London Oddities: The Horse Hospital


London is littered with meeting halls, temperance rooms, debating chambers and lecture theatres. The clubs and cafes where talks take place are often tucked under arches or in tunnels, but there are other spaces that have been repurposed for the changing times as arts venues. One is the Horse Hospital in Herbrand Street, Bloomsbury, which is now an avant-garde arts space for hire, and has a lot of book and art launches. I’ve seen my friend the writer Cathi Unsworth perform there with her 1940s cabaret, and Mike Jay demonstrate his influencing machine – it’s the kind of London building that feels out of time, and you fully expect to come back from holiday one day and find gone.

It was built by James Burton, a property developer who constructed swathes of Bloomsbury. By the end of the 18th century London was overcrowded with horse-drawn carriages, and when the horses that drew the hansoms fell sick they were brought here. The unusual thing is that the building looks like a normal house, not a stable, but concrete ramps with cross-slats helped the horses to climb upstairs without slipping. Many of the building’s original features are still in place – to enter it you climb the horse ramp – and there’s a fine old boozer, ‘The Friend At Hand’, just opposite for those arguments about the arts that always seem to erupt after good events.

There are a number of corners in the immediate area behind Russell Square which feel as if you’ve slipped back into the past when you stumble upon them. Bloomsbury is low-rise and certain streets have escaped the developers’ grasp. Let’s hope the Horse Hospital stays.

6 comments on “London Oddities: The Horse Hospital”

  1. Denise Treadwell says:

    Is it there still?

  2. Trace Turner says:

    Did no one think to just call it “The Horspital”?

  3. Helen Martin says:

    (How could they miss that, Trace?)

    Google Earth gives the address as 30 Colonnade and that is what the street sign says but if you want to visit you have to say the Horse Hospital because otherwise you end up on Colonnade Walk which is Cabot Square (?) east. It’s London, what can you say? The Friend at Hand looks a bit up market with all that outdoor brass but a good size.
    I met an Irish lady the other day who is not good in large groups of strangers and who uses google to be sure of where she’ll be walking and what there is in the neighbourhood so she “doesn’t look like a tourist”. She was checking out the streets between the ship’s berth and her Seattle hotel, as well as her Alaska destination where she’s already looked into the shop windows.

  4. Jan says:

    Forgotten all about this place I had!!! Surprised some greedy builder had not figured out a way to make it into a mews type dwelling!

    Think there’s more than a bit of confusion happening here Helen.

    Cabot Square and the Colonnade are in Canary wharf. Which is part of the new Financial district an offshoot of the C of London built to a NY type grid back in the 1980s. Built on London’s old Dockland.

    This is nowhere near Hebrand Street Bloomsbury and COLONADE WC1. Postal codes which I think are your Zip codes are very important info to feed into most devices.

  5. Peter Tromans says:

    The old UK post office, GPO/Royal Mail, was a brilliant and creative organisation. One of their very good ideas was the UK postcode, which provides a location to down to part of a street (in a country where most streets are very short) or even a specific building. It is much more precise than most zip codes and very useful for Google Maps and satnav. If you type in the postcode, it will usually bring you in sight of the building that you want.

    For once in the last 50 years, we got something right. Of course, we’ve done our best since then to eliminate the old Post Office/Royal Mail.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Different spelling of Colonnade, I see. In order to put the postal code into google you have to know what the postal code is. It worked in the end.

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