Books About Town 2nd July – 15th September 2014
In June, I was excited to read that there would be another art hunt in London this summer; 50 unique bookbench sculptures scattered across London to celebrate books, reading and London’s literary heritage. The National Literary Trust is the main organisation behind this summer’s event. And in October the benches will be sold to raise money for charity.
Back in 2012 I discovered the thrill of the art hunt with the BT Art Box exhibition. For that trail nearly 80 replica phone boxes were decorated by artists and scattered across central London. We only had 3 weeks to track them down and the map to find them was rubbish. But that became part of the fun and the designs were spectacular and worth finding.
Books About Town is a far more civilised exhibition. Rather than sprinkling the book benches randomly across the capital, they have created 4 trails in manageable areas for an afternoon out. This week’s post follows the Bloomsbury trail. As I’m a Londoner and proud of my home town, I’ve tried to investigate each author’s London link to the city and even the area where their bench is situated.
Books About Town; the Bloomsbury Trail 2014
Bloomsbury is an area in Central London which I associate with literature; partly because a group of writers and artists called The Bloomsbury Group who used to live there. Also the publishers Faber and Faber had their head office in Queen’s Square and they are still not far away on Great Russell Street. Bloomsbury’s other attraction is its garden squares which were created in the 18th Century and many buildings from that period are still standing. These squares make a delightful setting for these book shaped sculptures.
Over the last 2 weeks, I’d snapped a few of the benches in this area with my phone but on Thursday I set out to properly document this trail with my camera. And what I discovered is people had no qualms about sitting on them or were that bothered if strangers photographed them while they were there. I was glad I had a few of those earlier phone snaps so I can show you the designs more clearly.
Bloomsbury Trail: Peter Pan Bookbench.
I started at the southern, most central end of this trail in Red Lion Square. Its off Theobald’s Road and not far from Holborn tube station.
The bench here is dedicated to the Scottish writer, JM Barrie who created the character Peter Pan. In 1929, Barrie gave the copyright for works about Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street Hospital for children which is also in Bloomsbury
The bench is entitled Always Try to be a little kinder than necessary. The artist is Sian Storey.
Bloomsbury Trail: Pride and Prejudice Bookbench
I crossed north over Theobald’s Road and kept walking straight ahead until I came to Queen’s Square where this next bench is. The writer being celebrated is Jane Austen whose best known novel is Pride and Prejudice. That novel has has been adapted for the screen and television on many occasions. 2005 saw the latest film version with Keira Knightly and Matthew Macfadyen. And 2015 we can look forward to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!!
Jane Austen was from Hampshire but both she and the characters from her novels visited London regularly. In Pride and Prejudice, Jane spends time there visiting her aunt, hoping to bump into Mr Bingley. And younger sister Lydia elopes there with officer George Wickham. I haven’t found a direct Bloomsbury connection but as this is the only trail set in Georgian London, I can only assume that this is why they placed her bench here.
The bench is called Pride and Prejudice. And the artist is Charlotte Brown.
Bloomsbury Trail: Jeeves and Wooster stories Bookbench
I headed out of Queens Square towards Russell Square and Russell Square tube station where the Brunswick Centre is. This is the only bench not set in a garden but in an open air shopping mall.
The bench here is dedicated to the author PG Wodehouse. His most famous character is the butler Jeeves who worked for Bertie Wooster. The stories are set in the 1920s. The only connection to London I can easily find is that he went to school at Dulwich College in South London. Why he was placed here and not on the Greenwich trail, south of the river, is a mystery to me.
Jeeves and Wooster stories. Artist Gordon Allum
Its good to see that the table tennis tables are in use again this summer. I love the school girl in the background of this photograph, watching like an official umpire.
Bloomsbury Trail: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Bookbench
From the north west corner of the Brunswick Centre, I headed right and over a couple of blocks to find St Georges Gardens. Its also about a 5 minute walk from Euston Station. I’d never been there before and its my favourite setting on the trail. 300 years ago, the area was a burial ground and you can still see some large tomb stones and statues. In 1997, a grant restored the gardens into the splendid small park you can find today. In 2002 Time Out magazine identified it as one of London’s best kept secrets. And that is exactly how I felt the moment I walked in on Thursday.
It feels magical or spiritual. And I thought it was the perfect setting for the characters from CS Lewis’ novel.
This author has no concrete connection to London that I can find. CS Lewis hailed from Northern Ireland originally and spent most of his life in Oxford. The four children in novel are evacuated away from London during World War II. So the connection here is of an absence to London.
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe Bench. Artist is Mandii Pope.
The main seat of the bench is like a painting and I attempted to recreate that with this close-up of that front on view.
The detail on this bench is particularly fine. Look at what is painted into the curved back book at the base.
