Holborn to Euston
This is the third walk in our series that links together the best in stationery shops with tempting cafes, interesting shops and quirky history. We set our sights on stationery shops in Bloomsbury, a neatly defined area in London known for its many green squares and an early 20th century collection of writers, philosophers, artists and intellectuals. If you looking for a way to while away a few hours in London then there are certainly worse ways to do so than with this walk. Find out more.
The practical need-to-know for this walk is that we started at Holborn tube and meandered for about 2.5 miles ending up at Euston station. For the truly adventurous you could even combine it with some or all of the first stationery walk although there is only so much stationery one person can handle in a day. The route can be followed on Google Maps here. A full list of places can be found at the end of the article.
Despite knowing the area quite well, we were taken aback when we turned the corner from Holborn and found what looked like a stationery shop that we hadn’t heard of. The Swedenborg Society Bookshop is an odd but interesting place which celebrates the life of 18th Century inventor and philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. It contains mostly Swedish language books but there are a few other items available and it is quite unlike anything else you will wander into in Central London. I picked up a couple of rather beautiful journals which were a bargain at £4.95 each and there were some interesting cards too.
Getting into Bloomsbury proper, just around the corner on Bury Place is a fantastic emporium, Blade Rubber. Here the shelves are filled with the most amazing and beautiful rubber stamps with everything imaginable available. There are ink pads and things to print your images on – blank cards, tags – and it is hard to resist going a bit mad and buying everything. I treated myself to a big thumbs up and a skull & crossbones stamp to use in my recipe and guidebooks so as to stop me forgetting what I like/don’t like. I resisted getting the big typewriter stamp though I desperately wanted it, ditto the dragonfly. There are also sewing kits and a selection of stationery plus you can have your own stamp made. A truly brilliant stationery shop.
Alternative Shop Idea
Next door to Blade Rubber is the London Review of Books bookshop, the retail arm of the great literary review magazine. It’s a lovely bright space with an interesting and eclectic mix of books and carefully considered titles on the display tables There is a café too with great salads and cakes and a nice casual atmosphere. LRB merchandise is available (nice tote bags) and there are regular events as well.
Moving on around the corner you will find L. Cornelissen, a truly old-fashioned purveyor of fine arts materials: retail the way it used to be and, given they’ve been trading since 1855, the way it still works. Whilst not strictly speaking a stationery shop, it sells amazing art materials which is close enough and is in the heart of Bloomsbury, so it’s on the walk. Inside this beautiful shop you will find walls of brushes, drawers filled with every colour pastel under the sun and big apothecary-style glass jars of paint pigments, everything displayed with a reverence for the craft. Even if, like me, you don’t have any need for watercolour pads or Japanese brushes, it is such an inspiring place to wander around. So much so that there is a Google Maps tour of the inside of the shop.
Our route onwards took us via not strictly the quickest route but the nicest, through the wide-open space of Bedford Square and up Malet Street. Halfway along you will see the imposing Art Deco building that is Senate House. Owned by the University of London, this iconic London building, reminiscent of early American skyscrapers was rumoured to have been spared by Hitler during the Blitz, who hoped it could be his future headquarters. Though undoubtedly an urban myth, there is an imposing feel to the place that explains why it was the inspiration for 1984’s Ministry of Truth. Directly opposite Senate House is Malet Street Gardens, a small sunken green space only open Monday to Friday where you can sit quietly amongst the trees. Rather poignantly, all the railings around it are little stumps, removed to help the war effort in the 1940’s and never restored.
Alternative Shop Idea
Working your way back from this small detour you will pass by Russell & Chapple, another rather beautiful artist’s shop. This one specialises in framing and gilding materials and has more choices of canvas that you ever knew existed, but it is worth a look if you find beautiful shops an inspiration.
Turning the corner onto the busy Tottenham Court Road you will find yourself outside one of the most well-known stationery shops in London, not just Bloomsbury. The enormous flagship branch of Paperchase with its three floors of stationery has been a fixture of the stationery scene for many years now. For anyone who has only experienced the small local stores or the miniature station kiosks that are the bulk of Paperchase’s offering, this store would come as a revelation. You could be forgiven for thinking that they only sell fairy lights and unicorn-shaped erasers but here you would be wrong. Whilst the front of the store is dominated by cheap gifts and greeting cards there is some fantastic stationery here. A good example is the display of gift bags, tags and boxes all in smart black or kraft with black ribbon which are some of the nicest around, basics that no one does as well as Paperchase. They also have a huge wrap and card offering which though mostly own brand also includes some nice alternatives such as Rifle Paper Co.
Upstairs on the second floor you will find displays of lots of great brands – on our visit there were some very nice journals and planners from O’Check Design – plus a huge selection of pens including Lamy, Kaweco, Faber-Castell and Caran d’Ache. Sadly the staff didn’t seem to have been trained much on the pens, my eagle eye spotted the new Lamy Aion in special edition red and blue, but they had no idea what I was talking about.
