Today I walked from my home into Central London ‒ a journey that takes over an hour when walking slowly, according to walkit.com ‒ and back again. When one has the time, slipping down unfamiliar alleyways and using one’s sense of direction (and the sun) for navigation rather than a map leads to wonderful encounters. Like this interrupted artist who had set up his easel on a pedestrian island, with a view toward the British Telecom Tower.
The squares of Bloomsbury, each with its own history, are one of the pleasures of being in London, in my experience. One such is Brunswick Square. Established between 1796 and 1799 when London began to gobble up the surrounding countryside, it was designed purely as open, green space rather than a fancy garden.
Such foresight was greatly appreciated; the fictional character of Isabella in Jane Austen’s book, Emma, judged Brunswick Square and its surroundings to be superior to other parts of London on account of their ‘airiness’. Open space also gives people the opportunity to be themselves: as always, people prefer to shun the dedicated, tarmac-ed paths when there’s a more direct route.
The adjoining square is called Coram Fields, the site of the Foundling Hospital for unloved children. The sound of lots of children playing, in the Spring sunshine in Coram Fields, stood out even against the waves of traffic, which I took to be reflective of the place’s genius loci.
‘Adults may only enter if accompanied by a child’. This stance on gatekeeping contrasts markedly with the mood at the much grander Russell Square. There the noticeboard at the entrance commands visitors not to feed the birds and to be wary of thieves operating in the area; all the same, Russell Square is a breath of fresh air. Note the classic design, lush planting and fountain in the middle.