A heritage index for Bloomsbury

What does the heritage of Bloomsbury mean to you? Our area has such a rich history that its past feels a constant feature of local life, and becomes a part of our own identity when we make a home here. And once here, we all add to it – creating new layers to the Bloomsbury story through the lives we lead.

In which case, capturing the ‘state’ of heritage in Bloomsbury can only ever be a snapshot in time. But creating that picture is just what a new tool created by researchers at the RSA and the Heritage Lottery Fund* attempts to do. The Heritage Index is an online tool that allows you to explore local heritage through a world of maps and data.

According to the RSA, “heritage is a key resource to connect people to places. Strengthening that connection brings to places a host of other social and economic benefits. So the next logical question is how much of this resource do we have locally?”

To answer that question, the RSA put together 120 datasets about heritage for every local authority in the UK  – so actually for Camden rather than Bloomsbury. The Index combines data on everything from listed buildings, museums, parks and nature reserves, to the number of businesses that have continuously traded in the area for more than 50 years, the number of ancient trees, and the number of war memorials. Interestingly, the Index also counts heritage activity – how heritage is being used by local people. Data on activities includes, for example, how much local residents visit museums, whether there are Kids Clubs to explore local wildlife, and the number of blue plaques commemorating  local historical figures (download the data).

Once the data had been collected,  number crunchers at the RSA mashed them together to produce a score and a ranking for each local authority area.So the MA’s endeavours to get local people remembered, with recent plaques to Charlotte Mew, Alphonse de Normandy and Robert Owen, will have pushed Camden up in the rankings.

And Camden does do well, coming 21st out of 325 local authorities in England – well inside the top 10%. For the category of museums, the home of the British Museum and the British Library, with Museum Mile running between them, a third place finish is perhaps even disappointing. The City of London and Cambridge top us there. Being home to 2,000 listed buildings also means Camden does well in the built environment category. There are 322 blue plaques and 68 ancient trees, by the way, whilst 75 businesses are still trading here, after more than half a century in the borough.

But – not to be complacent – questions can be asked about how much use is being made of all those stellar assets. Less than half of the local population has been to any of those museums in the last year, for example. And only 2% has ventured inside one of the 112 archives registered in the borough. Only a quarter say they have visited a historic park or garden in the last year (though that’s surely higher in our bit of Camden). I was also surprised to see the level of civic engagement around heritage – measured by civic societies and the extent of neighbourhood planning – is surprisingly low.

So – we have lots. Are making the absolute most of it?

* Declaration of interest. HLF researcher = me


Months of utility works will close sections of road from Torrington Place to Tavistock Place — Fitzrovia News

The same cable line, we think, that has already been laid along Cromer Street, across Judd St, downLeigh St and onto Tavistock Place. Starting last summer. Somehow it always feels better if you know what the disruption is about. Could UCH have done more to tell us all? 


An operation to lay power cables for a new hospital in Fitzrovia will cause months of disruption this winter from Torrington Place to Tavistock Place with cycle and motor traffic diversions. A trench is currently being dug along Torrington Place, and will continue along Byng Place, Gordon Square, Tavistock Square, and Tavistock Place until February next year, to […]

via Months of utility works will close sections of road from Torrington Place to Tavistock Place — Fitzrovia News

Planning inspector rules in favour of London’s first underground hotel — Fitzrovia News

A government planning inspector has given the go ahead for London’s first underground hotel to be built, overturning a decision by Camden Council to reject the plans. Planning officers at Camden had recommended approval of plans to convert an underground car park on the corner of Great Russell Street and Adeline Place into a 166 […]

via Planning inspector rules in favour of London’s first underground hotel — Fitzrovia News

Smallest Bloomsbury garden wins Camden in Bloom — Bloomsbury Squares & Gardens

The annual award for best communal or community garden was won this year by the Marchmont gardeners. Well done to all the volunteers who have kept it looking so great through the seasons. They also plant and maintain the beautiful tree pits on the Marchmont Parade outside the Brunswick which do so much to soften […]

via Smallest Bloomsbury garden wins Camden in Bloom — Bloomsbury Squares & Gardens

New Bloomsbury Trust planned to look after local squares and gardens.

A new voluntary trust has been proposed to look after the squares and gardens in the Bloomsbury area. It would cover not just those maintained by the Council, but by other landowners as well, including the University. This would take in Gordon Square and Torrington Square, for example, as well Russell Square, Bloomsbury Square and Brunswick Square.

