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Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury Streets, Squares, and Buildings

Rugby 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 Rugby Estate

The estate was owned by Rugby School, founded in the sixteenth century as a free grammar school in Rugby, Warwickshire, by a bequest made by Lawrence Sherriff or Sherriffe, a Rugby-born London grocer (‘Great Schools of England: Rugby,’ Educational Times, July 1865)

Sherriff’s founding bequest in 1567 included his eight-acre pasture in Conduit Close, at that time just half a mile outside the London city walls and therefore not allowed to be built on (‘Great Schools of England: Rugby,’ Educational Times, July 1865)

At the time it seemed a poor substitute for the sum of money Sherriff had originally left for the foundation of the school in his will, reducing it in a codicil to £50 and adding this estate instead: “But to those few acres, then let for 8l. per annum, Rugby School is mainly indebted for its opulence and greatness” (Howard Staunton, The Great Schools of England, 1865)

The British Library holds a plan dating from 1752 of the estate in the Great Ormond Street area of Bloomsbury owned by the Rugby School (ref. Crace A X mass1686, Crace Collection of Maps of London, British Library)

It shows the the estate extending from Great Ormond Street east of Powis Place, along the southern and eastern edges of what would be Landsdown Mews, then apparently following the parish boundary (between St Pancras and St George the Martyr) east across Lamb’s Conduit Street, including Lamb Yard and Long Yard, and turning south at the north-east of Millman Street

It apparently included the western end of Little James Street and the north tip of Great James Street, as well as the eastern half of the extensive mews south of Great Ormond Street (Little Ormond Yard and part of Great Ormond Yard)

At this time, the part of what is now Lamb’s Conduit Street south of Great Ormond Street and north of Theobald’s Road, was still considered to be part of Red Lion Street and is shown as such on the plan

Residential development of the Conduit Close site began in the early eighteenth century, as the city spread north and west to reach it; the unscrupulous builder Nicholas Barbon, who negotiated with the Bedford Charity estate to develop it from 1684, found it convenient to build on the neighbouring Rugby estate at the same time (John Summerson, Georgian London: An Architectural Study, 1978)

His lease was taken over in 1702 by Sir William Millman, at which stage the annual rental from the estate was still small; however, extensive residential development during the eighteenth century meant that it was rising in value fast by the end of the century, a rise described by one commentator as “astonishing” (John Benjamin Heath, Some Account of the Worshipful Company of Grocers, of the CIty of London, 1829)

By 1807 the annual rental income of the estate exceeded £2000 (‘Great Schools of England: Rugby,’ Educational Times, July 1865)

An Act of 1814 by which the School applied for permission to build a chapel at Rugby School itself listed some 149 houses on its London estate, on Lamb’s Conduit Street, Chapel Street, Great Ormond Street, New Ormond Street, Milman Street, Great James Street, Ragdall Court (Millman Place), Lamp Office Court, Little Ormond Yard, Lamb’s Conduit Mews, and Feathers Mews, together with the Chapel on Chapel Street; in addition to rentals then worth £2378, large sums of money were apparently being received for the renewal of leases as they expired (Saturday Magazine, 16 April 1842)

The value of the estate apparently declined, however, from the 1820s, partly because the area became less popular as a residential quarter (‘Great Schools of England: Rugby,’ Educational Times, July 1865), and by the end of the nineteenth century, many of its houses were becoming dilapidated; Little Ormond Yard was a notorious slum area, demolished and replaced by Orde Hall Street in 1882

In the twentieth century, the estate benefitted from the sale of land to the ever-expanding Great Ormond Street Hospital, but failed to redevelop some of its older streets before new planning legislation made this impossible; “This left Rugby School with street upon street of large houses full of poor and often elderly tenants whose rents were too low to cover the cost of maintenance—and had been for several decades” (Shirley Green, Who Owns London?, 1986)

In 1974 the estate sold 42 freeholds to Camden Borough Council: 1–25 odd Millman Street, 2–16 even and 1–17 odd Great Ormond Street, and 8–30 even in Orde Hall Street (Shirley Green, Who Owns London?, 1986)

