21 November 2012

An overnight stay in Bloomsbury

The Penn Club in Bedford Place, Bloomsbury ... one of my favourite places to stay in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I stayed last night in the Penn Club in the heart of Bloomsbury after taking part in the special service in Saint Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey, for the relaunch of USPG as Us.

The Penn Club is a quiet place to stay in Bedford Place off Russell Square, and, although the accommodation is plain rather than simple, this is one of my favourite places to stay in London. I have a room at the back overlooking the gardens that back onto Museum Street at the side the British Museum.

The club is housed in three inter-linking Georgian terrace houses built in the 1800s. Russell Square, a pleasant green space with shady trees, a cafĂ© and a beautiful fountain in the centre, is just a few steps from the Penn Club, as are Tavistock Square with its Gandhi memorial and peace monuments, and tiny Bloomsbury Square. The club is also close to London University, the British Museum, the British Library, and – although there was no time for them last night – to Covent Garden and the West End theatres.

The Penn Club was established by Quakers in 1920 with funds left over from the Friends Ambulance Unit, which was active during World War I. The club continues to have connections with Quakers throughout Britain and world-wide, and maintains traditional Quaker values of integrity, equality, tolerance and simplicity, honesty and fairness in all its dealings. The value Quakers place on silence means there is no television in the rooms, and all mobile phones were switched off during breakfast this morning.

Konaki in Coptic Street ... authentic flavours of Greece in the heart of Bloomsbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Last night I had dinner in Konaki, a Greek Restaurant in Coptic Street, close to British Museum. This restaurant has a curious mixture of faux Tudor black beams and Greek music, but it is still one of my all-time favourites in London, and has been on the scene since 1985. In summer time, the courtyard at the back of the restaurant is one of the most delightful places in London for lunch.

The authentic Greek food and wine were consoling comforts last night after the vote earlier in the evening on women bishops in the General Synod of the Church of England.

Earlier yesterday I had a little time to take short strolls through Russell Square, where TS Eliot once worked, and through Bloomsbury Square.

There may be a little time this morning for a coffee in Bloomsbury. But, despite having had a little time in the bookshop at Church House yesterday, it’s such a pity that there’s going to be little or no time before heading back to Heathrow Airport to browse through some of the bookshops around here, or the curious coin and curio shops around the British Museum ... one of them even specialises in selling old banknotes and antique Greek coins, which seem to have lost none of their value for collectos despite the present monetary crisis in Greece.

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