Tag Archives: London

Leicester Square

In London, in September, we went to TKTS at Leicester Square to buy discounted theater tickets.*

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While there, I really admired this sinuous bench/hedge/fence combination, which enclosed the central garden areas of the square — particularly the use of highly polished steel for the railings.

(You can put your cursor over the slideshow to bring up a ‘pause’ button.)

The square was recently re-designed by Burns+Nice, with the installation completed in May of this year.

*We saw “Yes, Prime Minister,” which probably ought to have remained a half-hour sitcom, but was a lot of fun nevertheless.

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A little more Bloomsbury

I didn’t make it to the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens on this trip*, but the British Museum was (and is, til November 25th) holding an exhibit, “North American Landscape: Kew at the British Museum” on its West Lawn. Admission is free.

The website, here, has a video of the installation and a slideshow of the plants featured.

I loved these flower finials atop a rather stately iron gate on Montague Street, not far from the British Museum.

Looking on Google’s satellite image for the street, the gates seem to be the entrance to a large shared garden on the inside of the entire block.

*and here and here.

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Tavistock Square

“Then one day walking round Tavistock Square I made up, as I sometimes make up my books, To the Lighthouse; in a great, apparently involuntary, rush.”
– Virginia Woolf

During our visit to London about a month ago, we stayed in a hotel in Bloomsbury, and on our last morning there, being a good former English major, I had to go looking for Virginia.

I found her small monument, inscribed with the above quote, in the south corner of Tavistock Square.  From 1924 to 1939, she and her husband had lived in a house once located on the site of the hotel you can see behind her head in the photo above.

Leonard Woolf has his own memorial in the square: a Gingko biloba tree, planted in 2004 to mark his work as a colonial administrator in Sri Lanka.

Originally laid out about 1800, the square today is bordered by a wide path shaded by both tall and pollarded trees.  In the center of the park are flower beds and lawn, many benches, and a large sculpture.  It is conventional, but pretty, and a very nice place to stroll and think.

On the day when Virginia Woolf conceived her great book, only residents of the houses surrounding the square would have been able to enter its gates.  In an essay written during the hot summer of 1933, she approved “[t]he sensible and humane suggestion . . . that the squares should be opened … to those who would otherwise have no place to walk or sit but in the street.”

In 1940, Tavistock Square did become temporarily open to all when its iron fence was melted down for war use. (The park became officially open to the public in the 1950s.)

The square is also associated with Charles Dickens, who lived in a house across from the north corner from 1851 to 1860. There, he wrote Bleak HouseHard TimesLittle Dorrit, and A Tale of Two Cities. The residence was demolished in 1901 and replaced by an office building designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. It is now the headquarters of the British Medical Association (BMA).

Lutyens also designed a large monument to Dame Louisa Aldrich-Blake, the first British woman to qualify as a surgeon, which was placed in the east corner in 1926.

From the 1960s, Tavistock Square has been known for its various memorials to peace and non-violence, including

  • a sculpture of Mahatma Gandhi by Fredda Brilliant (shown above) (1968);
  • a cherry tree planted in memory of the victims of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima (1967);
  • a maple tree planted by the League of Jewish Women in honor of the U.N.’s International Year of Peace (1986);
  • and the Conscientious Objectors Stone, installed by the Peace Pledge Union (1995).

Four of the park’s planting beds also honor memorial subjects  – two with plants from India and Japan, one with English shrubs for Woolf, and one with medicinal plants for Aldrich-Blake.

Several years ago, another memorial was added to the square, in the form of a small plaque affixed to the current iron fence. It marks the section of street in front of the BMA where the last of the four July 7, 2005, suicide bombers blew up the Number 30 double-decker city bus and killed thirteen of the fifty-two commuters who died that day.

Gordon Square

Most of the social and intellectual activity that we associate with the Bloomsbury Group took place about a block west of Tavistock Square in a row of houses on Gordon Square.

From 1904 to 1907, Virginia and Vanessa Stevens (later Woolf and Bell) lived in #46 Gordon Square with their brothers, Thoby and Adrian. The siblings held regular ‘at homes’ on Thursday and Friday evenings with such guests as Lytton Strachey, George Bernard Shaw, Maynard Keynes, E.M. Forester, Clive Bell, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry, and John Nash. (After their marriage, Vanessa and Bell took over the house from 1907 to 1916.)

From 1920 to 1925, Vanessa lived at #50 with her children and then at #39 with both her husband and lover Duncan Grant.  Strachey and other members of his family lived at #51 from 1919 to 1956.

In the photo above, #46 is the first house on the left side (with the oval plaque), four doors down is #50 and then #51.

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A study in steps, London

This is a walkway combining steps and ramps between St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge.

The strange black and white sculpture in the photo below is a variation of the mascots of the 2012 Olympics.

I also spotted these interesting steps, below, at Magdalen College, Oxford.

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Vintage landscape: city parks

Almost as soon as their medium was invented in 1839, early photographers sought to make panoramic images that would capture a field of view as wide as or wider than that of the human eye.

Specialized panoramic cameras with extra long negatives and rotating lenses were available by the 1840s, but the simplest method (well, actually nothing was simple with early photography) was to take a series of photographs and paste them together side by side to form one long picture, as shown in the image below.

“Atlanta, before being burnt; by order of Gen’l. Sherman, from the cupola of the Female Seminary” by George N. Barnard, October 1864.  Click on the photo to enlarge it.

By 1899, Kodak had developed a panoramic camera for amateurs.   In 1904, the Cirkut camera, based on improved 1840′s technology, was introduced and soon became popular with commercial photographers.

The Library of Congress has a collection of approximately 4,000 panoramic photographs, mainly assembled during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when panoramic scenes were most popular.  It includes landscapes, group portraits, and cityscapes.

I made a search of city parks and other urban recreational spaces and found a number of interesting images from 1902 to 1921.

(You can click each photo to enlarge it or click on “Continue reading” below and then on the first thumbnail in the gallery to scroll through all the larger versions.)


The photo above shows The Mall in Central Park, New York City.  This part of the park was designed by Olmstead and Vaux to be an “open air hall of reception,”  and it certainly was on this day in 1902.

Such a “grand promenade” was considered an “essential feature of a metropolitan park,” even by the designers, who created a more naturalistic plan for most of the rest of the park.

The Mall leads to The Bethesda Terrace, shown above.  Both Central Park pictures were taken by Benjamin J. Falk.


Diamond Park in Meadville, Pennsylvania, had the same features as Central Park’s Mall, although on a smaller, simpler scale. The photo above was taken c. 1910 by W.R. Hites.  The round pool and gazebo exist in the park today.

The photo of Diamond Park, and those of the two pictures below, may have been taken with a Cirkut camera, which distorted images and made straight paths  or roads in the centers of its photos appear curved.


Bushnell Park of Hartford, Connecticut, shown above, was the first municipal park in the U.S. to be conceived of and paid for with public funds.  It was designed in 1861 by  Jacob Weidenmann in a natural style that featured informal clusters of 157 varieties of evergreen and deciduous trees, which buffered the sights and sounds of the city.

This photo was taken  c. 1909, by Haines Photo Co.  The state capitol building can be seen in the background.


Grand Circus Park  was a social center of  Detroit, Michigan, when the photo above was taken by Manning Bros. in 1921.  It was surrounded by eight theaters, as well as ornate hotels.

At the time of the picture, the Russell Alger Memorial Fountain would have just been completed.  It was designed by Henry Bacon, who also designed the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  The fountain featured a sculpture by Daniel French, who also sculpted Abraham Lincoln for the Memorial.


This 1907 picture of Victorian “bedding out” at the Conservatory in Washington Park  seems at odds with Olmsted and Vaux’s original 1870 vision for the park in south Chicago, Illinois.  (Their blueprint was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1871.)  Olmsted designed a natural feel to the park, including a meadow surrounded by trees and maintained by grazing sheep.

The conservatory and ornate sunken garden were designed by D.H. Burnham & Co. and built in 1897.  By the Great Depression, the building was too expensive to maintain and was torn down.  The photo was by George R. Lawrence Co.


In this 1909 photo, Oxnard, California, still shows its roots as an agricultural boomtown.  About 1897, local ranchers had thought that growing sugar beets would be profitable and had convinced Henry Oxnard to  build a factory in the midst of the new fields.  A town, with plaza, rapidly sprung up alongside it.

The city was incorporated in 1903, and by 1907, it even had a classically styled Andrew Carnegie library — which I think can be seen above the park about a third of the way from the photo’s left side, partly covered by a tree.  The photo was taken by West Coast Art Co.


The Boston Public Garden, designed by George F. Meacham, was first proposed to the city fathers in 1837, but construction did not begin until the early 1860s.

It has always been an ornamental pleasure garden, famous for its flower beds, meandering paths, and swan pond and boats.


With the adjoining Boston Common, it forms the northern end of Olmsted’s great string of parks called the Emerald Necklace.  The three photos above were taken c. 1904, by E. Chickering & Co.


This snow scene taken of Boston Common, taken January 10, 1904, by E. Chickering & Co., has the feel of a post-impressionist painting.

The Common was a public livestock grazing space from 1634 to 1830.  In 1836, it was enclosed by an ornamental iron fence, and its five perimeter malls or recreational promenades were completed.  In contrast to the Public Garden, it is laid out with straight lines and open areas for recreation and public gatherings.


In the three decades after 1871, developers took Asbury Park, New Jersey, from a small seaside community to a residential resort of more than 600,000 vacationers.  They built a boardwalk, orchestra pavilion, changing rooms, and a pier along its beachfront, as well as a number of grand hotels.  The above photo by Benjamin J. Falk shows the Fourth Avenue Beach c. 1902.


This photo shows another kind of Boston park, the American League Grounds at Fenway Park, and the World Series game of October 12, 1914.   The score was [Boston] Braves 5 – [Philadelphia] Athletics 4 in 12 innings.  The photo is  by John F. Riley.

The first World Series had taken place ten years earlier, also in Boston, on what is now the campus of Northeastern University. A panoramic photo of one of those games is here.


The above photo shows Brooklyn’s  Coney Island and Luna Park (also known as Dreamland) around 1907.  This picture and the one below were taken by Charles E. Stacy.

Luna Park was created by Frederick Thompson and Elmer Dundy and opened in 1903. There’s a very interesting history of the enterprise at this link.

By 1915, another inventor, Frederick Ingersoll, had opened Luna Parks all over the world, and the term “luna park” became a generic name for amusement parks.  The blog Poemas del rio Wang features a series of photos of Paris’s Luna Park in 1910.


The above photo shows the destruction of part of the park after a fire on December 11, 1911.

We’ll take a trip up to the moon
For that is the place for a lark
So meet me down at Luna, Lena
Down at Luna Park.
– recorded by Billy Murray, 1905 (hear him singing it here)

All photos in this post via the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Continue reading

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