The poor condition of much of its Georgian housing stock, some of which was collapsing and much of which was being demolished in the 1970s, was said by architectural historian and preservationist Dan Cruickshank to have inspired him to begin a campaign for the protection of Georgian architecture (The Times, 4 May 2008)

Documents relating to the history of the estate, including copies of the founder’s will and codicil, and other legal papers, are held by Rugby School as part of their archives; a catalogue of the Rugby School archive holdings has been digitised by the National Archives (ref. NRA 5282) and is available online (opens in new window)

Documents relating to the acquisition of some of the estate’s property in Great Ormond Street in 1974 by Camden Borough Council are held in London Metropolitan Archives, ref. ACC/3499/EH/07/01/563; further details are available online via Access to Archives (opens in new window)

Chapel Street

Also known as Rugby Street

Not to be confused with Chapel Street, Mayfair

It is in the east of Bloomsbury, running east from Lamb’s Conduit Street to the junction of Millman Street and Great James Street, on the Rugby estate

Development began around 1700

According to Pevsner, nos 10–16 were built around 1721; they were restored by Rugby School in 1981 (Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London Buildings North (revised edition, 1998)

The modern no. 13, formerly French’s Dairy, stands on the site of an ancient conduit head (now dated as pre-1258), White Conduit, which supplied water to the Greyfriars Monastery in Newgate Street (not to be confused with the White Conduit which ran from Islington to Charterhouse) (Hayes, East of Bloomsbury, 1998)

The street was originally named after the Episcopal Chapel of St John, an evangelical Church of England proprietary chapel, which stood at the corner with Millman Street from the time of the earliest development

It was renamed after the Rugby estate itself in 1936 or 1937

Horwood’s map of 1819 rather confusingly shows on the south side, consecutive numbers from 1 to 8, running from west to east, and on the north side, after the Chapel, consecutive numbers only from 9 to 13, running from east to west

In the early nineteenth century, the Chapel had as its preacher the evangelical Rev. Baptist Wriothesley Noel, from 1827 until he decided to leave the Church of England in 1848 (The Times, 1 December 1848) and become a Baptist

He then became minister at the nearby John Street Baptist Chapel, on the west side of John Street, just below Henry Street

The Rugby Tavern on the south side corner with Great James Street dates from the mid-nineteenth century and was created by the knocking-together of two early eighteenth-century houses, one on each street; the combined building now has a Great James Street address

Later in the century, the Chapel was demolished, and in 1867 it was replaced by Rugby Chambers at no. 2, the numbering system having been changed

According to David Hayes, no. 19 (the Church of Humanity) was the only odd-numbered house on the “otherwise even-numbered north side” before the street was renumbered again in the 1930s (David Hayes, ‘Holborn’s Church of Humanity, Its Roots and Offshoots,’ Camden History Review, vol. 24, 2000)

No. 20 (also known for a time as Buckingham House) was formerly no. 19, and housed the Church of Humanity opened in 1870 as the Positivist School by Richard Congreve

“Ritualistic ‘services’ took place in a room to the rear, where people of all social classes met in praise of humanity, surrounded by busts of the great and the good of human history. The ‘Religion of Humanity’ had its own calendar of 13 months, with feast days honouring secular ‘saints’ from Socrates to Shelley, from Ptolemy to Priestley, from Romulus to Rossini” (David Hayes, East of Bloomsbury, 1998)

Congreve remained in charge of the Chapel Street establishment, where his successor was the University College School-educated barrister Henry Crompton (Hayes, East of Bloomsbury, 1998)

The Church of Humanity lasted until 1932 (David Hayes, ‘Holborn’s Church of Humanity, Its Roots and Offshoots,’ Camden History Review, vol. 24, 2000)

The street became a haven for independent shops and new-wave designers in the early 21st century, thanks partly to the Rugby estate’s low rents (Katie Law, ‘It’s Streets Ahead of the Rest,’ Evening Standard, 19 August 2009)

This page last modified 14 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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