The Bloomsbury set

Cutting through Barter Street on my way to purchase cheap headphones at Richer Sounds, Holborn I usually pass the side entrance of Swedenborg Hall and up until this week I never really gave it much thought. On Monday while passing I noticed on the railings in front of the building a poster for an evening there with David McKee, the creator of the children’s TV programme from yesteryear Mr Benn (complete with screenings of all the episodes of the show) which looked great but sadly took place the week before.

The front entrance of the building is at 20-21 Bloomsbury Way and is the London HQ of the Swedenborg Society that promotes all things to do with the great Swedish scientist, philosopher, inventor (and a whole heap of other things too) Emanuel Swedenborg.

The society is a registered charity and also a publishing house. The building houses a bookshop, library and museum and regularly hosts a broad section of events Swedenberg-related (more on the events here). Next month they have an exhibition of ceramic art inspired by Wiliam Blake and Swedenborg called The Humble Servant which looks well up our street and is free to boot! How good is that? P

The Humble Servant
Ceramic art inspired by William Blake and Swedenborg | Diane Eagles
18 October-30 November 2017 | Mon-Fri 9.30 am – 5.00 pm daily |
Swedenborg House Bookshop,
20-21 Bloomsbury Way
London WC1A 2TH
020 7405 7986
Free entry

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Caesar, your bath’s ready

They say don’t meet your heroes as you’ll be disappointed and I reckon this applies to some ancient monuments too. I’ve always had a love of all things roman, an early memory is of going to the Lunt Roman Fort in Coventry as a child and being mesmerised watching roman soldiers marching on the parade ground, brandishing swords and looking menacing. Little did I know that they weren’t part of the roman army just Coventry council workers on overtime dressed up for the day.

For years I’ve been fascinated by the Roman Bath in Strand Lane. Roman? It’s probably not. It’s more than likely a cistern for a garden water feature of the original Somerset House dating from the 1600’s. In the 1770’s the cistern was reclaimed and advertised as a “cold bath” and it’s presumed in the 1830’s the owner thought if they gave it a roman angle more punters would use it and it’s stuck ever since. More on the bath’s history here and here.

On the numerous occasions I’ve visited I’ve only looked through the (if not dirty then steamed up) window seeing next to nothing but my own reflection and have always wanted to go inside. Thursday lunchtime I did just that after an email to dcreese@westminster.gov.uk It’s free to visit but they require at least one week’s notice.

Before last weekend it was easy to view the bath even though it’s off the beaten track. All you had to do was walk up Strand Lane to the building that has a National Trust sign outside (above) and if the gate was unlocked you could peer in through the window. It seems that all’s changed since the London Bridge terrorist attack as the passageway through Surrey Steps is locked and there’s now a security guard at the bottom of Strand Lane only letting Kings College employees in. I had trouble getting through even after showing him a email confirming the visit from Westminster Council so be warned.

I was met at the site by a Westminster council gardener from nearby Embankment Gardens who let me in and stood outside for the duration of my visit. If you intend to go do read up a bit about the place first as you won’t be getting tour of the guided variety.

The first thing I noticed as I entered the dark entrance hall was the acrid smell of damp and then the feeling of intense cold. The council worker didn’t mention it but there were a couple of switches inside you can flick on for the lights in the hall and one outside which seems to control the main light over the actual bath itself. In the hall there was a table with a couple of maps of Strand Lane and above that a few photocopied sheets about the history of the place. To the right was a bricked up tiled doorway to what once was a second bath (The Essex bath) which is now covered over.
Straight ahead through the hall was a small dark room with a couple of mis-matched chairs, a roman bath sign and a modern day fusebox (above). It made me think of the room in a prison in an old black and white film where they’d keep an electric chair in. Spooky!

To the left was the room with the plunge bath in (main picture at the top) which had a metal bar that stopped you going in any further to explore the room. To the side of the bath was a 60’s style serving hatch (above) that made me smile.

The biggest disappointment was the lack of anything remotely roman. It is said in the 1770’s the room was festooned with artefacts and in the picture above it suggests decoration in a roman style but there’s sadly nothing of the sort these days. Amongst the broken paving stones lying on the bare flooring I did see what I thought was a discarded statue of a roman deity (below) but on second glance it was probably a piece of twisted up copper pipe. 
After about 5 minutes I had had enough, there wasn’t much else to see and the damp and the cold were getting to my bones. My lust for the roman bath has now been satisfied and I doubt if I’ll be popping down there again. If only the council worker who came to meet me was dressed in a toga and sandals and there were fake antiquities dotted about the bath house; things would have been oh so different. #RomanLondon #RomanLondon? P

I’ve got those K2 phone box blues

k2-close-up

I noticed this customised Giles Gilbert Scott designed K2 telephone box art gallery at the end of Bedford Row the other day after getting some cheap fruit  at Leather Lane Market to stick into our new juicer.

inside-the-box

It took me a few minutes to get to grips with the ghostly burnt plastic sheet hanging from where the light bulb should be. What does it all mean? Answers on a postcard, please. P

An aptly priced book bargain

London Free and Dirt Cheap

I found a great bargain in the Holborn Library 20p book sale this week, “London Free and Dirt Cheap” by Joe Fullman (Frommer’s.)

The copy I obtained was an edition from 2007 but I am sure you’ll be able to find an up-to-date version quite cheap (prices from £3 inc p+p on amazon!)

There’s some classic cheap London moments here and loads of stuff we didn’t know about, e.g. Best Free Hidden Gem: The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, lots of cheap eats ideas including somewhere with the great name of Porky’s Pantry (now sadly closed,) free oddities to visit like The London Stone, free music and concert ideas and free tickets to TV shows too.

Go out and get a copy and get ideas for having fun for (next to) nothing! P

Singing their hearts out for Mr Wren

christopher-wren

On the way home from work tonight I bumped into a friend Mark, who told me that the choir he sings in, will be performing next Saturday (27th June 2015) in the Wren Choral Marathon.

“The Wren Choral Marathon, what’s that?” I hear you cry. Well, it’s an event comprising of a series of concerts by 17 different choirs in 17 Wren churches in a single day, starting at 8am at St Michael, Cornhill and finishing with a late one at St Stephens, Walbrook. How good is that if you like a bit of singing?

There’s even a bonus for the choir listening hardcore who make it to all 17 concerts, a chance to be added in a draw for a super special prize.

Sounds like a different way of spending a Saturday, seeing some great architecture while listening to some quality choirs. And furthermore it’s Free! More details here. P

The best things in life are free

Nice logo

Nice logo

Haircuts for men seem to be a necessary evil. So why pay for it? For those who agree, I saw something great on my jaunt around Smithfield market today and annoyingly didn’t have my camera on me.

It’s a pop up for the London School of Barbering (or maybe it’s more permanent?). But essentially it’s a place where aspiring barbers can practice their trade and you get the benefit of their choppy hands for free. Take a look at the website to book a place. Looks like they’ve got somewhere in Covent Garden too. W