I must have passed Lutyens’s Central Club without knowing it. En route to the British Museum, it’s now the Bloomsbury Hotel-and I should have guessed its architect from the ‘Wrenaissance’ doorcase, with upside down obelisks on the first floor. Decoration of this red-brick, sash-windowed building is otherwise restrained: there was no money to spare on a project funded by a public appeal (‘be a brick and buy a brick’ was one of the slogans).
Associated with the Young Women’s Christian Association, it opened in 1932. As well as bedrooms, the Central Club offered two restaurants, club rooms, meeting rooms, classrooms, a library, a swimming pool, a hairdresser, a gymnasium, a cafeteria (self-service), an employment bureau and a 400-seat concert hall.
As Marion Crawford, Princess Elizabeth’s governess, recalled, ‘Lilibet’ visited after an adventure on the Underground during which she and Princess Margaret Rose had bought their own tickets. Tea was drunk from thick mugs and the lady in charge ‘bawled’ at Lilibet for leaving her teapot behind.
The building is now run as the Bloomsbury by the Doyle family of hoteliers and they’ll be throwing open the doors during Open House London this weekend, with bespoke talks offered by the architect’s great-nephew Martin Lutyens.
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