About this Walk

Wander through the Bloomsbury area of London, made famous by Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens, on this writers walk and see tourist attractions such as the British Museum, the Lamb pub, Great Ormond Street Hospital and other places associated with famous British writers.

Allow 2 hours.

Best time to do it is any time during daylight hours, preferably in dry weather as there isn’t a lot of shelter on this walk.
Written in 2003 and updated in 2014.

General Route

Start at Tottenham Court Road station – Bedford Square – Senate House – Gordon Square – Tavistock Square – Russell Square – Brunswick Square – Great Ormond Street Hospital – Corams Fields – Lamb’s Conduit Street – Theobalds Road – Bloomsbury Square – Museum Street – British Museum – end at Tottenham Court Road station

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The walk starts and ends at Tottenham Court Road station.
From Tottenham Court Road station, take exit 2, cross the lights opposite the Dominion Theatre and turn left. Then turn right down Bayley Street, which brings you into Bedford Square

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and Bedford Square

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of “artistic rebels”, was founded in 1848 at no. 7 Gower street, just around the corner from Bedford Square. Its central figure was the painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti and its other members included 19th century English painters, poets, and critics who, as a group, reacted against Victorian materialism.

Essentially Christian in outlook, the brotherhood deplored the imitative historical and genre painting of their day. Together they sought to revitalise art through a simpler, more positive vision. In portrait painting, for example, the group rejected the somber colors and formal structure preferred by the Royal Academy.

Did You Know?

Bedford Square is the only complete Georgian square left in Bloomsbury. Circular in shape, it was built between 1775 – 1780 and though originally residential, it is now occupied by a number of publishing houses including Jonathan Cape, Hodder and Stoughton and Michael Joseph.

continue directly ahead (the road becomes Bedford Square), stopping at the corner of Gower Street and Montague Place

Charles Darwin, Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Gower Street

Charles Darwin lived in Gower St between 1838 and 1842, where he wrote part of The Origin of Species.

Another famous resident was Millicent Garrett Fawcett, who lived at number 2 Gower Street. This famous suffragette led the constitutional wing of the suffragist movement from the late 1800’s until victory in 1928 (when women were finally given the vote).

Did You Know?

Gower Street is also home to University College London and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

turn left along Gower street then turn right at Keppel street

George Orwell and University of London Senate House

This building was the inspiration for George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth in his famous novel, 1984.

At the time he wrote the book (in 1949), the building was the tallest in London (it is 210 feet high). Built in 1932, during world war two the building was used as the Ministry of Information.

In John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (1951), some survivors adopt the Senate House as their headquarters. The building houses the University of London library.

Did You Know?

George Orwell, the man who penned the term “big brother is watching you” in his famous novel, 1984, considered himself to be a representative of the English moral conscience.

As such, he wrote the social classics The Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London (dealing with poverty) – both of which caused much uproar among the publishing community, who called for them not to be printed.

turn left along Malet Street and walk to the end. At the end turn right (along Byng Place), then stop at the corner of Gordon Square.

Virginia Woolf, The Bloomsbury Group and Gordon Square

A famous member of the Bloomsbury Group, Virginia Woolf lived at 46 Gordon Square prior to her marriage to Leonard Woolf. Virginia was troubled by repeated mental problems and had to be put under guard several times.

She wrote about her struggle against insanity in “Moments of Being”. Having tried to commit suicide a number of times, she eventually succeeded by drowning herself in the river Ouse.

Did You Know?

The Bloomsbury Group was a group of authors and painters who met in London during the 1920s to share ideas. Members included Virginia Woolf, her sister Vanessa Bell, Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, Clive Bell, Vita Sackville-West and Leonard Woolf (Virginia’s husband).

Dorothy Parker wrote that the Group “comprised pairs who had affairs in squares”. Their relationships were complicated, promiscuous, and frequently homosexual or bisexual.

They wrote about themselves and their friends at length, first in their diaries and correspondence, and later in their memoirs.

continue ahead to Tavistock Square, then turn left into it.

Mahatma Gandhi and Tavistock Square

In the middle of the square (which is actually a Peace Garden) stands a statue of Mahatma Gandhi.

