality materials. The sculptural quality of his work made Maggie an instant fan, and a subsequent return trip just a few months later saw her investing in another Ferrandis original. Maggie was enamoured with the uniqueness of his designs, which appealed to her as both statement pieces and works of great artistry, and it was her enthusiasm that began their close working relationship of 20 years and counting.

Ferrandis’ work spurred a further interest in sourcing costume jewellery, and a visit to a Bloomsbury-based client one December was the starting point for a standalone shop. Having found her way to Lamb’s Conduit Street on a bright winter’s day, a shop front located on nearby Rugby Street caught Maggie’s eye. Rugby Street is a unique find even within the already unique Bloomsbury, a tiny street off the beaten track, which Maggie struggled to find on her second visit. Although the property was derelict at the time – perhaps that added to its charm – Maggie moved in six months later and launched Maggie Owen London. She’s still there today, 10 years on.

It is easy to see why Maggie chose Rugby Street as her permanent home. The small street runs off Lamb’s Conduit Street, a stone’s throw from Russell Square, the British Museum, the Foundling Museum and countless Bloomsbury landmarks. It captures everything people love about the area: the literary history – Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath’s wedding night residence is just across the street – and the melting pot community feel of the area. As Maggie puts it: “We are in the middle of a complete social mix”. She clearly cherishes the community spirit, telling me that “it’s rather lovely being in with other independent traders who have been long established”. When I visit the shop, plans are very much underway for the street party that Sunday in celebration of the Queen’s 90th birthday. Maggie is an active member of this community; her Instagram account is full of photos of her fellow local businesses and archival images of the area that she has sourced and shared in an effort to continue the legacy of Bloomsbury and to celebrate its history. Given her involvement, it’s no surprise that she is fondly referred to by many as the “Queen of Lamb’s Conduit”; such is her presence within the village-like community.

“You wonder why, over time, so many creative people gravitated to this area. From the original Bloomsbury Group, back to Charles Dickens, and even earlier, Thomas Coram. All of these guys, Handel even – Messiah was performed just down the road – or Jacob Epstein’s studio on Lamb’s Conduit Street. All of these people who came to live and work here.”

Part of the reason people continue to visit, live, and work in Bloomsbury is because that history is still palpable in the streets and buildings, and independent businesses with unique personalities are a huge part of that. As Maggie writes on her website: “Bloomsbury is still at the forefront of artistic and cultural innovation – it’s as vibrant, dynamic and creative as it has ever been”. Although the area has seen some necessary improvements over the years, it has maintained its individuality. She observes that “the area has probably become a bit grander, a bit smarter, but it hasn’t become sterile as has happened to large swathes of London. We haven’t become anesthetized. It still has its rough edges”.

The designers and accessories that Maggie sells in the shop have all passed under her discerning eye. Much like that first Ferrandis necklace, all of the jewellery “has to fulfil a criteria which is ‘do I like it?’ and I’ll go with that gut instinct. I think once you start analysing and over-analysing you get horribly lost”. When you enter the shop you are struck by how colourful it is, with collections sitting in colour co-ordinated displays to create a rainbow effect in the brightly lit space. The shop is narrow and packed full of treasures, from gem-encrusted bug pendants to Missoni-esque Italian teddy bears, to the special edition poetry books from Faber & Faber, with equally colourful covers, celebrating some of our best-loved poets. Maggie believes she works with “with some of the best in the world”, a statement that is difficult to refute when you step inside and are greeted by the vast collection of eye-catching jewels. As we chat, a mix of regulars and newcomers peruse the shelves and are welcomed with open arms and discerning eye, with Maggie on hand to discuss everything costume jewellery.

Maggie has cultivated a space both for fans of costume jewellery or followers of specific designers and for passers-by stumbling upon a new discovery. Aside from branching out into the online marketplace five years ago there are no plans for physical expansion on the cards. Maggie is “very happy with what I have here. I think that kind of organic growth is fine but I have no ambition to conquer the world. If I was starting out in my 20s I might have a different outlook, but I prefer to be in control of what I do and I think that if you do expand you have to sacrifice that – it does become diluted and it does become somebody else’s vision.” Luckily for those of us who have discovered Maggie Owen London, then, it looks set to remain the jewel in Bloomsbury’s crown.

Kenneth McKenzie

Kenneth McKenzie


Words Gordon Ritchie

Portraits Kirk Truman


“Bloomsbury does feel like a classic part of London…”

“If you go along to Lambs Conduit Street there are classic pubs, classic restaurants, like the Italian over there. All round the back streets here – pubs, fish and chip shops. Things like that make it very much like classic London. If you know it really well there are lots of really interesting things, but it’s almost like a weird kind of in-between area.”

Enter the Interzone. A dark, wet, London night. A date with the future. The Beat That My Heart Skipped at The Renoir. Walking rain-soaked terraced streets beneath an umbrella from Queens Square hospital. Suddenly through the mist a huge monolith, a temple to Modernist architecture, rears up out of the dark. Concrete towers shoot into the heavy grey sky as torrents of raindrops pelt down. Like a transplant from a wrecked future it feels out of place. A huge, multi-tiered concrete ship washed up on Bloomsbury shores from an outer place; unknown, abandoned. The life-sign of cinema the only light.

From Dundee to Bloomsbury, the screenplay of Kenneth MacKenzie’s life takes in design courses in the North of England, classic London fashion label The Duffer of St. George, and the creation of his own label, 6876. 6876 aimed to smash down the seasonal sales calendar of the fashion industry long before the mega-brand disruptors of today, forging its own path, referencing insurrection, student uprisings, and underground activists, all in a minimal style. “The very first promotional pictures we did for 6876 were taken in here in The Brunswick in 1995. The photographer knew someone who had a flat. From then on I was always interested in the idea of it.”