Bloomsbury Partnership Trust Update Friends Groups Nov 16.jpg

The idea for the Trust has come from a Bloomsbury Partnership ‘Interim Board’ that has been exploring new ideas for looking after our local historic parks. The Interim Board includes local residents, Friends of the Bloomsbury Squares, businesses, land owners, universities, and Camden Council. It was set up when Camden was selected as one of the pilot projects for the Rethinking Parks programme, funded by NESTA, the Big Lottery Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

According to a recent update from Friends of the Bloomsbury Squares, “It is clear that there is interest in the idea of a voluntary charitable Bloomsbury Trust and the work which it could achieve, but the major challenge is finding a viable funding model which would enable it to be self-sustaining.”

The Trust would need to support its own administrative costs as well as finance projects and activities. The Interim Board has ruled out any reliance on an events programme for raising funding – seeing limited capacity within the squares for this to be a significant source of money. Instead it wants to explore options for raising funds through local philanthropy, legacies and donations.

The original idea had been to establish a parks focused Business Improvement District (BID) where, through a levy, businesses would voluntarily and collectively invest in local parks. But there was little business interest in the idea.

The Interim Board wants to continue its work, and Jim Walsh, Chief Executive Officer of Conway Hall, has agreed to act as interim chair. Jim would be very pleased to hear from anyone with suggestions on how a Trust model could be made to work for the benefit of the Bloomsbury area, or who might be interested in becoming involved as a potential Trustee. Contact Jim Walsh, Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL Jim@conwayhall.org.uk.



Votes needed

This is well worth your support ……

Coram’s Fields has been entered into a public vote for an opportunity to win a grant of £25,000 from the Aviva Community Fund. Voting is open from 21st October-18th November.

Coram’s Fields wants the funding to support its community sports activities, which have been running for more than 20 years, delivering free, professionally coached, high quality, sports sessions and tournaments for local children and young people, aged 6 to 19 years of age, of all abilities, six days every week. During term time 25 hours of physical activities a week are run, rising to 45+ during school holidays. Last year over 1,500 children and young people took part.

But existing funding for the Sports Programme will come to an end in 2017 and the votes are needed to keep sports for younger generations free.

Coram’s Fields Chief Exec Stuart Woods explains, “To support with a vote you need to register on the Aviva Community Fund website. Once registered, you will be given an allocation of ten votes. You can use multiple votes to support the same project. Please consider using your ten votes to support the Coram’s Fields Sports Programme.:

You can register here.

(It takes less than 48 seconds to register. We’ve tested it! 🙂

You can then vote here.


as we strode whistling on under the Winter sky

30562854835_77ea35e2f5_q.jpgThe latest MA blue plaque unveiling took place during this year’s Bloomsbury Festival. The plaque is to poet Charlotte Mew, at 30 Doughty Street, where Mew was born and lived from 1865 to 1890. The event was attended by numerous Mew ‘followers’ and unveiled by Mew’s current biographer, Julia Copus. Also attending was Mew’s surviving relative, 84 year old Heather Greetham.

Though little known today, or indeed in her own time, Mew has won critical acclaim for the ‘stillness’ of her work. Virginia Woolf called Mew “the greatest living poetess.”

According to the Poetry Foundation Mew’s life, “was full of tragedy from beginning to end.” Born  into a family of seven children, she was the eldest daughter. While she was still a child, three of her brothers died. Later, another brother and then a sister were committed to mental hospitals in their twenties where they would spend the rest of their lives. Death, mental illness, loneliness, and disillusionment became the themes of her work.

From her 1914 poem The Fete

It is not only the little boys
      Who have hardly got away from toys,
But I, who am seventeen next year,
Some nights, in bed, have grown cold to hear
      That lonely passion of the rain
Which makes you think of being dead,
And of somewhere living to lay your head
       As if you were a child again,
Crying for one thing, known and near
Your empty heart, to still the hunger and the fear
    That pelts and beats with it against the pane.
                 But I remember smiling too
At all the sun’s soft tricks and those Autumn dreads
    In winter time, when the grey light broke slowly through
The frosted window-lace to drag us shivering from our beds.
     And when at dusk the singing wind swung down
Straight from the stars to the dark country roads
                     Beyond the twinkling town,
    Striking the leafless poplar boughs as he went by,
Like some poor, stray dog by the wayside lying dead,
We left behind us the old world of dread,
I and the wind as we strode whistling on under the Winter sky.

The Marchmont Association is particularly grateful to three generous donors who helped fund this plaque, and to Goodenough College for graciously hosting the post-unveiling reception in their elegant building, which stands directly opposite No. 30.