This year’s Bloomsbury Festival revisits wartime Senate House revealing the stories, mysteries and goings-on in the ministry. We will be subverting the idea of controlling information flow and showing Senate House in its modern role as a place for communication and dialogue.

Senate House will be transformed into the Ministry of Communication from October 15-20, 2013. All our events are FREE but some require prior registration. This is the first in a series of posts. This highlights events related to the Ministry of Communication.

Want to overthrow the boot of authoritarianism?

For one weekend in October the car park surrounding Senate House will be taken over by the boot of authoritarianism. As part of a Guerrilla Gardening project boots will be everywhere – evoking the world of George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth (in his famous novel 1984), and its famous vision of the future as ‘a boot stamping on a human face—forever’.

How can you help?

With your help we will be subverting this vision by planting boots with flowers and helping nature take over the Ministry’s offices.  The Orwellian Garden will be designed by artist Alex Beeching, and will feature moss-covered desks, typewriters bursting with sedums, and, of course, those ranks of planted shoes…Senate House will never look the same again!

A unique Guerrilla Gardening project

Green your fingers in the Orwellian Garden! In the shadows of Senate House an inspiring ‘guerrilla garden’ will be emerging over the course of the festival weekend. Come and help plant the literary undergrowth.

The Ministry of Communication

Throughout the festival the School of Advanced Study and Senate House Libraries will be presenting talks and exhibitions on this theme.   At its centre is an exhibition focused on the topic of information and communication at Senate House.  The exhibition presents original artwork alongside books and resources drawn from the Senate House Library’s archives.  There will also be materials on show from current SAS research projects.  The central question is: can this former government building become a twenty-first century ‘Ministry of Communication’?

On Saturday 19th Dr Karen Attar (Rare Books Librarian) and Dr Richard Simpson (architectural historian) explore the history of Senate House at War, its fate as an ‘occupied’ building by the Ministry of Information, and its iconic status in Bloomsbury.  The talk begins at 11am on Saturday morning running for just over an hour.

Become part of an interactive poem

All afternoon the Poetry Explorers will be crafting a poem for Bloomsbury and the ‘Ministry of Communication’ just outside Senate House.  Keats House Poets Simon Mole and Sonority Taylor will be travelling Bloomsbury throughout the day asking for your thoughts, feelings, and experiences of Bloomsbury.  Become part of the poem, take part, enjoy.

Take a tour of an iconic tower!

If poetry isn’t your thing then perhaps a tour of Senate House is an option. The tour reveals the history of Senate House, from the initial designs by Charles Holden, to its status as London’s second tallest building in the 1930s (behind St Paul’s Cathedral), to its current role as the administrative HQ for the University of London. There are several tours throughout the weekend (19th-20th) but advanced booking is essential as places are limited.

Create your own propaganda

If you have a spare half hour, then why not make your own Ministry of Communication pamphlet.  Book-binder and conservationist Angela Craft will be leading a series of drop-in workshops to create ‘propaganda’ pamphlets and festival notebooks to take home.

An exclusive talk by experts from the British Library and BFI

Finally, do you believe everything you read and see?  Propaganda was and still is a powerful force, no more so than through the form of video.  The recent Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition at the nearby British Library focused on that very subject.  On Saturday evening join us in the Beveridge Hall for a rundown of public information films selected from a back catalogue stretching some 70 years.  Drawing on the British Library’s exhibition, Ian Cooke (British Library) and Sue Woods (BFI) will lead this unique presentation. For a further exploration of what is expected from this film presentation or for some behind the scenes’ access to the British Library Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition, have a look at our interview with Ian Cooke (click here to view).

The full Festival programme is now available on the Bloomsbury Festival website. Also check out our Facebook page and Twitter (@SASNews) for updates, interesting facts, and much more.


All week

Ministry of Communication Exhibition – 10-5pm weekdays, 11-6pm weekend

19 October

11am                     Senate House at War

12pm                     Poetry Explorers – Finding Poetry in Bloomsbury

2pm                       Ministry of Communication: Make your own Pamphlet

7pm                       The Power of Propaganda: Public Information Cinema


19-20 October

11-6pm                The Orwellian Garden (planted on 19 October, 11am onwards)

5 sessions            Tour of Senate House


The Bloomsbury Festival runs from October 15-20, 2013. The full schedule of events at the School of Advanced Study is available here. We are also running a series of exciting competitions in October. Follow us on @SASNews for festival news and updates.

Finding the Ministry of Communication:

 Senate House, Malet Street, London

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