EYE SPY: Sophie Gordon

When is a street no longer a street?
When it’s buried.

It’s 1941.
Red Lion Passage is blitzed to rubble – lost to memory.
Home to many booksellers, I imagine pages blasted from their spines,
Peppered through the wreckage
like confetti.

Red Lion Square survived.
Changed forever, but reborn from the wreckage.

It’s 2020.
Pastel-hued apartment blocks adorned with geraniums,
Sit shoulder to shoulder with shiny offices,
Unscathed 1920s architectural gems,
And 18th century brickwork.

Unlikely companions, like commuters thrown together in a tube carriage.
A motley crew of buildings that hint towards the square’s restless past.

This square is a survivor – its stories survive too.
A little digging unearths treasures in this shaded patch of Bloomsbury.
History and rumour, art and science all collide.
Each step I take is a time warp,
To another person, another story.

Bertrand Russell’s stony gaze surveys the scene,
While Oliver Cromwell sleeps six feet under,
(If you believe the rumours).
Fenner Brockway stands proudly – arm outstretched.
His ‘fan of white feathers’ traded in for a single cooing companion.

In one of these houses, lived Jonas Hanway,
The first male Londoner to carry an umbrella.
Settling in the square after merchant travels overseas, pirate attacks and quarantine.
Philanthropy at home was his next challenge,
Championing chimney sweeps and foundlings.

Number 17 was home to four artists,
Links in a chain, forged by brotherhood.
Rossetti promised ‘gentlemanly restraint’ – dignity above passion.
I wonder,
Did he keep his word?

A few doors down, fashion meets science.
A place of precision – clean lines and calculations.
Tailored solutions,
For navigating the globe,
Or dressing the part.

In another house, and another time,
Naomi Lewis stitched stories from Scandinavian thread –
Capturing the poetry of a Little Mermaid, an Ugly Ducking, a Snow Queen.
And nursing injured pigeons back to health,
With test flights in the Conway Hall loos.

Conway Hall, where people dared to gather after that fateful night in 1941.
Inside, an unexploded bomb.
Outside, a congregation of stiff upper lips and Blitz spirit.
Why should this Sunday be any different?
Why should we let them win?

What’s a square when it’s more than a square?
A community.

Sophie Gordon

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