Bloomsbury Trail: Mrs Dalloway Bookbench
I headed directly west from the gardens to Gordon Square. This area is right in the heart of Birkbeck College, University of London and there were plenty of students were enjoying a summer’s afternoon in the square at the end of term.
Author Virginia Woolf is the most celebrated author of the Bloomsbury group and she lived at no 46 Gordon Square! So this is the perfect spot for the bench dedicated to her and her work. I’ve not read the novel but it is partly set in London too.
Mrs Dalloway. Artist is One Red Shoe (Fiona and Neil Osbourne)
Bloomsbury Trail: Sherlock Holmes Stories Bookbench.
I exited Gordon Square at the southern end and just over the main road is Woburn Square where the next bench is dedicated to Scottish author Arthur Conan Doyle’s internationally famous Victorian detective Sherlock Holmes! And everybody knows that he is one of London’s most famous fictional characters who lives at… 221B Baker Street over in London’s West End. Why is he here? Because there is no trail over on that side of the city. Hey ho. Its jolly design and in a pretty setting.
Bloomsbury Trail: Earnest Bookbench
I headed back out of Woburn Square through the gate you see in the photograph and directly to my left was the bench dedicated to Irish playwright and poet Oscar Wilde.
The London connect to Oscar Wilde’s best known play, The Importance of being Earnest is Victoria Station where a handbag containing a baby was accidentally left by the nanny Miss Prism.
The bench is on a busy traffic intersection. You need to be careful of cyclists when taking photographs here. And it occurs to me now that whilst this isn’t a busy railway station, this spot is also a busy traffic thoroughfare.
Bloomsbury Trail: 1984 Bookbench
I walked over to Torrington Square which is the area the Earnest bookbench is facing. It is part of the University of London where Birkbeck’s main college building is. The author being celebrated here is George Orwell and his novel 1984. Orwell lived in London in the 1920s over in the West on Portobello Road and wrote about the slum areas of East London. Update since original post: Senate House, the building in the photograph below was where the Ministry of Information was based during World War 2 and this was the inspiration for Orwell’s Ministry of Truth building in his novel 1984. Much thanks for fellow blogger Books on the tube for this tip.
I’ve searched for this bookbench twice now and its still being repaired. If I get the opportunity to pop back and photograph it I will. Meanwhile, this is what I saw. The low plinth with red diagonal stripes is where the bench will be when it returns.
Nineteen Eighty Four. Artist is Thomas Dowdeswell.
Bloomsbury Trail: Day of the Triffids Bookbench
I left Torrington Square at the far end of the main photograph above where Senate House is and turned right. And then left onto the main road. And on the next corner is the university library where the bench dedicated to classic science fiction writer John Wyndham is. Both Wyndham and his novel have strong London connections. The Day of the Triffids is partly set there. And like Virginia Woolf, Wyndham lived in Bloomsbury for a period of his life at The Penn Club which is on Bedford Place.
Looking over the plot of the novel again for the blog – its years since I’ve read it – it sounds so contemporary. Main hero has been injured by a mutant being. He goes wandering around, collecting characters to save the world. Sounds familiar? AMC’s The Walking Dead and BBC 1 show Survivors immediately spring to mind.
Rest Your Stalks bookbench by Artist is Oliver Dean
I felt right at home with the red phone box in the background of this shot!
Bloomsbury Trail: Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly Bookbench and James Bond stories Bookbench
The final two benches were about a five minute walk away back down towards Holborn in Bloomsbury Square. The spot is very central and both authors Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming are internationally celebrated for their crime stories.
The Agatha Christie novel illustrated on this bench was written in 1954 but only published 60 years later in 2013. But its setting is an English village and not London. Agatha Christie did live in London, in the St John’s Wood area for a period of her life.
Ian Fleming renowned for his novels about the fictional spy 007, James Bond, was born in 1908 in Mayfair, the West End of London. Neither have strong London links but they are so famous as British writers that I can understand why their work is part of this exhibition.
I initially visited the Square and took photos at dusk with my phone 2 weeks ago. When I returned on Thursday the woman on the James Bond bench seemed to be glued to the seat. I even went away and returned but she was still there about 15 minutes later. So she ended up featuring on this blog. Thank you for your good will.
From my earlier phone pictures you can see the full design of the James Bond stories seat.
Bloomsbury Trail: Around the World in Eight Days Bookbench
When I searched for the bookbenches the trail map I used was downloaded about 3 weeks ago. For writing this post today, I see that a 12th bench has been added! If time permits I may add this one.
Looking at the Bloomsbury trail map, its in Covent Garden at Standfords travel bookshop on Long Acre rather than Bloomsbury. And it celebrates the work of author Jules Verne and his London character Phileas Fogg who travelled the world in 80 days.