Born in 1869, Gandhi was a strong peace campaigner and advocate of non-violent methods to resolve conflict. He spent time in London in the 1890’s.

Albert Einstein said of Gandhi, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth”.

Did You Know?

Tavistock Square, including the old Tavistock House, started to be built in 1803, but only the west side of the original square remains.

Famous residents of the square have included Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf, who with her husband started the Hogarth Press here.

walk to the statue in the centre of the square, then turn right and continue until you reach the main road (Upper Woburn Place). Turn left,cross the road and turn right, down Woburn Walk.

WB Yeats and the Golden Dawn

William Butler (WB) Yeats was a famous Irish poet born in Dublin in 1865, who lived in Woburn Walk between 1895 and 1919.

A member of the Golden Dawn, Yeats also became involved with the Celtic Revival, a movement against the cultural influences of English rule in Ireland during the Victorian period, which sought to promote the spirit of Ireland’s native heritage. His writing drew extensively from sources in Irish mythology and folklore.

Did You Know?

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was a magical order that was founded in 1888 in London by Dr. William Wynn Wescott and S.L. MacGregor Mathers. The core of the Golden Dawn was based on an old manuscript that was discovered by Dr. Wescott in the British Museum.

Golden Dawn is based on the synthesis of three mystical religions: The Egyptian Religion, Judaic Mysticism in the form of Kabalah, and Christian Mysticism in the form of Rosecrucianism. When all three of these systems are taken together they tell a story of human evolution that cannot be conveyed by any other means.

return to Upper Woburn Place, turn left and continue along the road, which becomes Tavistock Square again. Stop in front of BMA House.

Charles Dickens

Dickens was born in 1812 and his family moved to London in 1824.

He lived in many places around Bloomsbury (and also in other parts of London), including in part of the old Tavistock House, between 1851 and 1860. It was here that he wrote Bleak House, Little Dorritt, Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities and part of Great Expectations.

His childhood experiences of poverty and feelings of abandonment heavily influenced his later views on social reform and the world he wrote about in his novels.

Did You Know?

The British Medical Association was founded in 1832. BMA House in Tavistock Square was initially built for the Theosophical Society but they could not afford to complete it, so it was sold to the BMA. It opened in 1925.

continue along Tavistock Square, which becomes Woburn Place, until you reach the corner with Russell Square.

Oscar Wilde and Russell Square

Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854. He moved to London in 1878 determined to achieve stardom.

He had been taught by his mother to view life as a performance, and he made a spectacle of everything, sometimes hailing a cab just to cross the street. His wardrobe was designed not by tailors, but by theatre costumiers who Wilde felt would more easily understand the dramatic effects he was trying to achieve.

Wilde spent his last evening in London at 31 Russell Square, before leaving England for good.

Did You Know?

Russell Square, established in the eighteenth century, also has links with other writers. T S Eliot worked there when he was an editor at Faber & Faber publishers.

continue ahead, passing Guilford Street on the left and Russell Square on the right, until you reach a laneway on the left, called Cosmo Place. Turn down Cosmo Place, through Queen Square, to Great Ormond Street. Walk along Great Ormond Street, stopping in front of the children’s hospital on the left.

J M Barrie and Great Ormond Street Childrens Hospital

Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) was the first children’s hospital in the English speaking world, being founded in 1852. Charles Dickens wrote about the hospital and gave fundraising readings for it.

J M Barrie left GOSH the copyright of Peter Pan in 1937, and by a special amendment to the Copyright Act, the hospital continues to receive royalties indefinitely.

Did You Know?

In the 1850’s, out of 50,000 people who died annually, 21,000 were children. However, hospital records of the time showed that of the 2,300 patients in London hospitals, only 26 were children.

Children were effectively excluded from London hospitals until around the time GOSH opened, when it admitted children between the ages of 2 and 12.

continue along Great Ormond Street to the end (the junction with Lamb’s Conduit Street.) Turn left and go to the end of Lamb’s Conduit Street. Directly in front of you, across the road, is Corams Fields.

