NEW BLOOMSBURY SET; A Network of Streets between Russell Square and Holborn Is Attracting Quirky, Entrepreneurial Small Businesses to an Unspoilt Corner of London. Liz Hoggard Explores This Creative -- Not Literary -- Hub

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Byline: Liz Hoggard

TURN down a cobbled street just behind Russell Square Tube and you'll find a magical shop called Cosmo China. In the front window there are a giant pair of lobsters dressed as a bride and groom, surrounded by wedding china -- and a tiny crustacean-topped cake.

This is the address book secret for London's architects, publishers and ad agencies. Visitors to nearby Great Ormond Street Hospital drop in for presents. Chef Fergus Henderson is a fan. Poet John He g l e y h e l d a n impromptu gig here. You can commission your own family story, or design a colleague's leaving present.

Cosmo Place is one of the network of streets, that run between Russell Square and Holborn, dubbed The New Bloomsbury. While Bloomsbury Square itself has a formidable literary reputation with its blue plaques (commemorating Bloomsbury Group members such as Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey and Vanessa Bell), the New Bloomsbury is quirky, entrepreneurial.

Walk down Lamb's Conduit Street and Rugy Street in WC1 and you'll find independent clothes shops, galleries, delis and a branch of Persephone Books. Folk, the menswear label launched by Cathal McAteer, is worn by Ethan Hawke and Mumford & Sons. Next month Folk will be opening a women's store. "The street suits our DNA," observes McAteer: "You say hello to everyone on it."

A few doors down, concept store Darkroom sells African-influenced modernist accessories including a range of one-off hats in wax-printed African fabrics by celebrity millliner Noel Stewart, who designs hats for Marc Jacobs and Hussein Chalayan.

Also on Lamb's Conduit Street you'll find the very cool People's Supermarket -- the brainchild of chef Arthur Potts Dawson -- where locals pay a membership fee of [pounds sterling]25 and sign up to stack shelves for four hours a week in return for reduced-price groceries. There are no bonuses for bosses or dividends for shareholders, it's the members who benefit.

The collectivist ethos is very New Bloomsbury. "A lot of people live and work in the area and want to be part of the community and put something back," says Josie Firmin, co-founder of Cosmo China, which celebrates its 20th birthday this month.

The supermarket -- being filmed for a C4 documentary series -- is modelled on the well-established Park Slope Co-op in New York. For Potts-Dawson (the nephew of Mick Jagger who set up eco restaurant Acorn House) it's a gesture against the dominance of Tesco and Asda.

"People move here because it unspoilt with an amazing village atmosphere," says Maggie Owen, who has a cult jewellery shop, much loved by Grazia and Vogue, in a converted dairy on Rugby Street. "It's not chi-chi, it hasn't been done up. Plus it hasn't become commercially exploited because the landlord, Rugby School, runs it as a charitable trust."

"I can't believe we're so central and yet so quiet," agrees Prince Charles's favourite architect, Ben Pentreath, who has a homeware shop in Lamb's Conduit Street and a flat round the corner.

Of course the properties are very desirable -- the area is in between Clerkenwell and Fitzrovia, after all -- but nearly everybody rents. …


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