the permanent closure of my favorite London hotel

I am so sad after learning that my favorite London hotel is closing down permanently because of COVID. The Penn Club. Not a fancy place. Cozy as a warm teapot. Quaker-affiliated. (That’s the Quaker movement, not the oats.) No elevator. Simple, clean rooms. A full English breakfast served in a pleasant dining room at communal tables. For years I had stayed there, my mother too on a few occasions. I feel like an orphan now.

Oh, sure, London is full of hotels and I’ve stayed in many of them. But this place was special, not to mention superbly located in central London in the lovely leafy district of Bloomsbury. A 20-minute walk from St. Pancras train station where the Eurostar arrives from Paris, steps from the world-renowned British Museum and my favorite book and teashop. Gosh, I miss London. 

I had some memorable moments 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’d 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 (oh, there were so many ex-boyfriends …).

Having pleasant conversations with total strangers while tucking into a plate of sausage, bacon, eggs and baked beans with toast (English breakfast) at a shared table in the dining room.

Returning to the hotel after walking 7 or 8 hours all over the city and relaxing in the quiet Cadbury Room with the daily newspapers and surrounded by books. It was a warm and welcoming place, not swish or posh, but cozy and tranquil. I’m not a swishy person. I have friends who insist on staying in swank and trendy hotels when they travel, but I don’t.

Why is it called The Cadbury Room? Because the management maintained 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.

Goodbye, Penn Club. Thanks for the memories (sniff).

Here’s the email I received last week –

Dear Friends,

With profound sorrow and regret, the Board of The Penn Club must now inform you that in its present situation The Club is unsustainable and must cease business from the end of March this year.

As you know, COVID19 resulted in two closures in 2020 resulting in a significant drop in occupancy rates with serious financial consequences. Even when open between lockdowns, bookings were at a level which made The Club unviable for the foreseeable future and whilst vaccines offer some hope, too much uncertainty remains.

We recognise how very sad this news is for all users of The Club. It is especially poignant in this 101st year of existence and particularly given the money and effort invested in major upgrading over the last few years. We can take some comfort in acknowledging and honouring how special The Club has been to so many users during its history.

With sadness and in Friendship,

The Penn Club Board

On a cheerier note, here’s a blog post (link below) that I wrote way back in the summer of 2014 entitled My London – Bloomsbury. It mentions The Penn Club. If you’re in the mood for some armchair travelling, I did a whole “My London” series that covers all my trips to that great city. Just scroll up to the top of this page and click on LONDON.

My London – Bloomsbury | Juliet in Paris

last photos of London plus East London’s Whitechapel Gallery

LONDON August 2014 004

Hello readers. This is my 6th and final London post. You’re probably tired of reading about London….but you shouldn’t be! Because as the 18th century English writer, Samuel Johnson, wrote –

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

And it’s true. Personally, I find London infinitely more stimulating, dynamic, service-oriented and rich in variety and cultural interest than Paris. But it’s huge. And expensive. So I prefer to live in cheaper smaller Paris and pop over whenever I please on the Eurostar. The journey (under the English Channel) takes just over 2 hours. When you arrive in London at the magnificent St Pancras international train station (after 6 years of renovation at a cost of £800 million), you’ll need a travel pass for getting around on the bus and tube (subway) network. Transportation is expensive. The best deal is an Oyster travel card for just a few days or for one week which gives you unlimited bus and tube travel.  You pay a £5 deposit for an Oyster card and when you leave, you return the card and the £5 is refunded.  Including the deposit, I paid £31.40 for 7 days’ unlimited travel in Zones 1 and 2 of Central London. The further out of Central London you wish to travel, the more you pay. 7 days’ unlimited travel in Zones 1 to 4, for example, costs £45.

I’d like to dispel a myth about food being bland or dull in England. Not true! Those days are long gone. I have eaten far better in London than I have in Paris. Throughout Britain there was a culinary revolution in the 1990s and today London boasts an unparalleled excellence in gastronomic heritage and diversity. Thanks to multiculturalism and what I call an inventive-inclusive mindset (which is only just beginning in Paris), the staggering array of food options – not only in choice of restaurant, but in mainstream supermarkets, street food and outdoor markets – is jaw-dropping. London is undoubtedly one of the most ethnically-diverse cities in the world.  It’s a very exciting place to be.

