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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

Chapel Place

It was the northernmost of four tiny streets off the east side of Little Coram Street

It does not appear even in outline on the 1799 edition of Horwood’s map, but it is shown with houses and named on the 1807 edition

Prior to development, there were fields here surrounding the Foundling Hospital

It was probably named after Tavistock (Woburn) Chapel, built 1801, and just across from it on the north side of Tavistock Place

Horwood’s map of 1819 shows 23 houses in a triangular arrangement, but they are not numbered

Numbering also goes up to 23 on the 1881 census

It was the subject of a legal order for demolition obtained by the St Giles Board of Works in 1872, by which time it had become a notorious slum (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

However, it was still standing in 1881, when it was poor and overcrowded, according to the 1881 census; no. 1 alone had 5 households living there, with a total of 22 people

The street’s occupants included many labourers, costermongers, and other unskilled or low-skill tradesmen; many of them were Irish

This and the adjacent slums were not cleared by the Metropolitan Board of Works until 1884, and the whole area was bought from the Foundling estate by the Peabody Trustees, who built model housing, Peabody Buildings, on the site (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

The Peabody Trustees hold documents relating to their redevelopment of this site; an agreement between the Trustee and the Foundling Hospital of 1875 shows the area to be sold, encompassing the east side of Little Coram Street, Chapel Place, Marchmont Place, Russell Place and Coram Place, with the houses on Russell Place and Coram Place having already been cleared (Conveyance and Assignment, 6 October 1875, Peabody Trustees)

This page last modified 14 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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