Last week (pre-the easing of Covid restrictions on 12th April) London Shoes decided to hop on a train and venture out to a destination a bit further afield, than those I had visited the past few months – and so I boarded a Piccadilly Line tube to Russell Square tube station in the Bloomsbury WC1 district of the City.
As an aside, I love stations like Russel Square – opened in 1906 – designed by the now legendary Leslie Green – and a station that still displays his distinctive ox-blood coloured tiling on its exterior – and his green/cream tiled lettering design inside.
Anyway – the purpose of this trek out was to track down a very unique building, that was constructed over 200+ years ago – and despite all the social, industrial, environmental, regenerative development over the past 2 centuries, including being on the end of extensive bombing during the WW2 blitz – this unique building is still going strong (although now used for something completely different from what it was originally designed for).
So – this week’s blog subject matter is the amazing “Horse Hospital” in Bloomsbury – situated on the corner of Herbrand Street and Colonade, bang in the middle of the WC1 area of London.
The ‘Horse Hospital’ was built in 1797 at a time long before the invention and arrival of motorised transport decades later in the late 1800’s.
Before the invention and introduction of the motor engine, horses were the main and only method of transport – and London’s streets were crammed with working horses used for everything from personal transportation – taxi carriages – pulling omnibuses – pulling barges up and down London’s canals – transporting goods from one place to another – and for essential services like the fire brigade, postal deliveries & food distribution etc etc.
People complain about traffic congestion now, but the cobbled streets of Victorian London were just as bad, and in many cases, particularly in terms of health & safety, much worse.
Obviously, with horses being critical to the activities of everyday life – their welfare, and maintenance was essential necessity and in 1797 one of the top architect/builder of the day ‘James Burton’ (1761-1837) designed and built a bespoke ‘Horse Hospital’ in the then hustle & bustle of busy Bloomsbury. Incidentally, in the same year, he also designed and built the Royal Vetinary College at St. Pancras.
His Bloomsbury ‘Horse Hospital’ was built of durable red-brick and was 2 storeys high, with a basement. Windows were on all floors and the floors were connected by concrete ramps so that the horses could go ‘up & down’ the stairs to the numerous stables within the building. The ramps connecting the floors had heavy duty wooden slats built into them to prevent the horses slipping when being led up & down the stairs. There were 5 cast iron pillars running up through the building for the horses to be tied up to – whilst being attended to by ventinary surgeons and farriers.
Amazingly – to this day, one of the slatted ramps still exists, as do the 5 cast iron pillars, some of which still have the original teething rings attached to them.
With the eventual invention and introduction of the motor engine and the motor car in the late 1800’s, the use of the horse as the main mode of transport, for personal and business use, began to diminish – and eventually the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury outlived its purpose.
Very soon, Hebrand Street and Colonade surrounding the Horse Hospital deteriorated and were declared slums unfit for human habitation.
Today – the old cobbled streets surrounding the Horse Hospital still remain, as do some of the old mews houses down Colonade, where the structures of the old stable doors that these types of mews used to have, are still evident.
However, the Horse Hospital building survived all the social changes, and throughout the 1900’s it was used for a number of purposes and was actually home to a printing works for many years.
Since 1993 it has been a centre for the arts, featuring all different genres of art including film, literature, music, ‘pencil squeezing itself and fashion – hosting hundreds of exhibitions. In fact, in 1993 the famous ‘punk’ era, designer Vivien Westwood & her then partner, the late Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McClaren held a now legendary exhibition there entitled ‘Vive Le Punk’.
The design of the interior of the Horse Hospital building is ideally suited to host exhibitions – and it is one of the very few independent art venues of its kind in the UK.
In 2019 the long term future of the Horse Hospital arts centre was apparently under threat, as a result of finances – and that was pre-Covid19 pandemic – so, as with many other art institutions, its future must be even more in doubt these ‘post-lockdown’ days.
Whatever the future may be, the Horse Hospital building will survive as it is quite rightly protected by its Grade II listed status.
The building is of such cultural importance, that there’s even been a book published about it – a detailed account of the ‘History of the Horse Hospital (1793-2014)’.
So – that’s the amazing story of the ‘Horse Hospital’ in Bloomsbury….. over 200 years old and London’s only surviving ‘double-decker inner city stable’ from another age.
Hope you found this interesting
See below the complete gallery of all photos accompanying this blog