In the first 6876 collection was a clean minimal take on the classic blue shirt. Covered placket, no visible buttons. The shirts laid the path for the pared-down aesthetic that the label developed as it moved, shape-shifting to a focus on, and a cult following for, outdoor rain-ready gear. North West mountain ridges and standing-only South Stand terraces. This was casualwear worn by casuals, edgy apparel for outside agitators, riot-ready for resistance against those who sought to reject true modernist ideals. “It just feels like a natural thing now to be in The Brunswick. It’s kind of a peculiar period. A lot of the things that I’ve always been really interested in and friends of mine have always been interested in. Brutalist architecture and a real hard form of modernism are starting to get a bit mainstream. I see myself as a real arch-modernist. I have that feeling now that modernism is in the hands of people who aren’t modernists. It’s starting to become a misquoted word.”

Transported up and into the interior of The Brunswick. The wind blows across the tiered residential steppes that look down into the barren grey valley of the new shopping plaza. Rainwater gathers on the paving stones. A hooded figure with purpose and attitude, dressed for the cold, the wind the weather brings. Brutalist expression, a stand against the established path. This is the right area. “A business partner in 6876, photographer Norbert Schoerner provided the introductions and contacts. There are only 12 commercial units in the whole building and they rarely become available. It was about 6 or 7 years ago and I jumped at it as I always had this idea that I would like to be in here. I always knew the building and knew about the history of it. When we got a studio here, everyone was like: it’s ridiculous, it’s the perfect place for your kind of miserable aesthetic,” he says with a smile. “It suits it well.”

Hidden from sight, high up in The Brunswick, Kenneth communicates from 6876 HQ with a group of friends, artists, and film-makers situated in similar concrete situations across the UK. They find common ground in Modern Studies, a subject a young MacKenzie excelled in and was inspired by at school in Scotland, and now an inspiration and reference point for artistic and aesthetic projects. Single minded, but with a healthy attitude to collaboration throughout the timeline of the brand. Japan called, as did Fred Perry, Rohan, Cash-Ca and Clarks, to receive transmissions of 6876 design code. The outdoor trail, hiking, biking and mountain apparel, ubiquitous now and still gaining ground, owes a debt to the influence of Kenneth MacKenzie and 6876.

“When I’ve been using things like Ventile, Harris Tweed or waxed fabric, I still like to challenge by doing it in a very modern, designed way. Going round day to day, you look at how people are dressing and look at what people are interested in. In some sense, I react to that. I’m going to go the opposite way. I reverted back to the early days. Designing the garments, I wasn’t quite sure whether they were ugly or not. They were quite brutal in terms of design, and maybe that’s a subconscious act, but the main thing was that it was a real reaction against the prevailing mood of nostalgia and faux-artisan culture, which felt really alien to me. My friend Scott King called it the Mumfordisation of Britain, complete with bogus folk music, while 6876 felt more electronic, more modern. The Brunswick is the right place to come up with that kind of design. I think it reinforces some things. There has been a bit of a reappraisal in Britain of Brutalist architecture and it’s got a lot to do with buildings like this and the Barbican. They haven’t always been that brilliantly maintained. This is a Grade II listed building. The stairs outside here, they got rid of them, but in the Antonioni film The Passenger there’s a scene where Jack Nicholson walks down those stairs.”

Since moving into The Brunswick, Kenneth has been an observer. As 6876 continues the resistance, moving forward in hard times for an independent clothing business, he has seen his immediate environment change. “I used to really like The Renoir Cinema even though it wasn’t very comfortable. Now they’ve changed it into The Curzon, it’s actually amazing in there, but it’s another aspect of changing the building, from its old, slightly more low-key style. There have been a lot of changes. Originally you couldn’t get in from the outside – that end was blocked off – but when they did the refurbishment a few years ago, they took that off. Before, there just used to be an Iceland, a noodle bar and some funny Italian caff with loads of football memorabilia. It didn’t really look part of this area of London.”

“We make a lot in England – small runs. It’s quite niche. Each thing has to finance the next. You want everything to sell really quickly, and it’s very hard work. There’s no way I could even produce 6876 without the support of my wife, especially, and my family and friends, plus the extremely loyal customers. The industry has changed a lot. There is a different generation, new people getting into the brand.” The cult of 6876 now engenders digital myths of superfast sell-outs as limited editions are released, and there is a parallel secondary market trading in increasing values. Critical acclaim lights up the Internet with each new release. Kenneth now teaches millennials at Central Saint Martin’s and Kingston University, and a day will soon come when the next generation will tell stories about the 6876 aesthetic and Kenneth MacKenzie’s influence, all sound-tracked by brutal electronic music and documented in stark colours. They will look back at 6876’s sparse, concrete environment and recognise its progressive, forward-thinking, modernist attitude.

Oliver Spencer

Oliver Spencer


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


“Not only does it feel like the centre of Bloomsbury, but it feels like the centre of London in a way…”

Farringdon, Portobello, Lambeth: familiar names of various London districts, but also those of a wealth of garments designed by Oliver Spencer, whose clothes have earned a reputation for distinction, comfort and sheer cool. Designing and making handcrafted garments with stylish accents and practical details for modern men and women, Bloomsbury-based Spencer has produced his own individual take on relaxed British style.

Having grown up in Coventry, Oli first moved to London in the early 1990s to study art. Frustrated by the limitations of art school, he abandoned his studies and enrolled in what he describes as the University of Life, selling second-hand clothes from a stall at Portobello Market. “Lots of things happened which I would describe as being pivotal in framing where my life would go next. I learnt lots of lessons – some good and some bad,” he says. He woke up at 4.30am every day so he could get his pitch, and it was there on the market stall that his relationship with clothes really began, giving him with an enduring love of the product and a passion for shopkeeping.

