Many moons ago I studied modern languages at the University of Westminster (then the Polytechnic of Central London). At that time the languages faculty was a small seven storey building tucked away behind the Euston Tower (famous for being the home of Capital Radio) near Warren Street tube station.
It was not architecturally-striking, but it was peaceful as the other taller buildings formed a buffer against the endless traffic on the Euston Road. When I first walked in there on the open day, I immediately connected with its warm, congenial energy.
Whilst a student there I became very fond of literary Bloomsbury with its garden squares and, in particular, Waterstones bookshop on Gower Street. Like a beautifully designed book cover, its façade drew me in to the interior with its winding staircases, window seats and five floors of books just waiting to be discovered. A Grade II listed building in a ‘Franco-Flemish Gothic style’ it was the architectural antithesis of my faculty building, but they had one thing in common: I felt deeply at home in both these places.
Check out the video below to hear and see more about the times I’ve spent in this delightful bookshop…
Since my student days, new chapters have opened and closed in my life, and books have been there for me every step of the way. They are the constant in my life, and if I go with the flow, they turn up just when I need them.
Similarly, Waterstones on Gower Street has an eclectic history, which is related on the free bookmarks you can find in the store:
“The building was designed by Charles Fitzroy Doll in 1908. Originally a row of small shops with houses above, there have been a colourful mix of tenants over the years, including a harness maker, wallpaper merchant and dealer in poultry and game. The first bookshop on this site, Dillon’s, opened in a small area of the ground floor in 1956; now, half a century later, Waterstones occupies the entire 5 floor building, with over 5 miles of shelving and 160, 000 titles.”
The University of Westminster has also gone through a series of evolutions.
It was the first polytechnic in the UK and was opened in 1838 at 309 Regent Street in London by aeronautical engineer and MP Sir George Cayley. In 1881, philanthropist Quintin Hogg bought the Royal Polytechnic Institution building and moved his Young Men’s Christian Institute into 309 Regent Street, which soon became the publicly funded Regent Street Polytechnic. Quintin Hogg was the grandfather of Lord Hailsham, who was at my graduation ceremony.
In the 1960s additional faculty buildings were added in other parts of London for architecture, engineering and science. The Regent Street Polytechnic also merged with Holborn College of Law, Languages and Commerce to form the Polytechnic of Central London (known as PCL, one of 30 new polytechnics formed in 1970). PCL gained University status in 1992 and became the University of Westminster.
I recently went back to take a look at my former faculty building, although it has long since moved the Regent Street, and so maybe I should not have been surprised to discover that the seven storey building itself was no longer there. The entire area has been renovated (with cafes, shops and other offices) to the extent that it was hard to remember precisely where the original one was. Although I understand that the development around Euston Tower is now branded Regent’s Place!
But it lingers on in my memory, and I still get a warm glow when I think about it. Particularly the library which always seemed to attract the afternoon sunshine. Waterstones in Gower Street hasn’t changed much, although new books and authors have inevitably come in the door along with the rare and antiquarian (what goes around…!). Walking around Bloomsbury and this branch of Waterstones always takes me back to my student days.
Since then, I’ve been through several incarnations moving through various industries from market research, public relations and book publishing, to running my own business as a writer’s coach, and now being an author, interviewer and book detective. I was even gifted the inspiration for one of my future books whilst walking down Gower Street, which felt most appropriate!