Russell Square: last but not least

Christmas tree in Russell Square
Christmas tree in Russell Square.

Russell Square is one of the largest garden squares in London, and is a popular green retreat for students, tourists, residents and workers in Bloomsbury.  Originally developed in the early nineteenth century, in 2002 the Square received a huge makeover, with the chief intention of restoring its layout as near as possible to the original design conceived by Humphry Repton.   Restored features include the central fountain, the serpentine entrance paths, the central horseshoe path, and the lime walk arbour.

Russell Square

SOAS in Russell Square

SOAS University of London first moved to its current location in Russell Square in 1941.  Since then, it has expanded into a number of other locations around the Square.  30 Russell Square was an early home for the Department of International Foundation Courses and English Language Studies (IFCELS) before it moved to its current location in the Faber Building (23-24 Russell Square); SOAS Language Centre is based at 22 Russell Square; and, for a brief period, the School of Law was relocated into one of the townhouses on the ‘far side’ of the Square.

More recently, SOAS’s development of the North Block of Senate House, has meant that it also occupies a position in one of the most iconic buildings to overlook the Square.

Senate House in Russell Square

The murderer lives at number 21

The Belgian writer Stanislas-André Steeman published his crime novel L’Assassin habite au 21 in 1939.  Mr. Smith, the serial killer of the novel, lived at 21 Russell Square, now home of the London Middle East Institute (LMEI).

It does not take too great a leap of the imagination, to picture a sinister figure lurking in the shadows of those characterful rooms?  Students, next time you are taking a summer school class in Government and Politics of the Middle East or studying for Culture and Society in the Middle East, listen out with new attention for the creaking floorboards overhead, and watch out for the handle of the door… slowly opening!

21 Russell Square

Sadly, a 1942 film adaptation of the novel directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, sometimes referred to as the French Hitchcock, transferred the scene of the action to Paris, and so the original, atmospheric Russell Square location was lost to the cinema screen.

Cabmen’s shelter

The distinctive green cabmen’s shelter at the SOAS-side (north-west corner) of the Square, is one of only thirteen similar structures (of 61 originally built), which still survive in London.

Cabmen's shelter in Russell Square

The first cabmen’s shelter appeared in 1875.  The idea behind the shelters was to provide a warm haven where London’s cabbies (originally driving horse-drawn hansom cabs rather than the black TX4 hackney carriages, with which we are now more familiar) could stop and get something hot, both to eat and drink.

Many of the cabmen’s shelters (including the one in Russell Square) still provide refreshments both to cab drivers, but also to members of the public, but it is only the privileged few who possess The Knowledge, who are permitted to sit down and rest inside.  And, believe me, I’ve tried.

The Twelve Squares of Christmas

Read more about some of the Bloomsbury squares located close to SOAS, described throughout the seasons:

Tavistock Square – January

Brunswick Square – February

Woburn Square – March

Argyle Square – April

Queen Square – May

Bedford Square – June

Torrington Square – July

Red Lion Square – August

Fitzroy Square – September

Gordon Square – October

Bloomsbury Square – November

Russell Square – December

Bus passing in Russell Square

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