Oli spent a decade creating and expanding his first venture, formalwear brand Favourbrook, during which time he designed waistcoats for the 1994 film Four Weddings And A Funeral and began to establish his place on London’s design map. Eight years later, he wanted to embark on a new venture with even greater ambitions – success on the global scene. His plan was to produce a range of clothing that combined the quality and craft of traditional tailoring with a more relaxed modern style. His philosophy: quality needn’t mean formality; casual needn’t mean careless. “I have a feeling towards clothing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s dressing up or dressing down  – it’s involved in every step of my life in any case,” he says. “When my customers purchase something from us, I want them to feel a sense of belonging – as if they’ve bought something that’s like their best friend… something they’ve owned forever. Every season, I strive to get there. I want to create clothes that talk to people. Most of my customers like to be seen but not heard – that’s why I don’t brand my stuff.”

The Oliver Spencer label was born in 2002, and its founder’s philosophy soon found a number of adherents in the heart of Bloomsbury and beyond. Ironically, Oli’s arrival in Bloomsbury came about through friend and founder of Folk Clothing, Glaswegian fashion designer Cathal McAteer. “I already loved the shops on Lambs Conduit Street, and then my friend Cathal asked me to open a shop here,” he tells me. “Bloomsbury has come up and up. It’s become a much more residential neighbourhood, but also with many more businesses locating here. It’s a melting pot, and full of academics. You can slide into a pub here and you could end up spending your evening with a doctor or professor, but equally they might work in the film industry or law. Bloomsbury, for me, is a very educated neighbourhood. People here are interesting and very creative: you can feel it when you’re walking down the street. The architecture of the place captivates me – it’s steeped in history. The whole atmosphere of is wonderful. If you think back to its heyday, with the Bloomsbury Group and everything else, you can still really feel it here. With our shops, one – No 58 – was a bookshop, and No 62 was a picture framers. They bound books underneath one, and made frames underneath the other.”

The brand first came to Lambs Conduit Street in 2007. Oli’s store at No 62 is home to the latest collection each season, with the original surviving shop fittings making for an immaculately dressed setting. Underneath the shop, where the framer’s was once based, the Oliver Spencer team is at work making for the main office for the brand. Another prominent fixture below the shop is Oli’s studio, where the collections are designed. The numerous sketches of jackets, shirts and other garments pinned to the wall attest to the work that goes on there. Two doors along, No 58 is home to the Oliver Spencer Shoes & Accessories collection. “The brand is wholly focused on menswear. I’ve got lots going on with it,” he says.

Since launching on Lambs Conduit Street, Oliver Spencer has gone on to expand across London, with shops in Shoreditch and Soho. “Not only does it feel like the centre of Bloomsbury, but it feels like the centre of London in a way. Lambs Conduit Street, to me, is the best street in London, because of the mix of people,” says Oli. “I’d imagine it’s the way London was about 50 years ago, with lots of independent stores based along the street. You can do most things in life on this street; get drunk (or merry), do up your house, dress nice, smell nice and eat well… and that’s where we want to be.”

Oli is uncompromising in the standards he sets for production and provenance, sourcing the finest fabrics and yarns from artisanal British and Italian mills. He prides himself on producing his garments in only the best European factories and workshops, with around 40 per cent of the collection made here in London or elsewhere in England.

Despite the emphasis on British quality, Oliver Spencer’s eye is firmly fixed on the global market. Today, his clothes are stocked in many of the world’s leading department stores, from Selfridges to Liberty of London, and he has opened shops in Toronto and Paris, as well as developing a profitable international online business. With wearers of his brand including Daniel Craig, Tinie Tempah, Alex James and Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp, Oli confesses that his next ambition is to become a household name.

Wellcome Collection

Wellcome Collection


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Wellcome Trust


“My plans exist in my mind like a jigsaw puzzle…”

At the northern edge of Bloomsbury stands a remarkable building. Enter through the revolving doors of 183 Euston Road and you’ll find a place that unites the traditions of medicine and art and explores our history and future in all sorts of fascinating ways. Describing itself as “the free destination for the incurably curious”, Wellcome Collection offers visitors contemporary exhibitions and historic collections, and boasts plenty of surprises at every turn.

Wellcome Collection is part of the Wellcome Trust, a charitable foundation dedicated to improving health on a global scale. The Trust, in its own words, “supports a range of bright minds in science, humanities and the social sciences as well as education, public engagement and the application of research to medicine”. Upon his death in 1936, the Trust was established under the will of founder Sir Henry Wellcome. Today, it is the largest independent charitable foundation funding research into human and animal health in the world. The Trust has supported such transformative work as the sequencing and understanding of the human genome, and their research has established front-line drugs for malaria. The Trust’s broadly defined mission allows them to respond flexibly to medical needs and scientific opportunities. As well as tackling immediate priorities, their independence and long-term perspective enable them to back research that will benefit future generations. In short, think of Wellcome Collection (which is immediately next door to the Trust’s headquarters) as the showroom for the Trust’s endeavours globally – past, present and future – and a permanent exhibition exploring the human condition.

This all sounds amazing – so amazing that I have an incurably curious question of my own: how did one individual come to found an organisation such as this?