LONDON August 2014 097

I’d love to be able to peek inside these apartments above. A lane of cute mews houses in Chelsea below. (miaow)

LONDON August 2014 116LONDON August 2014 086

The best way to see London is from the top of a double-decker bus. But hang on real tight to the railings as you’re climbing up the stairs (while the bus is in motion)!!  I nearly tumbled down the stairs backwards when the bus lurched. Oh, and another potential danger – don’t forget to look in the opposite direction when crossing the street!

LONDON August 2014 153LONDON August 2014 246LONDON August 2014 247

The East End. I didn’t have much time to visit London’s East End, but will do so on my next trip. I did, however, want to see a renowned public art gallery called the Whitechapel Gallery, so I jumped on the underground and got off at Aldgate East tube stop.

Founded in 1901 as one of the first publicly funded galleries for temporary exhibitions in London, it has a long track record for education and outreach projects, now focused on the Whitechapel area’s deprived populations. It exhibits the work of contemporary artists, as well as organising retrospective exhibitions and shows that are of interest to the local community. In 1938 the Whitechapel Gallery exhibited Pablo Picasso‘s Guernica to protest the Spanish Civil War.  

For over a century the Whitechapel Gallery has premiered world-class artists from modern masters such as Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Frida Kahlo to contemporaries such as Sophie Calle, Lucian Freud, Gilbert and George and Mark Wallinger.

LONDON August 2014 327LONDON August 2014 328

It’s a beautiful building.  Admission is free and I highly recommend that you visit.  Aside from the exhibitions, there’s a pleasant cake and coffee shop where you can sit and rest your weary feet (my feet really were weary after walking 6 hours a day). Leaving the building, I turned right onto Whitechapel High Street in this somewhat rough and tumble neighbourhood with the intention of finding Old Spitalfields Market.  But I got lost.  The East End of London is not easy to navigate, and I suggest you go in with a good map. Group walking tours are also popular. Here’s a brief history of the area –

Successive waves of foreign immigration began with Huguenot refugees creating a new suburb in Spitalfields in the 17th century. They were followed by Irish weavers, Ashkenazi Jews and, in the 20th century, Bangladeshis. Many of these immigrants worked in the clothing industry. The abundance of semi- and unskilled labour led to low wages and poor conditions throughout the East End. This brought the attentions of social reformers during the mid-18th century and led to the formation of unions and workers associations at the end of the century.

LONDON August 2014 330

Here are some of the (renovated) Huguenot houses that I stumbled upon on Princelet Street, just off Commercial Street.  If you remember, the Huguenots were Protestants and members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France during the 16th and 17th centuries when there was a mass exodus for those who fled France or stayed in the Cévennes.

The Second World War devastated much of the East End, with its docks, railways and industry leading to dispersal of the population to new suburbs and new housing being built in the 1950s.  The closure of the last of the East End docks in the Port of London in 1980 created further challenges and led to attempts at regeneration and the formation of the London Docklands Development Corporation. The Canary Wharf development, improved infrastructure, and the Olympic Park mean that the East End is undergoing further change, but some parts continue to contain some of the worst poverty in Britain.

LONDON August 2014 337

Bye for now.  Below are some links to a few places of cultural interest in the East End as well as three hotels.

LONDON August 2014 325

The Dennis Severs’ House is a “still-life drama” of an “historical imagination” of what life would have been like inside for a family of Huguenot silk weavers.

Here’s my old standby, The Penn Club, in Bloomsbury where the prices really are low considering the gorgeous neighbourhood you’re in. (The British Museum is a 10-minute walk away and it’s a 20-minute walk from St. Pancras train station.) There are no lifts (elevators), but it’s cozy in a 1950s sort of way. A full English breakfast is included in the room rate.  The Penn Club has Quaker affiliations.