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December 5, 2019
by Bloomsbury International
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A Royal Christmas

The month of December in the UK means that Christmas is coming up. Well, it’s just around the corner again. Each person or family has their own traditions, but have you ever thought about the Queen Elizabeth II’s plans for the holiday?

It is well-know that this time of the year the Queen travels to her private estate in the countryside: to Sandringham House. It lies in Sandringham, Norfolk, on a land of 8000 hectares. (Can you imagine?)

Sandringham House

Sandringham House

The House is covered with red bricks and it features numberless doors and windows. Her Majesty can decide where she prefers to have her afternoon tea with biscuits – the ballroom, the saloon, the drawing room, or perhaps just the dining room. She spends each New Year there as well, of course along with the Royal Family. Last year, after her annual winter break, the Queen simply hopped on a morning train from Norfolk and travelled back to London.

Christmas trees

Let’s look a bit back in time. Has there always been a Royal Christmas tree? When was the first one put up? Well,  think back to the second half of the 18th century! Queen Charlotte was the first to decorate with a Christmas tree in Britain. A little later, in the 19th century, trees became a popular tradition thanks to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

These days, several schools and churches get a special present from the Queen every year: a Christmas tree! Her Majesty also gifts trees to St. Paul’s Cathedral (London), Westminster Abbey (London) and more.

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral

But what about the Queen’s tree? The red and gold decorations are already hung up. The trees are all put up at Windsor Castle, and one of them is more than 6 meters tall! Wow. 

The Castle is a home to Her Majesty, but it is open to the public, too. So, if you fancy checking out the Winter Wonderland in Windsor, it is less than 90 minutes away from Bloomsbury International.

Royal Christmas Broadcast

Each Christmas, there is a special message from the Queen or King of the Commonwealth realm. The tradition started with King George V; he delivered the very first Christmas message back in 1932.

In the Broadcasts, you can hear what Her Majesty has to say about current affairs, and Christmas itself. The Queen’s Message was first seen on TV in 1957. Nowadays, besides watching it on TV or listening to it on the radio, you can check them out on the Internet! This tradition of Christmas Broadcasts has become very important for people in the UK.

Earlier Royal Christmases: did you know?

  • In the 12th century, Henry II wanted a winter palace in Dublin, Ireland where he could celebrate Christmases. Of course, the palace was built, and he enjoyed a lot of a special meals there, for example, peacocks, swans or wild geese. Would you taste those meals?
  • While the Royal Family today give each other presents around teatime at Christmas, it was different in the 14th century. At the time, people would normally give gifts at New Year or on Twelfth Night.
  • The first Royal Christmas Card was sent in the 1920s. The cards usually had a family photo on them, and it’s the same today. The Queen sends out around 750 Royal Christmas Cards yearly. Do you think she writes them all?

November 28, 2019
by Bloomsbury International
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Seven Dials of London

Seven Dials

Seven Dials, Covent Garden

It’s not difficult to find quirky and bustling streets in the centre of London. But to find seven of them that are linked and have one tall monument in the middle… Well, you don’t have to go too far! It’s a 10-minute walk from Bloomsbury International: the Seven Dials Monument. The pillar is more than 10 metres high, and it features six sundials on its top. It connects the energetic and colourful Soho with the stylish and vintage Covent Garden.

“Six sundials for seven streets? Why?” -you might ask. Alright, its story goes back to the late 17th century, when so the English politician, Thomas Neale, created some streets plans. Originally, he only planned to build 6 streets, plus a church. However, he changed his mind later and added another street instead of the church. He wanted to create a posh area where experienced merchants would sell fine goods, and stylish gentlemen would walk around to buy them. His brilliant idea was to use huge shopping windows that would attract even more customers.

It was a success in the first years, but, after the area was sold to a new owner, it slowly started to become an unsafe place. It became very expensive to rent the houses, so too many people would crowd and live in very small spaces. Seven Dials turned into an unpleasant and dangerous slum, full of thieves and bad-tempered tenants. I’m not joking, it wasn’t peaceful – a number of night watchmen were hired in order to keep the streets at least a little safer.

Did you know? 
Towards the end of the 18th century the monument was taken away from its place. There were two theories behind its disappearance:

  • Locals believed that there was treasure under the sculpture, so they knocked it down to search for it.
  • It was taken down by respectful people to keep it safe, somewhere away from the angry crowds.

The second story is probably the truth.

Decades later the original Seven Dials pillar was moved to Weybridge and got displayed on Monument Green. (Yes, you can still see it! It’s there.)

