Pictured: The Bunyan statue in High Holborn
Published: 12 April 2012
by WILLIAM McLENNAN
HE was imprisoned for his beliefs by a brutal autocracy and fought in a bloody civil war to rid his country of oppression, but the fate of John Bunyan – the 17th-century writer, who brought religion to the masses – is in doubt once again.
A Grade II-listed building in High Holborn which bears a memorial to the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress is in line to be converted into an 84-bedroom hotel.
The proposed site, on the corner of Southampton Row and Catton Street, is expected to be sold in the next few weeks to property developers.
It has raised questions over what will become of Bunyan’s life-size statue and whether it will be protected.
The unused building, which dates back to 1903 as the former Baptist Church headquarters, is currently owned by hotel magnate Bev King, who through his company Kingsgate London Properties secured planning permission in 2007 to convert it into a luxury hotel including a gym, spa, and conference rooms.
The statue of Bunyan, who wrote the famous Christian allegory from a gaol in Bedford, adorns the north-west corner of the building, which briefly served as a homeless shelter in the 1990s before it became derelict.
Dr David Walker, a John Bunyan expert from Northumbria University, said: “The statue should be preserved because he is one of the most important figures in English literary culture.”
Dr Walker said it was ironic that a writer of a poor and humble background such as Bunyan was being threatened by a luxury hotel.
“It just seems richly, richly ironic that a writer like Bunyan, who preached against luxury and was highly critical of that kind of ostentatious display, should be deposed to make place for a luxury hotel,” he said.
Metres away on the other side of Catton Street, The Ivy House pub, which closed in 2009, is boarded-up and backs on to a construction site which is part of the Crossrail development.
Kingsgate London Properties petitioned the House of Lords in 2008 asking for greater compensation, claiming the adjacent building works would lower the market value of the property.
When asked by the New Journal what was happening to the site, the company said shareholders had decided it was time to sell the property but refused to name the prospective buyers.
Dr Walker suggested the statue could be moved to an area with a closer connection to the life of Bunyan.
He added “The statue was put there for a particular purpose and that purpose no longer exists, so it would probably be a good idea to move it to somewhere in Bedfordshire where it would have an easier home, it doesn’t seem an appropriate symbol for a luxury hotel.”