A century of change in Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia

Bloomsbury & Fitzrovia Through Time, by Brian Girling. Amberley Publishing: £14.99

Reviewed by Angela Lovely
Gower Street old and new.

Bloomsbury & Fitzrovia Through Time features pairs of photographs comparing today with a hundred years ago.

This attractive books juxtaposes today's street scenes with those of a hundred year's ago. The photographs of people and often animals standing proudly outside shops, homes and industrial sites contrasts with the today's car-clogged streets. Each page features an older scene  with a modern picture for comparison separated by some explanatory text. On one page there's a photograph from 1926 showing a horse-drawn carriage with King George V and Queen Mary passing along Goodge Street, crossing the junction with Charlotte Street watched by people on the street and leaning out of upper floor windows.

Charlotte Street can be seen for the mostly residential street it was before it became dominated by restaurants and cafes. There are scenes looking north up the Georgian street before the World War II bombs and later the developers claimed them for modern office blocks.

Author Brian Girling notes that traders of a hundred years ago “had a larger resident population to serve than the present day”. Few people realise that the population of London in 1939 was eight million which dwindled to around six million by 1979. Most of this population loss was from the central areas like Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury. The Luftwaffe had started the job that the developers would continue and anticipated the march of institutions and offices and a population that was displaced and made to commute into central London rather than remain living here where they worked.

From 1979 onwards the population grew steadily to around eight million, the same number of people as before the Second World War but mostly spread over a larger geographic area. The central London resident population has clung on and although it has slightly increased it has been overtaken by the increasingly dense office and retail developments and the march of yet more cafes and restaurants. Even the public houses have been lost to restaurants which serve food often cooked elsewhere and merely heated up locally or have become upmarket fast-food joints like that which has replaced The Black Horse in Rathbone Place.

This slim photo book allows us to peep into the past and compare our streets with those of a century ago. But Fitzrovians will be disappointed that there is nothing featured of the fascinating buildings and streets in the Westminster part of our neighbourhood. Fitzrovia from this book is reduced to a thin north-south wedge of streets between Tottenham Court Road and Cleveland Street when it should more properly include all the streets between Gower Street and Great Portland Street.

The photographs are confined to what is today’s Camden border. It includes all of what it today’s Bloomsbury which dominates the content of the book, but it extends Bloomsbury up to Camden Town Hall in Judd Street, and also Whidborne Street and its surroundings which are more properly part of the St Pancras and King’s Cross neighbourhood.

Author Brian Girling will be holding a book signing event for ‘Bloomsbury & Fitzrovia Through Time’ at Waterstones book store in Covent Garden on Thursday 5 July 2012. Brian will be signing copies from 1pm until 2pm.
Address: 9-13 Garrick Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 9BA

The book is available from Amberleypublishing.com

%d bloggers like this: