Bloomsbury is characterised by its historic squares and gardens: each has its own distinct atmosphere and special appeal.
Tavistock Square can be reached within a five-minute walk from SOAS. On a cold morning in early January, the park is almost deserted. Peaceful.
Peace is a subject closely linked with Tavistock Square.
At the centre of the Square is Fredda Brilliant’s bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi. It is a site of pilgrimage for people wishing to leave floral tributes in honour of the advocate of nonviolence.
The theme of peace is continued at the Conscientious Objectors’ Commemorative Stone located in the north side of the Square, and by the neighbouring cherry tree, which was planted in memory of the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki––although not looking at its most colourful in January. At the southern end of the park, a maple tree, planted by the League of Jewish Women, marks the United Nations International Year of Peace.
Of course, the Square has not always been a scene of peace: in 2005 it was the location of a bus bomb, which claimed thirteen innocent lives. A memorial plaque commemorates the names of the people who died.
SOAS has its own history with Tavistock Square. It rented office space in Lynton House in the Square in the early 2000s as a temporary home for its Finance, Human Resources and Marketing departments. The space is now a Starbucks. Such is the march of progress! And Connaught Hall, one of the University of London’s halls of residence, occupies a beautiful converted Georgian terrace on the west side of the Square.
A bronze bust of Virginia Woolf sits on a five-foot high plinth of Portland stone staring out mournfully from the southwest corner of the Square, her hollow eyes as bleak as the morning is cold. Woolf and her husband Leonard lived in the Square until 1939. Their house was destroyed in the Blitz of 1941, and its original site is now part of the Tavistock Hotel.
As the low sun briefly breaks through the white clouds, long shadows reach out across the central park: iron railings; lime trees pollarded like living sculptures; majestic plane trees. Squirrels grub and forage in the leaf-litter; pigeons strut and peck; and a solitary jogger completes an umpteenth circuit.
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