“But what about the central London statue?” you ask. From around the second half of the 20th century, the neighbourhood became richer and safer. And a new monument was created in the late 1980s, which had the same sundials on it.

Seven Dials

Christmas lights

There were some refurbishments over the years, but most of the buildings still have their old features. Today, it’s a land of specialty shops, restaurants, cafés / bars, salons, theatres, and even more! Just like Thomas Neale once imagined.

Do you like mysteries and detective stories? If you still don’t believe how a rich area nowadays could have been such a danger zone in the past: I would recommend Agatha Christie’s ‘The Seven Dials Mystery’ from 1929, which she set in the area.

Location: 45 Seven Dials, London, WC2H 9HD
Closest tube stations: Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Holborn

If you’re interested, or fancy a restaurant visit, check the Seven Dials website! They might have some seasonal promotions or vouchers for their food and drink.

November 7, 2019
by Bloomsbury International
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Bloomsbury’s Bigwigs: Remembering the Icons Who Walked These Streets

‘Bloomsbury’. The very word means something to every person reading this. For some of us, it is a school we have attended for a few weeks (or even a few months!). For others, it is where we have made international friendships, or taken our first steps towards living abroad. However, as the blue plaques on buildings in the area remind us, we at Bloomsbury International are in no way the only famous (?!) people to have been here. Indeed, throughout history, the area of Bloomsbury has been home to many prolific authors, musicians, and artists, who were inspired by the area, where they also formed important friendships. In fact, if you care to design your own walking-tour, you can find the past homes of some of its most notable residents. Here are a few to get you started:

1) J.M. Barrie: The writer who created ‘Peter Pan’ initially lived at Guilford Street and 8 Grenville Street. In his novel, Barrie imaged Bloomsbury to be the location of the Darlings’ home, where the character Peter Pan first met Wendy. If you wander along Grenville Street, you can find a plaque marking where Barrie once lived.
Handy Hint: If you don’t know much about ‘Peter Pan’, Disney adapted Barrie’s novel 1953, and it’s a quick and easy way to find out the story of this British children’s classic.

2) Charles Darwin: If you have a look around, you should find a plaque dedicated to ‘Charles Darwin Naturalist’, where he rented a house at 12 Upper Gower Street in 1838. Much of Darwin’s theory of natural selection was thought up while he lived in this house.

3) Charles Dickens: Dickens, considered by some to be one of the greatest English writers resided at multiple locations in the Bloomsbury area, including at 14 Great Russell Street, Tavistock Square, and 48 Doughty Street. Today, in Holborn, there is a Dickens Museum at his former Doughty Street residence, which is where he wrote his works ‘Oliver Twist’, ‘The Pickwick Papers’ and ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ – definitely worth a visit!

4) John Maynard Keynes: This British Economist lived for 30 years at Gordon Square, where a plaque marks his residence at number 46. Keynes was a member of the ‘Bloomsbury Group’, a group of English intellectuals, writers, and artists who lived, studied, or worked near Bloomsbury in the early 20th Century. At 51 Gordon Square there is an additional plaque commemorating the Bloomsbury Group.

5) Bob Marley: While not a long-standing resident of Bloomsbury, the Jamaican musician Bob Marley lived at 34 Ridgemount Gardens for several weeks in 1972.

6) Virginia Woolf: Another member of the Bloomsbury Group, Virginia Woolf, a popular author lived at several locations in Bloomsbury, including at 29 Fitzroy Square, Brunswick Square, and at 52 Tavistock Square where she wrote her novels ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ and ‘To The Lighthouse’. However, it was when she moved to 46 Gordon Square that she became involved with the Bloomsbury Group and embraced the area of Bloomsbury, which she has written about as a place where she believed a person could ‘bloom’ like a flower.

7) William Butler Yeats: The Irish poet Yeats lived at 5 Woburn Walk from 1895 – 1919 (then known as 18 Woburn Buildings). The area was not at all fashionable at the time, though today it is a popular pedestrian street. Apparently, Yeats used to keep an open house every Monday evening, where the famous American poet, Ezra Pound often visited and would hand out Yeats’s wine and cigars as if it was his own house!

While these are only a few of the residents who have walked the streets we walk today, as you enjoy your time at Bloomsbury International, we hope that you too explore the area; and as you explore you make friends as long-lasting as those made by Yeats or Keynes, that like Woolf you find happiness in being here, and that like Darwin or Dickens or Marley you discover the same inspiration to remember and to be remembered by Bloomsbury for years to come.