Henry Wellcome was born – a long way from Bloomsbury – in 1853 in the American Wild West. He developed an early interest in medicine and marketing, and the first product he advertised was ‘invisible ink’ (in fact, just plain lemon juice). He and his college friend Silas Burroughs left the US for Britain in 1880, setting up a pharmaceutical company called Burroughs Wellcome & Co. At this time, medicines were traditionally sold as powders or liquids, and Burroughs Wellcome & Co. were one of the first to introduce medicine in tablet form under the 1884 trademark ‘Tabloid’. Burroughs died in 1895, with Wellcome continuing to lead the company under his own name.

As Wellcome put it himself: “My plans exist in my mind like a jigsaw puzzle… and gradually I shall be able to piece it together.” And that he did. His multinational pharmaceutical company had begun to master modern techniques of advertising, such as promotion, image and branding, as well as establishing world-class medical research laboratories. At the same time, Wellcome used the wealth his company brought him to amass one of the world’s most impressive (and most eccentric) collections relating to medicine and health through the ages. Pharmacist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector, Henry Wellcome was undoubtedly one of the most fascinating men of his age, and received a knighthood before his death in 1936. By this time, the collection was greater in size and scope than those of many of Europe’s most famous museums.

With his ever-growing collection in mind, Wellcome had planned and constructed the Wellcome Building on Euston Road. Today, little about it has changed. There have been minor refurbishments in recent years, including the introduction of the world-renowned Wellcome Library and the addition of a rather expensive spiral staircase, but the building remains more or less as Henry envisioned it. His intention was to create not just a space to house his constantly developing collections, but one where professionals could come to learn more about the development of medicine and medical science.

Both aspects have proved successful, and probably beyond Henry’s wildest dreams. The Wellcome Collection opened to the general public in 2007, and now receives over 500,000 visitors every year. The Collection is divided into several spaces throughout the building, including the ‘Medicine Man’ section housing a permanent display of extraordinary objects from Henry Wellcome’s own personal collection. Another permanent fixture, ‘Medicine Now’, combines art, mixed media displays and exhibits to tell the story of modern medicine and the work of the Wellcome Trust since Henry’s death. This particular area features a postcard wall where visitors are encouraged to contribute drawings – I’ve seen contributions illustrating everything from genitals to unicorns!

Wellcome Collection also features a main exhibition space that plays host to a varying programme of events and exhibitions throughout the year, including work by Felicity Powell and Bobby Baker. In recent months, perhaps one of the most captivating exhibitions to date was displayed in the ground floor space – Tibet’s Secret Temple: Body, Mind and Meditation in Tantric Buddhism. The exhibition uncovered the mysteries of Tantric Buddhism and the rich history of its yogic and meditation practices. Taking its inspiration from a series of intricate murals that adorn the walls of the Lukhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet, the exhibition showcased over 120 outstanding objects from collections around the world that illuminate the secrets of the temple, once used exclusively by Tibet’s Dalai Lamas. A leisurely wander through the 12 rooms of the exhibition made for a calming and educational experience.

There’s another exhibition space on the first floor, which from October 2015 to January 2016 housed the first part of Wellcome Collection’s year-long exploration of human consciousness. Ann Veronica Janssens’ exhibition last year, entitled ‘yellowbbluepink’, made for a hot topic on Instagram. Her installation filled an entire gallery space with brightly coloured mist, exploring perception through the use of light and colour. Hues were caught in a state of suspension, defying the apparent immateriality of the medium and veiling any detail of surface or depth within the space. The second part, launched in February, is ‘States of Mind: Tracing the Edges of Consciousness’. This major exhibition brings together artists, psychologists, philosophers and neuroscientists to investigate the terrain between consciousness and unconsciousness, featuring historical material, objects, artworks and an evolving programme of contemporary art installations. The exhibition will run until 16th October this year.

When I first stumbled upon Wellcome Collection, I was shocked that this remarkable place was just moments from my home and yet had taken me so long to discover. Shock soon gave way to delight, though, as I began to explore the building’s many eccentric spaces. Its reading room has become my second home: it feels more like a meticulously designed sitting room, but one in which you can find yourself examining anything from a straitjacket to a vintage X-ray machine. The library is another space that captures the imagination of visitors – and makes for the perfect writing spot, incidentally. I’d certainly recommend you drop into Welcome Collection for yourself – one visit to this spectacular collection and you’ll probably, like me, find yourself feeling incurably curious.

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf


Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Alexandria Coe


“…it is done; & I have been sitting these 15 minutes in a state of glory, & calm, & some tears…”

If one name is synonymous with the word Bloomsbury, it’s that of Virginia Woolf. Although her time as a resident of the area was relatively short, it nevertheless provided her with a crucial space in which to bloom creatively. In return, she added immeasurably to the literary character of Bloomsbury, and her influence is still visible today.

Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen in Kensington on the 25th of January 1882. Her father was a notable historian, and her mother modelled for the Pre-Raphaelites; it is safe to say Virginia was exposed to the creative world from a very young age. Losing her mother in 1895 and her father in 1904, at a time where education for women was virtually unheard of, she turned to her brother Thoby, who was studying at Cambridge, telling him: “I don’t get anybody to argue with me now, and feel the want. I have to delve from books painfully and all alone.” And this is how the 22-year-old Virginia came to move out of her home at Hyde Park Gate, accompanied by her sister Vanessa and her brother Adrian, and venture into the emancipating and disreputable atmosphere of Bloomsbury from her new address at 46 Gordon Square.

It was at this time that things really started happening for the eager Virginia. With the help of some family acquaintances, the inelegant district slowly began to come alive for her. It was this simple change of address that led to her metamorphosis from an impatient young woman to a literary visionary. A friend, Violet, introduced her to the Guardian where she took on the position of literary critic. Soon after, she was writing for the Academy and the National Review and contributing weekly reviews to the Times Literary Supplement. Bloomsbury opened up a wondrous new world for Virginia, allowing her to gain the experience she needed. Simultaneously, it was here, in this still rather dubious area of central London, that the stuff of artistic legend was made and the Bloomsbury Group began to form.

