What and Where is Bloomsbury Village?
History tells us: Quite simply, it is the 7 Acres south of the British Museum as exemplified by the Battle of Little Bloomsbury led by George Wagner, the founder of the Bloomsbury Association, to preserve the historic 7 acres south of The British Museum from destruction in order to build the proposed new British Library. The story follows:
The Battle of Little Bloomsbury
South Bloomsbury has the 7 1/2 acres the British Library wanted, thought it had, and then lost, thanks to the remarkable fight by the ad hoc defence group, the Bloomsbury Association. This area "Little Bloomsbury" - commonly known as "Bloomsbury Village", the British Museum wanted for a new building to replace its library across the road and it had every expectation of getting its way. The area appeared on every master plan from the 1930's onwards as part of its academic precinct. However, the Museum reckoned without Dr George Wagner, refugee from Hitler's Germany, adult education lecturer and staunch Bloomsburyite and as a result of his efforts, 'legend in his own time'.
He founded the Association, lobbied influential figures in government and refused to allow the destruction of his beloved village. The Association drew support from residents and the small, specialist businesses (notably booksellers and publishers), in which the area is so strong.
The Association argued, with increasing backing from Camden Borough Council, local MP's and a courageous fifth column inside the academic ramparts, on four main points. First, "the village" was too important to be destroyed; secondly, the site was a bad one, forcing the architects of the proposed new library to go down much deeper, encasing their subterranean bookstacks in a concrete caisson to keep out an underground river; third, the library did not need to be next door to the Museum; and forth, a proposed alternative site at Somers Town, north of Euston Road, would be better for most users and, in terms of social and commercial stimulus, for its host area.
The champions of the Bloomsbury site, notably Lord Eccles, chairman of the board of the new British Library, exerted enormous pressure on successive governments and twice appeared to have won the day. But Little Bloomsbury would not give up, and "the village" eventually won the right to survive. The library set its architect, Colin St John Wilson to design a new and different building for their larger and more flexible site at Somers Town. After forty years of waiting the British Library finally opened its very expensive and controversial building in 1998.
Meanwhile The Bloomsbury Association blooms and flourishes and the fight has greatly strengthened the areas social cohesion.
In recent meetings of the Bloomsbury Association and discussion with both resident and business community, a very noticeable air of progress, improvement and renaissance has been evident throughout greater Bloomsbury but somewhat lacking in the old Bloomsbury Village south of the British Museum. The BA has been asked by residents and businesses to take a fresh look at how we can help improve matters in the village. We will also use the opportunity to examine our achievements over the past 5 years and look at our operational policy for the future. We intend to consult with residents and businesses to determine this future policy.
We propose to carry out this audit over the next few months prior to producing a report for our AGM which will take place early in the New Year.
In particular we are proposing to take a fresh look at the needs and aspirations of the residents and businesses in Bloomsbury Village which, surprising as it may seem is government listed as an area of deprivation.
Update Sept 2011:
The Bloomsbury Association is working with stakeholders to initiate 'The Bloomsbury Village Neighbourhood Plan'. The first meeting took place on 19/9/11.
We are considering ways to fianlly get some environmental improvements to the village area and will start with the streetscape.
We invite comment and suggestions from anyone interested in the well-being of Bloomsbury for the future to Email Us BVNP@bloomsburyassociation.org.uk
Contributed by Jim Murray