Since coming home from London, I keep coming across interesting things which I could have seen while I was there, but didn't. Which is not at all surprising, given the city's size and history, but it's true even in the relatively restricted confines of Bloomsbury, where I was staying and got to know fairly well (or so I thought). My first inkling of this came when I was watching Black Books for the nth time, and idly wondered where the exterior location filming was done. Practically around the corner from where I was staying, as it happens; I must have walked past the street it's in on an almost daily basis, if not down the very street itself. If I'd known I would have gone in and bought a book, even at the risk of being verbally abused for my troubles!
But there were also things I didn't know about which were more relevant to my research. Chronologically, I stumbled across the earliest when flipping through a new Osprey book, London, 1914-1917: The Zeppelin Menace by Ian Castle. It's got these nice maps showing the tracks of individual Zeppelins across the city, and where their bombs fell. And from one of the raids, there were two nearby, one in the south-east corner of Russell Square Gardens and the other in Queen Square. Unfortunately I was too poor (or at least too responsible) to buy the book, and I can't remember what the date of the raid was. Judging from this, it would appear to be 8 September 1915. And the Bedford Hotel on Southampton Row was hit on 24 September 1917 by one of the first Gotha night raiders.
Anyway, I've been to former bomb sites before. A more truly unique event which took place in Bloomsbury was the discovery of the nuclear chain reaction which underpins all nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors — or at least the idea of the chain reaction. This flash of inspiration took place in the brain of Leó Szilárd, a refugee Jewish physicist, on 12 September 1933, at the traffic lights at the intersection of Southampton Row and Russell Square (in fact, only a few metres from where the Zeppelin bomb had fallen). Again, I walked past this spot several times a week, at least. It would have been an appropriate, if noisy, place from which to contemplate the subsequent atomic age.
Even that place, significant though it may be, has nothing to mark its connection to this past. That's not true for the final (so far) thing I missed in Bloomsbury, the Goodge Street Deep Level Shelter. This was one of eight air raid shelters excavated between 1940 and 1942, parallel to existing Tube stations on the Northern Line. During the war, they were intended to hold 8000 people each; afterward, they could be used as the basis for an express line. Due to the end of the Blitz, none of them were used as shelters until 1944, and the new tunnel was never built. Goodge Street was in fact used by Eisenhower as a headquarters (though I think SHAEF itself was in Bushy Park); apparently he announced D-Day from here and one of the two entrances is called the Eisenhower Centre. That's on Chenies Street, which I'm not sure I walked down; but the other is on Tottenham Court Road, and I most certainly walked past that more than once without even noticing.
Well, darn it all to heck.
This post relates to my trip to Europe in July-September 2007.