Sunday, 30 May 2021

International Hall

On Lansdowne Terrace, Bloomsbury, is a large hall of residence for University of London students. International Hall was opened in 1962, and remains a major hall of residence today. However, we are not looking at the accommodation, but at the decoration on its exterior. 

The walls are adorned with shields, each representing a country. They offer a snapshot of the time: India, for example, was independent, but Northern Rhodesia was still two years away from becoming Zambia. Malaya had achieved independence in 1957 but would not form the federation of Malaysia until the following year. In other words, this hall does not only illustrate the international membership of the University of London but also the changing place of London and the UK in a wider, and decolonising, world. 


That is also illustrated by the stone commemorating the building's opening by Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, who had until the previous year been India's High Commissioner in the UK. Part of the prominent Nehru/Gandhi family - her brother, niece, and grand-nephew were all Prime Ministers of India - she had been widowed in 1944 when her husband died following his imprisonment for supporting independence. Already a senior politician who had been imprisoned three times for her work in the independence movement, Pandit became an ambassador in 1947 and first woman president of the United Nations General Assembly in 1953.


Brian Harrison at said...

Interesting to see the nations represented by their heraldic coats of arms rather than flags as they reveal more about the economies and heritage of the Commonwealth countries at that time: I expect the nations represented would be those of the students living there. The old Commonwealth Institute in Kensington was a favourite haunt of mine when I first came to London - a cornucopia of contemporary information and copies of that week's daily newspapers from the places I'd only ever read about in geography lessons at school.

Bill Hunt said...

Very interesting to read your post, and to see pictures of IH after so long. I lived there between 1990 and 1994, and worked as porter there until August 1995. I’m so glad I specifically chose International Hall over all the other halls of residence; thanks to my five very happy years there I have friends in every corner of the world. The Warden, Mr CD Mann, was a lovely, friendly chap who had a genuine passion in world cultures. He made an effort to host many culturally diverse events in hall, and to welcome a diverse range of international academics to speak at his regular High Table evenings.