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.