the Penn Club needs you

I received the email below this afternoon and read it with a heavy heart.

Damn this COVID! Only five minutes before receiving the said email, I was standing in my colleague’s office talking about COVID.

“What if it never goes away?” I said. Bill Gates, who seems to be an expert on this subject, says it’ll go away in mid-2021.

Based in the heart of central London, The Penn Club has been one of my favourite small hotels for many years. On occasion my mother stayed there, and I’ve recommended it to friends. The location is perfect: a 15-minute walk from St. Pancras train station and in the heart of leafy, beautiful Bloomsbury. Oh, and steps away from the eminent British Museum and my favourite bookshop-cakeshop.


I’ve had some memorable moments during my stays there:

The morning I was awakened by a rustling sound at 5 a.m. I went to my window, looked down onto the street below and saw the most magnificent fox sauntering down the sidewalk. A fox! In central London!  He had been rummaging in one of the rubbish bins.

Reuniting with my two childhood friends, Kathy and Claire, in December 2018;

Meeting up with an ex-boyfriend there (oh, there were so many ex-boyfriends …);

Eating English breakfast in the communal dining room and having really pleasant conversations with total strangers sitting at the same table (breakfast is included in the price of the room);

Returning to the hotel after walking 7 to 8 hours all over London and relaxing in the quiet Cadbury Room with the daily newspapers and many books at my disposal. It’s a warm and welcoming place, not swish or posh, but cozy and tranquil.

Why is it called the Cadbury Room? Because the hotel fosters a spirit of fellowship in accordance with its Quaker values. Although not a formal Quaker institution, they maintain traditional Quaker values of integrity, equality, tolerance and simplicity, honesty and fairness in all of their dealings.

The great English confectionary companies: Cadbury of Birmingham, Rowntree’s of York, and Fry’s of Bristol were all rooted in Quakerism in their early years.

I go to London every summer for the simple reason that London is my favourite city. I wasn’t planning on going this year (because of COVID), but maybe I’ll change my mind. (Update: no I cannot, the U.K. has just imposed a 14-day quarantine on all travellers to Britain from France.)

Here’s their website. If you do go to London at some time, please stay here before it’s too late.

Welcome to The Penn Club

And here’s the email I received today:

Dear Friends of The Penn Club,

We hope that you and your families are well at this time of crisis. With a spirit of openness and transparency, we are writing to update you on how things stand at the Club in these extraordinary Covid-19 times and to ask for your help.

In this our Centenary Year it has been a particularly hard blow to experience, since March, the most severe imaginable drop off in business. We had hoped once we were able to reopen after our enforced closure that life at the Club would slowly return to normal. However, since reopening, room occupancy is very suppressed with July falling from an average occupancy in recent years of 91% to 3%. The outlook for the next few months is concerning, with pre-bookings not getting above 7%. Apart from a handful of visitors following on from the key NHS health workers we hosted over the worst-hit months, bookings are unsustainably low.

If we find that we are unable to bounce back financially in the coming months, we may, as a last resort, be (and are) forced to consider closing. Should this happen the Board is resolved to retain enough money to discharge liabilities (including towards our wonderful staff team) in a responsible and fair way so we cannot completely run down our reserves to zero.

We need your help. First, if you can possibly do so, please come to stay again. Our safe buildings are being meticulously cleaned and maintained to the highest standards and our health and safety processes can be relied upon. Feedback we have been receiving from visitors who have been to the Club since we reopened is that travelling to and being at the Club feels very safe.

London is uniquely quiet and fascinatingly attractive. Most Museums, Galleries, cafes, restaurants and other attractions are open and welcoming. Trains are not busy and even in London the tube and buses are relatively quiet. The wearing of mandatory face masks on public transport means infection risk is very low. Our location within walking distance of Euston, Kings Cross and St Pancras means many arriving into these termini can avoid public transport if they wish.

The Chancellor recently announced a cut on VAT for hospitality businesses. We have passed the full saving on to our guests. The reduction makes quite a bit of difference to our room rates.

Second, we need you to spread the word about the Club to your network of relatives and friends. We welcome all to our safe haven, renowned as home for one who is away from home. We are considering setting aside a portion of rooms for longer stay guests similar to how the Club operated in the past. Do you know someone who needs a place to stay to avoid commuting every day? If you have any bright ideas of what we could be doing to bring in additional income and encourage more visitors, do please get in touch.

