Woburn Square: an unlikely battleground

SOAS from Woburn Square

Woburn Square is the smallest of the Bloomsbury squares and also the closest to the SOAS campus.  It is perhaps also the square with which SOAS has the most troubled history.

Woburn Square from the SOAS Library
Woburn Square from the SOAS Library

The Battle for Woburn Square

It is now over 45 years since the battle for Woburn Square, which saw the demolition of Lewis Vulliamy’s Christ Church, to be replaced by the Brutalist-inspired Institute of Education; and the flattening of a row of Georgian terrace properties, in order to build the library block for SOAS.  Controversial in their day, both Denys Lasdun designed buildings are now a feature of the modern-day square, and both have been awarded their own listed status.

The current square consists of a narrow rectangle of grass, flanked by shrubs and trees, with pedestrian walkways to either side.  A Georgian terrace still survives on the east side of the square, while buildings to the west of the square house the Slade Research Centre and the Warburg Institute.

Warburg Institute in Woburn Square
Warburg Institute

A March morning sees the daffodils out in full bloom, and early blossom on the trees.  It is a secluded place to stop and sit, more evocative of a private garden than a public space.  The tiny summerhouse at the north end of the lawn adds to this sensation of somehow trespassing on an exclusive space; more like a small cricket pavilion than a communal shelter.

Summerhouse in Woburn Square
Summerhouse in Woburn Square

The Green Man

Rising out of the undergrowth, close to the SOAS campus, is Lydia Kapinska’s statue of The Green Man.  His is a sinewy figure; his expression ambiguous as he gazes out over the university buildings, not giving much away as to whether he approves of their bold statement to the triumph of modernity.

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