The Foundling Hospital and Corams Fields

Corams Fields is on the site of the old Foundling Hospital, founded in 1742, which was a place where unwanted children such as street children and orphans could be left.

Though the hospital no longer exists, there is a playground in the fields to which unaccompanied adults may be refused permission to enter. Dickens writes about Corams Fields in Little Dorritt.

Did You Know?

Boys were always separated from girls in the Foundling hospital, except on Christmas Day. There were even separate mortuaries.

The hospital soon became very popular and so a ballot had to be operated to select the children that could be treated. A black ball meant no treatment, a white ball meant treatment subject to a medical examination.

return along Lambs Conduit Street and stop outside a pub on the left called The Lamb

The Lamb Pub

Built in the 18th century, the pub was named after the man who constructed the conduit underneath the road it is on. The conduit was used to carry water.

The Victorian interior of the pub was restored in 1961 and contains much original woodwork and glass. It was once the meeting place of the Bloomsbury Group.

Did You Know?

Up until 1855, London’s sewers were used for draining surface water only, discharging it directly into the Thames – the same source used by water companies for drinking water. Household waste went into cesspits which leaked into adjacent wells, eventually also ending up in the Thames.

This contributed to successive cholera outbreaks across London, culminating in the Great Stink of 1858, when the stench from the Thames became so overpowering that Parliament decided to expand the system and discharge the sewerage farther downstream.

continue along Lamb’s Conduit Street to the junction with Theobalds Road. Turn right and go along Theobalds Road, crossing the junction with Southampton Row, then turn right into Bloomsbury Square.

Gertrude Stein and Bloomsbury Square

Bloomsbury Square was one of the earliest London squares, and was developed in the seventeenth century.

Gertrude Stein stayed at No. 20 with her brother, Leo, during the winter of 1902.

The writer Isaac D’Israeli lived at No. 6 from 1817 to 1829 and his son, the future Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli lived with him for a short time.

Did You Know?

Much of the area of Bloomsbury was developed in the seventeenth century by the Dukes of Bedford. Other squares on the Bedford Estate include Bedford Square, Gordon Square, Russell Square, Tavistock Square and Woburn Square.

walk across or around the square to the corner diagonally opposite. Turn left at the junction with Great Russell Street, passing the British Museum. Turn left again down Museum Street and stop.

Aleister Crowley, and the British Museum

41 Museum Street was the home of Mandrake Press, which published many of Aleister Crowley’s books in the 1920’s.

Poet, author, magician, yogi, philosopher and drug user, Crowley’s output was prolific. Born in 1875, to many he represented Western magic. His legacy still attracts many new converts, and he commands considerable loyalty even from beyond the grave.

At 49 Museum Street is Atlantis Bookshop, one of London’s oldest and best esoteric bookshops and a popular haunt of Crowley’s.

Did You Know?

The British Museum was founded in 1753, though the current building dates from the 1820’s. It was originally open for only 3 hours a day and visitors had to apply in writing for tickets. It was not until 1879 that general access was permitted.

In the courtyard stands the round Reading Room, which was once open only to those with reader’s tickets, but is now open to everyone. The dome of the Reading Room is the same size as that of St Peter’s in Rome. Famous visitors to the Reading Room have included Lenin and Marx.

continue to the end of Museum street, then turn left (New Oxford street), stopping outside the church on the left.

Emily Wilding Davison and St George Bloomsbury Church

In 1913, the funeral of Emily Wilding Davison, a suffragette, was held in this church.

Emily was killed when she threw herself in front of the king’s horse at Epsom racecourse during the Derby to protest the right for women to vote.

Her funeral was attended by thousands of women, all wearing black and purple, green and white (the colours of the suffragette movement).

Did You Know?

The suffragettes were quite violent in their protests.

Among their more violent demonstrations, they burned down churches (as the Church of England was against the vote for women), vandalised Oxford Street and chained themselves to Buckingham Palace (as the Royal Family were also seen to be against their cause).

They also hired out boats, sailed up the Thames and shouted abuse through loud hailers at Parliament as it sat.

you have now completed this walk. Turn around and walk along New Oxford Street, following the signs to Tottenham Court Road station