The shelves and drawers of a bureau

Part of the Furniture

The surviving bureaux are full of history.


The Homerton Bureaux

Bureaux were a standard feature of Homerton College rooms for generations of students

These classic writing desks developed from the original laptop: a portable wooden box with a sloping lid that could be used as a comfortable writing surface on a journey. By the 18th century these had evolved into a much larger piece of domestic furniture for writing, combining a chest of drawers and a fold-down writing surface. Inside the desk-space there were pigeonholes for letters and writing materials, inkwells and sometimes secret compartments.

In the small pre-renovation rooms of the Cavendish building, the bureaux proved an ideal combination of storage and work space. Many came from the original Homerton College, London, and were brought along when the College moved to its Cambridge site. When the rooms were renovated, many of the old desks were sold, some to alumni, or thrown away. The surviving bureaux are filled with history, the essays and letters of decades of students written on their fold-down surfaces. The bureau in these images now stands outside the Senior Tutor’s office.

If you had a bureau in your time at Homerton College, we’d love to hear more about them, and your experiences using them. If you have one of the originals, please send us a picture – we’d love to see it!