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Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury Streets, Squares, and Buildings

Foundling Hospital Estate

Estates in Bloomsbury

1 Duke of Bedford
2 City of London Corporation
3 Capper Mortimer
4 Fitzroy (Duke of Grafton)
5 Somers
6 Skinners' (Tonbridge)
7 Battle Bridge
8 Lucas
9 Harrison
10 Foundling Hospital
11 Rugby
12 Bedford Charity (Harpur)
13 Doughty
14 Gray's Inn
15 Bainbridge–Dyott (Rookeries)

Area between the Foundling and Harrison estates: Church land

Grey areas: fragmented ownership and haphazard development; already built up by 1800

About the Foundling Hospital Estate

In addition to its work as an orphanage, the Foundling Hospital became, almost by accident, a major landlord in the fast-developing Bloomsbury area in the nineteenth century

The Governors of the Hospital had been forced to buy much more land (56 acres in total) than was actually needed for the orphanage itself, and by the late eighteenth century, when the Hospital faced a shortage of funds, residential development of the surplus land became its best financial option (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

The planned development met with opposition from both local residents who had hitherto enjoyed uninterrupted views, such as the residents of Queen Square and Great Ormond Street, and also from concerned citizens who worried about the adverse effect on the health of the children as the surrounding area was built up (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

The Hospital faced the further difficulty of the isolation of its site, and the surrounding estates which intervened between it and the established main traffic routes in the area; only Red Lion Street connected the estate’s land with the outside world (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

Another potential problem was posed by St George’s Burial Grounds, north of the Hospital buildings; if the estate opened up road access across this part of its land, it risked funeral processions travelling through its streets (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

Despite (or perhaps because of) these difficulties, the Governors of the Hospital went ahead with the development in the most careful and considered way possible, aided by their architect and surveyor, Samuel Pepys Cockerell, who submitted his plans to them in 1790 (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

The plans included a variety of residential housing of different classes, with the two grand squares of Brunswick Square and Mecklenburgh Square at the heart of the estate, flanking the Hospital buildings (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

Development began almost immediately, thanks largely to James Burton, who took building leases on large parts of the estate from the 1790s onwards, and who became its major builder (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

Difficulties in executing the plans, including complications caused by insufficiently-supervised subcontractors and the (unjustified) allegations of rival surveyors about the poor quality of his work, led Cockerell to be edged out by 1808 and replaced by Joseph Kay (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

The estate was originally planned as being entirely residential, and requests to build shops or convert houses into shops were not permitted in Compton Street or Great Coram Street, although some were allowed in Kenton and Upper Marchmont Streets, which later became shopping streets sanctioned as such by the estate (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

Despite its proximity to the Bedford estate and the high standard of much of its housing, similarly aimed at the well-to-do middle classes, the Foundling Hospital estate faced quite different problems from the Bedford estate during its first century of residential development

One perennial problem in the area was prostitution: in 1827, 34 inhabitants of Hunter Street petitioned the estate paving commissioners saying the street “has become the common walk of the lowest prostitutes”, and in 1845 the same problem was reported in Brunswick and Mecklenburgh Squares (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

Another problem was the development of slums on the estate, particularly in its mews, which turned out not to be needed by many of the residents of the estate (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984); the Foundling Hospital estate appears to have been much less successful in this respect than the Bedford estate

Instead of being used for stabling, the Foundling Hospital’s designated mews were increasingly occupied by poor families, often criminal, and “chiefly Irish” in Compton Place, according to complaints made by residents of Compton Street in 1823

The Irish were also said to be causing problems in courts behind Great Coram Street in 1845 (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

Compton Place was one of the two main slum areas which developed on the estate; it was continually altered, pulled down, and re-erected, only for the same problems to recur, and complaints were still being made in 1858 (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

The other problem area was on the western edge of the estate, between Tavistock Place and Bernard Street (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

“In January 1857 the medical officer of St Pancras suggested a permanent solution: the purchase of all the leasehold interests, followed by the demolition of the buildings. On their site could rise model lodging houses, the great new enthusiasm of the Victorian philanthropist” (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

Despite statistics showing the alarmingly high death rates in the slum areas, it was to be more than a decade later that such drastic measures were finally approved on the Foundling estate, in comparison to the building of model lodging houses on the Bedford estate as early as 1849–1850 (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

“The 1870s finally saw the beginning of a vigorous program of demolition and redevelopment, but the initiative came from outside the Foundling Hospital. In the summer of 1872 the St Giles’s Board of Works obtained a legal order for the demolition of the whole of Russell Place and Coram Place. Later that summer the Peabody Trustees applied to purchase the freehold of Coram, Russell, Marchmont, and Chapel places, together with a portion of Little Coram Street. After some hesitation the governors agreed to sell the property for £5400” (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

The vestry of St Pancras condemned property in the Colonnade and in Poplar and Compton Places in 1884, buying up the leasehold interests and surrendering them to the Foundling Hospital, although nothing was built on the cleared sites in Compton Place until the late 1890s, and there were still 18 houses whose leases did not expire until 1907 (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

Like the Bedford estate, the Foundling Hospital estate had insulated itself by a gate at the end of Heathcote Street and by having few streets going across the estate’s northern boundary (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

Boarding houses or let apartments were not allowed in the two showpiece squares until 1892 (Brunswick Square) and 1909 (Mecklenburgh Square) (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

