Bloomsbury & Fitzrovia Through Time, by Brian Girling

Review published on September 16, 2012. Reviewed by Kirsty Hewitt

Bloomsbury & Fitzrovia Through Time is the newest offering from author Brian Girling. It follows similar volumes which have been published in Amberley’s Through Time series on other areas of London and its suburbs, including Paddington, Marylebone and Harrow.

This volume sets out to show how the west-central London districts of Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia have changed through history. It essentially gives a biography of both areas, using photographs which have not been printed before. In his own words, Girling states that ‘the principle purpose of this book is to record through photographs the changing face of the streets as they have adapted to the needs of the modern city’.

Our tour begins with a wonderful introduction which describes how the areas came into being. Girling tells us about the beginnings of ‘Blemundsbury’ in the mid-seventeenth century, the succession of authors who peopled its streets, and the founding of the University of London in Bloomsbury. Fitzrovia, with its extensive ‘Bohemian atmosphere’ and many German workers before the advent of the First World War, is also described.

Bloomsbury & Fitzrovia Through Time has been incredibly well set out. Each page features an old photograph, all in sepia tones, at the top, along with the approximate date in which the picture was taken. A paragraph of text follows, outlining the history of the buildings and streets which are featured. A modern photograph has then been placed at the bottom of the page, which shows the same view. It is incredibly easy for the reader to pinpoint the many changes between the photographs, and the entire book makes for an incredibly interesting social and physical history of the area.

Girling has included a variety of different pictures, from shop fronts to the Scala Theatre, and from Wilkinson and Sons’ Brass Foundry to The Muchmore Art Co. in Great Russell Street, which specialised in making picture frames. The historical information included throughout – the names of local pubs casting ‘cheery light’ and the price of a haircut in 1920, for example – are nice touches and really add a more personal feel to the book.

The only information which seems to be missing from the book is what each building is used for today. Although some of the paragraphs do explain the modern uses of the buildings, some merely feature anonymous-looking courtyards and tower blocks, and no effort has been made to explain their modern day usage. There is little consistency with regard to this, which is a real shame.

Regardless, Bloomsbury & Fitzrovia Through Time is an interesting book which will delight residents of both areas, as well as tourists intent on seeing the history of London for themselves. The volume has been well printed on glossy paper and will make a lovely addition to any coffee table or bookcase, as well as a wonderful gift for anyone interested in the sometimes incredible alterations which have almost entirely transformed the city of London.

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