Bloomsbury is bounded to the north by Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross railway termini, but this is no typical station hinterland. It is London’s intellectual area, home of the 1930s’ Bloomsbury literati, and has a distinctly cultural and academic flavour, being the site of the British Museum and the University of London. Holborn is professional, ‘legal London’, encompassing the Inns of Court and the Central Criminal Court, although the streets still evoke the ghosts of Charles Dickens and Dr Samuel Johnson.
North of Soho and west of Tottenham Court Road lies Fitzrovia, once a centre of radical and bohemian life. It’s still a rather quirky district; its hip main thoroughfare, Charlotte Street, is packed with interesting and trendy restaurants, alongside the pubs known for being the haunts of bohemian writers in the 1920s and 30s.
The eastern side of Tottenham Court Road marks the start of Bloomsbury, London’s literary heart. The impressive neoclassical British Museum on Great Russell Street is the nation’s greatest treasure house and London’s most popular tourist attraction. It opened in 1759 and now owns more than 6.5 million items.
The British Library is on Euston Road and houses 150 million books and periodicals. Opinion is split as to its external design, but the interior is light-filled and graceful. Bloomsbury famously gave its name to a literary coterie that included Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell and Lytton Strachey, who lived here in the early part of the 20th century. Publishing houses and bookshops still flourish around the area’s streets and squares.
The University of London comprises numerous buildings in the area around Gower Street, but is identified by the grey turret of Senate House, on the western side of Russell Square. Coram’s Fields lies just beyond Great Ormond Street Hospital. Sea captain Thomas Coram started a hospital and school for abandoned children, and encouraged artists, such as Hogarth, to donate works to raise funds. The collection can now be seen at the Foundling Museum. The area north of King’s Cross is in the process of being transformed from their rough, industrial reputation of yore, part of the regeneration caused by the 2007 opening of the Eurostar terminal at King’s Cross’s sister station St Pancras, which is now the city’s most glamorous terminus.
Kingsway marks the western boundary of ‘legal London’; Fleet Street borders it to the east, and in the Aldwych area, the Strand runs along the southern border; at its end are the Royal Courts of Justice, which deal with libels, divorces and all civil cases. All around this area lie the Inns of Court, home of London’s legal profession: Middle Temple and Inner Temple are on the Embankment, and Gray’s Inn and Lincoln’s Inn to the north of the High Court. Their name is taken from the crusading Knights Templar who built the Temple Church here in the 12th century.
Lincoln’s Inn Fields were laid out by ambitious city planners in the 17th century. Here you’ll find one of London’s gems, Sir John Soane’s Museum, a self-endowed monument to one of London’s most important collectors, who died in 1837. The ghost of Charles Dickens (1812–70) haunts the streets of Holborn. Bleeding Heart Yard, setting for much of the domestic action in Little Dorrit, is only a step or two away from the bustle of Hatton Garden, the center of London’s diamond trade. The Charles Dickens Museum in Doughty Street is where he lived from 1837–39.
Temple Bar is marked by a menacing griffin on a plinth and is the boundary between Westminster and the City. It also marks the start of Fleet Street, home of Britain’s national newspapers from 1702, when the first daily, the Courant, was published here, until the 1980s. St Bride’s, the journalists’ and printers’ church, is on Fleet Street; and nearby, in Gough Square, is Dr Johnson’s House.
On the site of the former Fleet Prison, just beyond Ludgate Circus, is the Central Criminal Court, universally known by the name of the street it stands on, Old Bailey. On the Strand, by Waterloo Bridge, is Somerset House, which now accommodates the Courtauld Galleries, home to a collection of major 20th-century European art.