It all started when Thoby invited a few select friends from Cambridge University to spend Thursday nights at 46 Gordon Square. Virginia found herself a part of something – a group of people who were throwing off the shackles of a stagnant Victorian decorum. One such instance is recorded in her collected autobiographical writings: “Suddenly the door opened and the long and sinister figure of Mr Lytton Strachey stood on the threshold. He pointed his finger at a stain on Vanessa’s white dress. ‘Semen?’ He said. Can one really say it? I thought and we burst out laughing.” Such seemingly trivial incidents illustrate the genesis of the Bloomsbury Group and paved the way for Virginia’s break with the restrained artistic past as she embraced the possibilities of the future.

Of course, such gatherings would soon enough become a sort of movement, as this group of artists, writers, critics and philosophers became something bigger – a loose collective we now know as the Bloomsbury Group. Countless articles could be written about every controversy, racy happening and rumour that the group gave rise to. As historian Charles Snow puts it, they “believed in pleasure… They tried to get the maximum of pleasure out of their personal relations. If this meant triangles or more complicated geometric figures, well then, one accepted that too.”

The fledgling group of pleasure-lovers was not without its tragedies. In 1906, doctors mistook typhoid fever for malaria and, at the age of 26, Thoby Stephen was dead. In 1931, Virginia would credit her completion of her ground-breaking experimental novel The Waves to her youngest brother, writing that “it is done; & I have been sitting these 15 minutes in a state of glory, & calm, & some tears, thinking of Thoby & if I could write Julian Thoby Stephen 1881-1906 on the first page. I suppose not.”

Seeking solace after another major loss, Virginia turned to her sister, Vanessa for support. Alas, there was little to be found there, as Vanessa had recently been courted by and subsequently engaged to Clive Bell, a man Virginia described as “having more taste, I think, than genius.” Her sister’s forthcoming nuptials meant that it was time for Virginia to move away from 46 Gordon Square. Luckily, she was able to find a place not too far from Bloomsbury. In a letter to a friend, she says that: “Adrian and I try to get a house, and I hope I have found one now in Fitzroy Square.”

There is, of course, much more to say about the life and times of Virginia Woolf, but for now we can only turn the page on this chapter of her life in Bloomsbury as a new one opened up in neighbouring Fitzrovia, just across the Tottenham Court Road. Witness to fresh beginnings and seismic cultural shifts, Bloomsbury had shaped Virginia as much as she has come to shape it. Through the Bloomsbury Group, Virginia met her future husband, Leonard Woolf, whom she married on the 10th August 1912. This year also saw Virginia hit with an extreme bout of depression that forced her to leave the city and take up temporary residence in Asham House, Sussex. This residence was to become the couple’s holiday retreat until 1919 and a viable location for Virginia’s writing. Indeed, it was here she put to pen to paper and produced her debut novel, The Voyage Out (1915).

28th March 1941, Monks House, Sussex: Virginia pens a thoughtful letter and leaves it for her loving husband to find. Putting on her coat and walking out of the door, Mrs Woolf proceeds to line her pockets with stones and pebbles. She walks with purpose towards the section of the River Ouse close to her home. She steps calmly into the water until it comes over her head and she disappears under its waves and ripples. Virginia Woolf lives on in Bloomsbury, the area that allowed her creative soul to flourish; but for such an artist, her real immortality is in her words.

Judd books

Judd books


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“We have been primarily an academic shop from the start…”

Walking the streets of Bloomsbury, it’s impossible not to be reminded of the long relationship London’s literary village has had with the written word. The independent bookshop is still a much loved and common sight in Bloomsbury, from Skoob Books, once to be found on Sicilian Avenue and now hidden away beneath the iconic Brunswick Centre, to LGBT bookshop Gay’s the Word, which greets you on Marchmont Street. You can follow a trail of bookshops across Bloomsbury, reflecting the area’s long association with the literary world. While the growth of the digital world has seen many of London’s bookshops closing their doors (there have been casualties here in Bloomsbury), Marchmont Street’s Judd Books continues to fly the flag, selling a wide range of second hand and bargain books from its Marchmont Street shop.

Judd Books was founded in 1992 by Nigel Kemp and Alexander Donaldson, and was originally just around the corner on Judd Street – hence the name. When the shop moved to it new home on Marchmont Street, the Judd Books moniker went with it. Once a butcher’s shop, the Marchmont Street site first opened as Judd Two Books, only becoming Judd Books proper when the old Judd Street shop shut for good. Marchmont Street is a traditional London thoroughfare, once home to a fishmonger’s, a baker’s and other traditional trades. While these have all left the street, Judd Books carries on, alongside a traditional launderette, a number of well-known pubs and other bookshops.

The shop sells a wide range of publications, from art, photography and literature on the ground floor, to history, philosophy and classical studies in the basement. “We have been primarily an academic shop from the start. We carefully choose our remainders and returns so that our customers can easily find good books without having to plough through lots of irrelevant titles,” says Nigel. “We have particularly strong sections on art and have been fortunate in acquiring two working libraries from retired academics.”

The printed book has often been described as a dying medium in recent years, under constant threat from the supposed convenience of digital equivalents. Judd Books, though, takes a different – and longer – view. During the near quarter century that the shop has been trading, the whole book market has changed several times. “For a hundred years, there was the net book agreement where publishers dictated the price of a book, which booksellers had to follow if they were to continue to receive supplies – this ended in 1990,” Nigel tells me. “The large chains hoped to benefit by undercutting the small bookshops and taking over their business. What happened was it let in the supermarkets, who were soon undercutting everyone for the bestsellers until Amazon arrived.”

