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                 Virtual Zoom Walk:

Radicals of Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury

                   16th March 2021

                                                    ARTscapades virtual walking tour 16th March 2021

                                                            “Radicals of  Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury”

Katie Wignall, our virtual walking tour guide, started the tour with a map showing the route to be taken.  

It started at Fitzroy Square, named after Henry Fitzroy, first Duke of Grafton and illegitimate son of King Charles II, and from whose name Fitzrovia is derived. Here can be found many houses designed by the Adam brothers. Also a statue of Francisco de Miranda, who tried and failed to get independence for Venezuela, later successfully achieved by Simon Bolivar.

Katie showed two further maps, one a copy of an 18th century map showing Fitzrovia in its early state, and a later demographic map showing how the area had attracted well-to-do families.

Cleveland Street – plaque to Dickens, who lived close to the old Workhouse. It’s possible that Dickens used his observations of the workhouse in writing Oliver Twist.

Pearson Square – site of the old Middlesex Hospital, demolished in 2007. The only surviving structure from the old building is the beautiful Fitzrovia chapel, well worth a visit.

Store street – mosaic commissioned by the Duke of Bedford (Bedford Estates) showing Mary Russell, Duchess of Bedford in her sports car at an old petrol station. She was a supporter of Womens’ suffrage and keen aviator.

Mallet Street – Senate House - built in skyscraper style. Home of the Ministry of Information in WW2. Eileen (O’Shaugnessy) Blair worked there and her experiences influenced her husband George Orwell in writing his dystopian novel 1984. His title may have come from a poem she wrote – “End of the Century, 1984”. Now a library.

Then on to Keppel  Street, home to the School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, with interesting railings depicting gold-coloured poisonous creatures.

Gower Street – blue plaques to Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett (Women’s rights) and sister to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (first woman doctor). Also blue plaques for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, meeting at the house of John Everett Millais; James Robinson (first use of anaesthetics in surgery) and Charles Darwin.

Gower Street – also home of faculties of the University College of London. The cruciform building is an interesting design. Jeremy Bentham’s mummified body is usually kept as UCL.

Gordon Square– bust to Noor Khan, radio operator for the secretive SOE during WW2. Operated in Paris for 3 months before being captured, tortured, sent to Dachau concentration camp and executed.

Tavistock Square Gardens – (known as the Square of Peace) - here we find a bust of Louisa Aldrich-Blake, pioneering female surgeon. Also a memorial to Virginia Woolf, writer and part of the famous Bloomsbury Group, and in the centre a statue of a seated Mahatma Gandhi.

Cartwright Gardens – statue of  Major John Cartwright, political reformer.

Marchmont Street – interesting street in Bloomsbury – is the home for “Gay’s the Word” - oldest LGBT bookshop in Britain– started 1979 - named after a musical of the same name by Ivor Novello. The LGSM organisation met there to raise funds for striking Welsh coal miners. Plaque for Mark Ashton, co-founder of LGSM, later portrayed in the film “Pride”.

Brunswick Centre – Brutalist architecture of the period – pavement contains inset replicas of items left with orphan children at the Foundling Hospital.

Brunswick Square – plaque to JM Barrie on the house believed to be the model for the Darling family house in Peter Pan. Also the Foundling Museum – on the site of the Foundling Hospital set up by Thomas Coram to help abandoned children. The Foundling Gate, where foundlings were left, still survives. Supporters included William Hogarth, who designed their crest and seal, and Handel, who held a concert to raise money. On the railings of the children’s play area at Coram Fields (“no adults allowed unless accompanied by a child”) is a sculpture of a mitten by Tracey Emin, a moving reminder of the work of the Hospital.

Great Ormond Street – GOSH, founded 1852, was the first dedicated medical institution for children. Supported by JM Barrie, who specified that all royalties from Peter Pan should go to GOSH, and Charles Dickens, who lived close by.

My apologies to those who think this report is too lengthy, there were so many interesting facts and insights into life over the years that just couldn’t be sidelined. It has inspired some of us, now armed with appropriate information, to undertake a real walk!

Many thanks to ARTScapades for providing such an excellent tour guide, and to the Master, Rachelle Goldberg, for organising it.


Jenny Semmensry

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