The rental income of the Foundling Hospital estate was over £18,930 by 1897; the entire estate was eventually sold for £1.65 million in 1926 (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984), after an unsuccessful attempt in the early 1920s by the University of London to acquire the site and turn it into a “University Quarter” (The Times, 26 May 1920, 1 October 1920, 7 October 1920)

Another large local institution, Great Ormond Street Hospital, made an equally unsuccessful attempt to take over the site when it was sold

Brunswick Square

It is in the east of Bloomsbury, just west of the Foundling Hospital

It was planned, along with Mecklenburgh Square, after the Foundling Hospital needed money and leased its spare land for housebuilding in 1790

James Burton built this, the earlier of the Squares to be completed, in 1795–1802 (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952) , but none of these original houses remains

There were fields on the site until this development

It was named after Caroline of Brunswick, wife of the Prince Regent, and later (briefly and controversially) Queen Caroline on his accession as George IV in 1820

Its numbering system was on the south side, consecutive numbers from 1 to 10, running from east to west; on the west side, consecutive numbers from 11 to 28, running from south to north; and on the north side: consecutive numbers from 29 to 40, running from west to east

The two Squares were designed as the most prestigious part of the development, although the houses in Brunswick Square were rather plain and those on the north side originally had very small gardens while the Governors were still contemplating building a road at the north end to join the two Squares together (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

In the early nineteenth century it had a reputation for being respectable rather than fashionable; it was also a convenient home for officers of the Foundling Hospital itself

From 1803 to 1810, no. 32 was home to John Hunter, vice-president of the Foundling Hospital (not to be confused with his anatomist namesake, after whom Hunter Street is named); he moved to no. 34 in 1810 and remained there until 1816 (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

No. 11 was from 1814 until at least the 1830s home to Thomas Burgon, a Levant Company merchant also employed in the coin room of the British Museum, his wife Catherine (née de Cramer) and their six children (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

Their son John Burgon was a student at the University of London from 1829 to 1830; he later became a conservative clergyman (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

Their home was part of a social circle “that included the architect Thomas Leverton Donaldson, the painter Charles Robert Leslie, and the poet Samuel Rogers” (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

Burgon’s business went into decline and collapsed in 1841; he died in 1858 at 3 Burton Crescent (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

Austen’s Emma, published in 1815, locates Emma’s married sister Isabella, her lawyer husband, and her five children in Brunswick Square

Isabella, a hypochondriac, makes much of their location, which she says is “so very superior to most other parts” [of London]; her family doctor agrees with her

This fictional location might also have been chosen because of its proximity to the Foundling Hospital; Emma is also a satirical version of the history of an illegitimate child

See also Laurie Kaplan, ‘Emma and “the children in Brunswick Square,” ’ Persuasions, December 2009 (opens in new window)

The writer and editor William Maginn moved to lodgings here with his pregnant wife Ellen (née Bullen) in 1824 when in straitened financial circumstances; they and their baby daughter moved a year later to France for a job (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

The evangelical physician Thomas Harrison Burder lived here with his wife and his father from 1828 to 1832; his father, an independent minister who was secretary of the London Missionary Society and editor and treasurer of the Evangelical Magazine, died there in 1832 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

In 1845 residents were complaining of prostitutes working there at night (Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

No. 5 was the home of wealthy retired surgeon and philanthropist Thomas Phillips, who died there in 1851; he had collected thousands of books and donated them to educational institutions (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 32 was home to John Leech, caricaturist, illustrator of Dickens, from 1854 to 1862, when he moved to an even grander house (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952, and David Hayes, East of Bloomsbury, 1998; although Gibson, The Capital Companion, 1998, says he lived there from 1848 to 1854 )

The surveyor Charles Penfold, who wrote on road building for the SDUK, lived here from some time in the 1850s until his death in 1864 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

The lawyer (and one of the founders of the Law Society) Bryan Holme lived here quietly with his wife and his book collections; he died here in 1856 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 22 was the home of writer and campaigner for volunteer troops Alfred Bate Richards, who died here in 1876 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

In 1878 Thomas Cooke’s School of Anatomy, the last private anatomy school, was supposedly located here (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, entry for Sir John Bland-Sutton), although this may simply be a case of the square’s name being used to denote its general area

In 1879 the public benefactor Angela Burdett-Coutts and her friend Louisa Twining founded a home for female art students here, the first such in London (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, entry for Angela Burdett-Coutts)

No. 24 was the home of prolific novelist and early ‘agony aunt’ Harriette Smythies, who died there in 1883 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 11 was the home of doctor and Middlesex County Magistrate Maurice Davis in the 1880s (Charles Dickens (jr), Dickens’s Dictionary of London 1888: An Unconventional Handbook, 1888)

In 1920 large premises on the west side were the first home of the progressive Minerva Club, founded by Dr Elizabeth Knight and others (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

After the removal of the Foundling Hospital to the country in 1926, a new building was built here at no. 40 as the headquarters of the Thomas Coram Foundation

The University of London’s School of Pharmacy moved here in 1960 (partly on the site of Henrietta Mews), into the first building in Britain to be opened as a school of pharmacy

The square’s freeholds were later acquired by a subsidiary of McAlpine, which tore down the eighteenth-century terraces and replaced them with the Brunswick Centre, “a residential–cum–shopping complex that looks like a 5-storey machine-gun emplacement” (Shirley Green, Who Owns London?, 1986)

This page last modified 15 February, 2013 by Deborah Colville


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