Each published book has its own ISBN (a unique number only relating to that book), and the ISBN was soon at the centre of books being sold online. It was now possible to have a database of all publications in circulation. “This allowed them to use their computer skills to list every book. This meant that the astonishing amount of books in print could all be accessed directly by the public, not just by members of the book trade,” says Nigel. “In the beginning, Amazon only sold new books. But soon they saw the opportunity to dominate the second-hand market using the same tools. They make much more from selling other people’s second-hand books than their own,” he confides. “And then came the Kindle. Many said it was the end of the book… All these events have wreaked havoc on bookshops, both new and second-hand. At least for the time being.” Between 2005 and 2013, according to the Booksellers Association, bookshops selling new books declined from 1,535 to 937; the decline of second-hand bookshops was even steeper.

Despite the growth of online retailers and the birth of the Kindle and other devices, the digital age hasn’t been all bad news, Nigel explains, and something positive has emerged from the digital revolution. “One thing the Internet has done with second-hand books is to show which books are very common and which books are scarce,” he says. “Many books can no longer be put economically on the shelves in the shop, so we put them outside in trays.” Traditionally, bookshops would also have had glass cases or ‘back rooms’ where the most valuable and fragile books were displayed. “Today, we put these on the Internet, together with very obscure books which we can offer to a much wider audience,” he says.

As a publisher, I believe in print, and in its strong sense of identity. Books and magazines are like people; they’re individuals, and over time they age and mature. So do bookshops – and we should cherish them. If they were to disappear from our high streets altogether in the decades to come, it would be a real tragedy. Whatever the shelf life of print as a medium in the future, I am confident that Judd Books is here to ride out the changes until the end. I’ve visited bookshops all over London, but there’s something quintessentially British and authentic about Judd Books that takes you back to Bloomsbury past – a time when the Kindle would have been science fiction and Amazon unthinkable. So, look away from your screen, put down your mobile device, and pick up a book: look at the cover, turn the pages, sniff the paper – you might be inspired to go and discover your local bookshop and help keep the wonderful medium of the printed page alive…

The Espresso Room

The Espresso Room


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Chris Rahlenfeldt


“We still have customers coming in who are surprised to discover that it’s now a coffee shop…”

I know a wonderful place to sit and watch the world go by. On a winter morning, or a sunny summer afternoon, it remains a perfect, diminutive, sanctuary on Great Ormond Street. Doctors and nurses come and go, making their way to the hospital across the road, but here – in one of London’s best coffee shops, and one of Bloomsbury’s closely guarded secrets – you can sit, right in the centre of Bloomsbury, among its distinctive residents, and just while away the time.

The Espresso Room is really just that – a space no larger or grandeur than a garden shed or a small bedroom. In a previous life, it was a tiny launderette, and then, set against Bloomsbury’s literary backdrop, it was fittingly reborn as a bookshop.

“Great Ormond Street Hospital’s just across the street. Sometimes, years can go by between people’s visits to the hospital, so to this day, we still have customers coming in who are surprised to discover that it’s now a coffee shop,” says co-founder Tom Mullings. Tom and his partner Chris, however, are no strangers to coffee. As well as The Espresso Room, they have opened Holborn’s Freestate Coffee as well as Covent Garden’s New Row Coffee. Tom’s no stranger to Central London either: “I was born in Soho. I can remember when I was kid learning to ride a bike on Old Compton Street – I guess not many people can say that!”

This latest incarnation of the little ‘room’ on Great Ormond Street arrived in 2009. Despite the bite of the ongoing recession, independent cafés and coffee shops were on the rise in Central London. Kaffeine and Lantana, for example, had opened their doors in neighbouring Fitzrovia during what must have seemed the most challenging of times to begin a new business venture.

With a small seating area inside, a carefully designed barista bar and a minimalistic interior, The Espresso Room feels like Bloomsbury’s contemporary equivalent of the classic tearoom or coffee house. It’s a good fit for the neighbourhood: unpretentious, sensible and intelligent. “It’s a given, I guess, that we get a lot of business from the hospital opposite and the staff. Many doctors and nurses are regular visitors, as well as residents from around the area, not to mention Lambs Conduit Street,” says Tom. “Its a weird feeling coming to work here – everybody knows everybody. Every day, it’s a case of ‘who’s spoken to who?’ You can really feel the local element. We didn’t advertise or promote this at all, but we recently began opening on Saturdays. As locals started to come in each Saturday, word spread through the area from person to person. Bloomsbury’s like that!“

With indoor seating for about four or five people, The Espresso Room has expanded its minimal capacity by moving outside. Tan wooden benches line the street during the café’s opening hours, helping integrate it into the neighbourhood’s social fabric. Out here, it’s even easier to observe the bustle of Bloomsbury locals, business owners, doctors and nurses, going about their day-to-day lives.

The limited capacity of this tiny coffee shop somehow makes The Espresso Room all the more special: it feels a bit niche, a hidden gem that you’ll only hear about through the Bloomsbury grapevine. The choice of food and drink is likewise small but equally memorable – mainly espresso-based coffees, a soup of the day, a sandwich or two, and a few baked goods. The place feels like a shrine to the soul of espresso, which is made with consistent and consummate skill using beans from Square Mile Coffee Roasters. A visit always provides me with what I’d describe as “textbook coffee” – something steering dangerously close to perfection and served with pride by the café’s wonderful baristas. Weather permitting, sitting outside The Espresso Room and watching the world go by in the company of a flat white (or whatever your coffee of choice happens to be) is a moment in Bloomsbury spent well.