To the rear there is a section devoted to papers and craft with ribbons and twine and an amazing selection of Cavallini wrapping papers. These are retro/vintage images so beautiful they work as prints, indeed it might be a crime to wrap something in them. Finally, the top floor concentrates on artists materials with a good selection of paints, sketch books and paper plus calligraphy materials. There is nothing else quite like Paperchase and no stationery lover could fail to find something of interest here.
Just around the corner on Chenies Street is a whitewashed building which looks a little like a concrete bunker, which is exactly what it is. The Eisenhower Centre is said to be where General Dwight D finalised D-Day preparations which is quite amazing to consider. Whether this is true is hard to establish but it was a huge underground complex with facilities for 8,000 people complete with medical and catering provisions. After the war it saw service as a transit camp for troops and bizarrely it turns out that our father actually stayed here as a navy reservist in the 1950’s en route to Gibraltar. There were plans to turn it into a Northern Line express route, a sort of early Crossrail project, but they were shelved and now the building is used as a storage facility. You can read more about it here. You can read more about it here.
The Wellcome Collection
Alternatively you could hang on for the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road, the final stop on the tour. This is a free museum and library based around the issues associated with health and one of my favourite places to visit. There are always several exhibitions to browse and recent highlights have included one on the history of dentistry (yes really) and another on buildings and how they affect our health. Over the years I have visited, some have been quite odd (the sexual health installation), some quite eye-opening (Taboo – possibly shouldn’t have taken the children to that one) and some really fascinating (The Anatomy of Crime was a top visit). Smoke and Mirrors is the current exhibition where you can find out all about magic and deception.
There are also permanent attractions to explore including the first printout of the human genome – 3.4 billion units of DNA code in over 100 volumes – and a wafer-thin slice of a full-size human body which can be viewed from either side showing our inner workings. I especially love the black ballgown decorated with over 6,000 contraceptive pills, enough for 26 years protection apparently.
I must confess that until recently I hadn’t visited the library, never having ventured up to the top floor. This is a shame as it is really such a beautiful room, with its red and green décor and scatter cushions for staircase-lounging. It’s a lovely place to come and sit for free and read quietly.
And absolutely not least is the fantastic book and gift shop run by Blackwells which has a brilliant selection of themed and unusual books and gifts. As a buyer and regular visitor to various trade fairs it takes a lot to impress me but this one I love. Small but smartly curated. Plus there is a nice café too featuring an upside-down Antony Gormley and a brilliant ceiling display of lights made to look like lab flasks and a restaurant upstairs.
Before disappearing into Euston station you might care to take a look at St Pancras New Church, a building inspired by the Acropolis with four huge caryatids (female figures) holding up the entablature. There is a popular story that when the figures were delivered, they were too tall to fit resulting in part of their mid-section being removed. Most likely a myth (there is a plinth top and bottom that surely could have come out?) it is still interesting to consider if they do actually look a little dumpy round the midriff.
And that’s it, some wonderful stationery shops across the Bloomsbury area. Euston Station is across the road. On your way you can maybe contemplate the whim of change. Euston Arch – where once a neo-classic arch stood in front of the station, the desire for modernism led to this being unceremoniously removed and most of it dumped in the River Lea. Now the talk is of it being restored as part of the HS2 rebuild at Euston.
The places mentioned in this walk
Swedenborg Bookshop, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way, Holborn, London WC1A 2TH – http://www.swedenborg.org.uk/bookshop.html
Blade Rubber, 12 Bury Pl, Holborn, London WC1A 2JL – https://www.bladerubberstamps.co.uk/
London Review Bookshop, 14-16 Bury Pl, Holborn, London WC1A 2JL – https://www.londonreviewbookshop.co.uk/
L. Cornelissen, 105 Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3RY – https://www.cornelissen.com/
Senate House, Malet St, London WC1E 7HU
Russell & Chapple, 30-31 Store St, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 7QE – https://www.russellandchapple.co.uk/
Paperchase, 213-215 Tottenham Court Rd, Bloomsbury, London W1T 7PS – https://www.paperchase.com/en_gb/stores/tottenham-court-road-london.html
Eisenhower Centre, 13 Chenies St, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 7EY
Ginger Jules Cafe, Garden Kiosk, Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, London WC1H 0PD – https://www.facebook.com/gingerjulescafe
Bloomsbury Coffee House, 20 Tavistock Pl, Kings Cross, London WC1H 9RE – https://www.bloomsburycoffeehouse.co.uk/
The Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Rd, London NW1 2BE – https://wellcomecollection.org/
St Pancras New Church, Euston Rd, Bloomsbury, London NW1 2BA