Please be assured that we have not lost heart and that The Penn Club Board and management team are steadfastly working to survive this crisis and emerge into our new century. We have much valued your support in the past and realise how much the Club means to so many people. We hope that together we can continue to build and strengthen our shared home from home in Bloomsbury.

In Friendship

Robert Gibson and Fergal Crossan
Deputy Chair on behalf of the General Manager
The Penn Club Board

Here’s a blog post written in August a few years ago about Bloomsbury, The Penn Club and my favourite bookshop-cakeshop:

My London – Bloomsbury

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This woman could be a modern-day Virginia Woolf. Hangin’ out, barefoot, in a coffee shop while working on a novel and consulting her iPhone. Because, historically, Bloomsbury is associated with artists, writers and intellectuals who lived an avant-garde, bohemian lifestyle during the first half of the 20th century.

The Bloomsbury Group was an influential group of English writers, philosophers and artists, the best known included Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey. This loose collective of friends and relatives lived, worked or studied together near Bloomsbury, London. Although its members denied being a group in any formal sense, they were united by an abiding belief in the importance of the arts. (Wikipedia)

“Bohemia is not a place – it’s a state of mind.  A commitment to live with your own sense of values, your own freedom and independence.  To emancipate yourself from the herd and from its well-worn paths.”


I think I’m a bohemian and if not, I aspire to becoming one.

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There are many advantages to staying in or visiting this charming neighbourhood. Firstly, when you arrive, as I do, at St. Pancras train station from Paris on the Eurostar, it’s a mere 20-minute walk from St. Pancras to Bloomsbury. And walk I do. To my favourite small hotel, The Penn Club. The Penn Club provides quiet, comfortable and secure surroundings for members and guests.

I stayed a few nights at The Penn Club before moving across town to another place in South Kensington.

The stairs are a bit creaky (there’s no elevator) and the place may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I like its location and its coziness. And did I mention their amazing breakfasts (included in the price of the room??) There’s a quiet reading room, a communal TV room and a breakfast room where you can sit on your own or at a communal table. On my first morning in London, I sat across from the nicest Englishman.  He introduced himself, told me he was heading up to Scotland on holiday and that he was a teacher (and a widower.) Over our respective porridges followed by a plate of bacon, sausage and scrambled egg, whole-wheat hot buttered toast and delicious coffee, we talked for well over an hour about numerous topics.

“Gosh, Englishmen are nice,” I said to myself after he had left.  “I should get myself one.”

From the hotel, the British Museum is a mere 5-minute walk. Free to all visitors and open every day, it houses a vast collection of world art and artefacts. To not visit this important museum would be a shame. Russell Square station is the closest tube station. 

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Bloomsbury contains some of London’s finest parks and buildings, and is particularly known for its formal squares which include Russell Square, Bedford Square and Gordon Square. This is where Virginia Woolf lived briefly, at number 46 (she moved around a lot.) I love wandering around gazing at the architecture, sitting in the lovely parks and visiting my favourite shops on Marchmont Street. Bloomsbury has a nice vibe; very nice.

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On Marchmont Street at numbers 58-60, there’s an excellent health store and organic café called Alara. I had a delicious vegetarian cheesy lasagna for lunch, a big leafy salad and a blood-red, freshly-made juice called Fatigue Fighter, made from apple, celery, beetroot and ginger root. I also buy lovely organic soaps, hair products and cosmetics here.

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Up the road at number 82, this used book store is worth visiting.  Directly across is Fork where I took the above photo of the woman sitting on the window seat.

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And I’m saving the best for last!  You wouldn’t know it (now you do, thanks to this blog post), but behind this unassuming store front with the rather dreary name (photo below), hides a tea and cake shop that serves seriously delicious cakes, the best I’ve ever tasted. Two years ago I ate a slice of orange marmalade cake that I’m still thinking about. It was served with delicately-perfumed China rose petal leaf tea. They also do a dark chocolate and sea-salt cake with kumquat jam as well as other delights. They do lunch too, however there’s a snag. The place is small and when I went I couldn’t get in, it was jam-packed. Try going during the week or before or after the busy lunch hour.  The address is 14 Bury Place, steps away from the British Museum.

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