Orchidya

Orchidya


Words Vaneesha Ritchie

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“I love phalaenopsis because it has a long flower period. I like vanda because it has a special pattern on the petal like a wild animal.”

Leaving behind the screaming neon and frenzy of Tottenham Court Road and walking past the sweeping crescent of South Street with its grand, red-brick offices and the sleek Imagination Gallery, you move towards the earnest, studious calm of Bloomsbury and come across the perfectly situated Orchidya. Behind the door of Number 42 Store Street are the keys to the kingdom and mystery of Orchids.

The interior is arranged in two halves, “to reflect the history and modernity of orchids”. One half is the front room of an eccentric, Victorian orchid grower, indulging in a grand excess of ornament; the walls hung with rows of framed botanical prints, dark wood cabinets artfully cluttered with trifles and curios, gewgaws; and orchids, orchids everywhere. The other half is quiet, white, modern.

It was a 20-million-year old prehistoric bee preserved in amber, along with the orchid pollen on its wing tip, which first told us that orchids were at least as old as the dinosaurs. Given the fact that orchids have survived all this time, their incredible diversity should come as no surprise. There are presently more than 30,000 recognised species, distributed around the globe. They survive in obscure habitats – the vertiginous slopes of dense rainforests, the craggy outcrops of all but impassable Himalayan cliff edges – but also in plain sight: water lilies, magnolias, avocado, black pepper and vanilla plants all belong to the orchid family. The human desire to possess beauty plays out in the field of orchids, as elsewhere; and as in many a Greek tragedy, it can lead to a kind of madness. In Victorian times, it was dubbed Orchidelerium. Explorers and orchid hunters were sent to every corner of the earth on long and sometimes perilous expeditions to bring back the rarest, most exquisite, most unusual orchids. The danger didn’t end with the expedition’s return: orchid thieves could still be employed by unscrupulous collectors to steal the prize from under one’s very nose. Unfortunately, this desire to possess orchids didn’t always go beyond their acquisition, and despite the exorbitant expense showered on their retrieval many withered and died upon arrival; making them, of course, even more desirable – madness indeed!

Orchidya opened four years ago “inspired by a love of flowers in general and a passion for orchids in particular”. Perhaps revealing shades of Orchidelerium, the owners have between them 17 multiple-medal-winning greenhouses across the world – from Thailand, Malaysia and China in Asia to France, Poland and England in Europe – where they have been carefully cultivating orchids for 25 years.

A slightly disquieting thing about orchids, which becomes obvious once you know about it, is that the flowers are totally and completely symmetrical. Theories abound as to the significance of facial symmetry in humans – the more symmetrical a face, the more attractive it will be to others. The mesmerising symmetry of orchids appears to elicit the same response. No wonky petals; no endearing little bumps; just perfect, impenetrable, chilling symmetry: the Grace Kellys of the flower world. Normally the eye rests on imperfections, but since with orchids there are none, it can only do a double take or continue to gaze in awe at the perfection before it.

As a plant that symbolises luxury, the orchid has no shortage of customers in London; Japanese, Russian, Singaporean and British converge on Orchidya. “As London diversifies, so do the clients. Their requirements vary; more established clients and collectors pre-order particular varieties,” to be sourced and grown bespoke before being added “to their own cherished collections”. And with up to 300 new varieties of orchid named each year this is no mean feat. There is even a triannual event nicknamed the ‘Orchid Olympics’ where hundreds of participants from at least 55 countries gather to display the flowers born from the art and cutting edge science of orchid breeding; from the bizarre (e.g. Zygoneria Pine Road, which looks like two mismatched flowers glued together), to the intriguing (e.g. Coelogyne mayeriana, a fresh, green, intricately designed and striped orchid) to the breath-taking (e.g. Anguloa uniflora – pale, delicate, demure and beautiful).

So how on earth do you care for such exotic plants? I had visions of elaborate regimes… crushed pearls brought by divers from the Tuamotu Archipelago to be gently dusted on the uppermost leaves at first light; mixtures of artisanal nutrients exclusive to Amazon rainforests fed to the orchid root system every three hours, drop by drop… But no, apparently not; and that sort of nonsense would probably kill them. As my mental image of vintage laboratory glassware shatters, Sophie the store manager assures me that “the best way to look after orchids is not to look after them”. As several million years of perfectly competent evolution attests, orchids “prefer to be left alone, only needing to be watered sparingly at the root with a spoon,” (or maybe a vintage glass dropper if you are that way inclined).

As a purveyor of luxury, Orchidya offers a lot more than an orchid in a pot. Much like the rest of the Store Street shops in this little gem of a road – from the restaurants, art gallery, independent coffee shops and delis to the bespoke bicycle shop, artisanal dry cleaner and instrument makers – it goes that extra mile by way of craft and depth of knowledge. Using “only the freshest and finest flowers” Orchidya creates imaginative and memorable arrangements and helps its customers select “the best orchids for their individual styles”.

Flower arranging is an art in itself – an ancient Japanese art called Ikebana, to be precise. Established in the 15th century and originally taught by Buddhist priests, it became a disciplined art form for creative expression. By employing a series of rules, the artist could convey his or her intention via the particular colour combinations, shapes and natural lines used in the final exhibit, bringing nature and humanity together. Sophie herself studied flower arranging in Paris, “learning how to manipulate organic materials and develop concepts and designs by utilising a variety of their properties”. Then she spent a further six months at the Orchidya greenhouse in Lincolnshire, “learning to care for and nurture the growing plants”. Her enjoyment and depth of knowledge of Orchidya’s wares is evident from her answer to my question: “What is your favourite orchid?” Sophie just about managed to stop herself at five. And that was five orchid families, not five individual orchids. “I love phalenopsis because it has a long flower period, I like vanda because it has a special pattern on the petal like a wild animal. Slipper orchids look so unique and wild. Dendrobidium orchids are so elegant. Cambria orchids have a special fragrance – some of them smell like orange blossoms, some smell like delicate jasmine, and some smell like chocolate.” I suspect she could go on; and luckily for those who visit Orchidya, funds allowing, they too can choose as many as they like.

