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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Breakfast in Bloomsbury

In the early 1970s it was possible to rent a habitable room for two in Gower St for ₤5.50 a night, including a hot breakfast. This was just round the corner from the University of London and the British Museum. I was doing research for my Ph D thesis in the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, where my mentors Damodar and Devahuti had both done their British degrees. SOAS was then headed by Professor B N Pandey, after Professor A L Basham left that post to go to the ANU in Canberra.

  Every morning the guests of the Gower St hotel trouped down to the kitchen/dining area in the basement for breakfast. We were sitting at a table with an American couple who'd been staying at the hotel for a day or two. They were a very friendly, pleasant people on their first trip to London, with the informality we were used to as Australians, as opposed to the rather stiff upper lip attitude of the Brits, even the kitchen staff.

  'We went to the British Museum, as you suggested,' she said.

  'Oh, did you enjoy it?'

  'Well....' There was some hesitation in her voice. 'It closed at 4 pm and we got there at 3.45. So there wasn't much time. But -  I did the ground floor, and Otto did the first level, and we made it through just in time!'

  I've heard apocryphal stories in this vein but I never thought I'd hear this with my own ears.

  As we were finishing our toast, more people arrived and put the kitchen staff under a bit of pressure. Just as we were about to leave, there was one hell of an explosion in the kitchen.

  Everything fell silent for a few seconds, and then came the sound of a baritone voice of calm British authority from the kitchen.

  'Ladies and gentlemen - no further toast will be served this morning!'


  1. I spent a nice 10 days at 77 Gower Street a few years ago

  2. Betcha it wasn't for 5 quid 50 a day, even single! A hot brekkie would cost that much! But it's a nice area in terms of central London location.

    I used to walk through to Chatham House, St James's Square, known also as the Institute of International Affairs. Great place for spooks.

    There's another story there! It would have been a perfect place for you to stay.

  3. I think it was about 80 quid a day for twin share with ensuite back in 2004.

    We had breakfast each day with toast brought to our table.

  4. Bloomsbury!! How I love that area. Fast forward 30 odd years from your visit and its 2010. I'm living just around the corner from the museum, just off Lambs Conduit. What a gorgeous little spot - quiet and leafy with dog walkers and people who nod and say hi....RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF LONDON. That's right peace and quiet in inner city London is possible...with a price tag of course. A very special spot indeed. A hop skip and a jump from Soho. Perfect. So I could head into Soho for an outrageous night of dancing and celebration only to walk home in 10 mins and act like a responsible Bloomsbarian and smile and nod at the locals walking their dogs. Sx

  5. I always think of this part as the centre of my London experience, just a walk through to the theatres of the Soho area and Piccadilly.... all those places on the Monopoly Board! It's a long time since I walked through central London, but it's still the best city of all in my memory. Thanks for yours. I have the feeling that in that particular area, not much has changed.


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