Kate Anderson

Kate Anderson

 


Words Vaneesha Ritchie

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


Kate Anderson isn’t simply engaged in her role as Director of the Bloomsbury Festival, she’s totally immersed in it. Facts and thoughts and ideas and their interconnections come tripping off her tongue, thick and fast and relevant. There’s a lot of information, but it’s all part of the process: focus, not whimsy. So by the time we part – hell, barely half way through the interview  – I really, really want to go to the Bloomsbury festival this year.

Kate was born and went to school in Hastings, East Sussex, where “drama was the only thing [she was] any good at,” so she went on to study it full-time and gain her Equity card. Her first job was working ‘front of house’ in a local theatre. Having been brought up in a hotel, running around front and backstage felt like coming home. Having found an environment she was happy in, Kate swiftly progressed through the ranks, gaining experience in different roles in the theatre and finding each one more exciting and challenging than the last. As administrative director at the Nuffield Theatre her job included the ambitious organising, scheduling and logistics of an EU-funded four-year programme of street arts involving groups from France and the UK. Now, all these threads have come together in her role as Festival Director.

The aim of the Bloomsbury Festival this year is to go one better than the previous one. Last time, it was about showcasing the locale – the work that goes on in the area, the diversity of its inhabitants – and this year they want to amplify it, scale it up, write it large and make it a unique and cutting-edge event. The theme of this year’s festival is ‘language’, so a ‘creative lab’ has been set up, bringing together individuals in the area from disparate disciplines and seeing what happens. The cast of one of these creative labs sounds like a madcap production in itself. From the world of theatre – tumbling in from stage left in a riot of colour – we have a choreographer, a digital curator, someone from the Bureau of Silly ideas and a performance poet. From stage right – ponderously swaying, wrapped in the mists of time – we have the contingent from the British Museum: a keeper of ancient Mesopotamian script, the head of learning, a Babylonian writing specialist and a Rosetta stone expert. Finally, from SOAS (the School of African Studies) –  nimbly tiptoeing amongst them all, looking and listening with exaggerated movements – come an epidemiologist, a specialist in computer language, a researcher into the sexual language of teenagers and an archivist of endangered languages. Wouldn’t you just love to be a fly on that wall? Well, in a way you can – the results, whatever on earth they might turn out to be, will be on show at this year’s festival – organic, avant garde, exciting and unpredictable.

Another developing idea is the Coram song cycle, responding to the stories of 12 people from the community and retelling them in music. It will take place in Coram’s fields to celebrate it’s 80th anniversary, with choirs, orchestras and local people performing, all tutored by professionals. Audience members will be able to move off and physically follow whichever story takes their fancy.

Bloomsbury’s demographics make it a perfect spot in London to mine for fresh ideas. Only 48 per cent of the area’s residents were born in the UK – the London Borough average is 63 per cent. You can practically hear the organisers rubbing their hands in glee – they have virtually the whole world to play with! One particular aspect that has influenced this year’s theme – along with Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary and the SOAS centenary – is the fact that Bloomsbury is more linguistically diverse than average, with 12 languages besides English spoken by at least 100 residents. It’s worth noting that, even with all these diverse small communities, only two per cent of area’s residents speak no English whatsoever, which means they tend to be willing and able to join in and become part of the wider Bloomsbury community.

Kate herself admits that by calling something a ‘community festival’ the assumption is that aspirations are low. That assumption, though, would be wrong, and disproving it is partly why Kate Anderson is at the helm: her knowledge of all aspects of theatre, her contacts in that world, and her own reputation mean that she can call out the big guns and they will come, allowing the festival to take place on the scale it deserves, with professionals, artists and communities all at the vanguard. Bill Gee, a highly experienced producer, programmer and arts consultant with expertise in large scale, walkabout, street-based and visual productions, and Orit Azaz, an artistic director and creative thinker with an international reputation for working in cultural and community settings, are both artistic associates of the festival this year.

Of course, ambition and large-scale thinking alone are not enough: there has to be money. The Bedford Estates, the largest private landowner in the area, has not only given financial backing but has been instrumental in garnering support for the festival from other local business by quickly grasping and communicating the essential concept of supporting and embracing the communities it is designed to serve. Further core funding comes from Camden Council, the University of London and a number of other Bloomsbury-based institutions, while project funding comes from the Wellcome Trust and other foundations and sponsorship from local businesses and individuals.

Hearteningly, the lessons learnt from last time around were that the hackneyed clichés of other festivals – loud, with bad music, and half-hearted stalls selling things you don’t want – simply don’t work here. The things that did go well were all original and inclusive without being po-faced and patronising. Indeed last year’s Light Up Store Street event was a case in point. Inspired by the design of the ‘Karachi bowl’ used in traditional Bangladeshi cookery, fire sculptures were lit, mime artists and musicians took up residence in local shop windows, and street food and mulled wine were on offer. It was so successful and enjoyable that the Store Street shops want to do the same again – but Kate has convinced them that they can do even better. We’ll see what they come up with. I get a sense that this is what Kate and the Bloomsbury Festival are aiming for all the time: learning from the past and taking creative risks while harnessing the skills and talents of people who can deliver a great experience for everyone. Hopefully, the result will see Bloomsbury as a whole is represented, with its diverse residents helping write a new page in the area’s rich cultural heritage.