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Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury Streets, Squares, and Buildings

Foundling Hospital Estate/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 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

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)

Feathers Mews

According to its listing in the 1841 census, it was off or very close to Millman Street, on either the Foundling estate or Rugby estate in the east of Bloomsbury

It does not appear on the main nineteenth-century maps of Bloomsbury

Lockie’s Topography of London says cryptically that “Feathers-Mews, Old Millman-Street, James-Street, Bedford-Row, is the N. continuation of it, on the L. leading into Long's-yard and to 38, Lamb's-conduit-st” (J. Lockie, Lockie’s Topography of London, Giving a Concise Local Description of and Accurate Direction to Every Square, Street, Lane, Court, Dock, Wharf, Inn, Public-Office, &c, in the Metropolis and its Environs, 1810)

In conjunction with Horwood’s map of 1813, this would seem to suggest that Feathers Mews was the name given to the stabling and/or commercial buildings marked at the top of Old Millman Street, just above Great Ormond Street, before the two halves of modern Millman Street were connected

This is, however, completely contradicted by an advertisement in The Times in 1823, where a pony chaise and Stanhope chaise for sale can be seen “at 2, Feathers-mews, at the bottom of Millman-street, in a direct line with Great James-street, Bedford-row, High Holborn. Observe the second gate on the left hand, out of Millman-street” (The Times, 12 August 1823)

Another advertisement shortly afterwards, presumably by the same business, also for a Stanhope chaise, describes 2 Feathers Mews as being “at the bottom of New Ormond-street, Lamb’s Conduit-street, Red Lion Street, High Holborn, the second date on the left hand” (The Times, 12 December 1823), which would agree with Lockie’s description of the location

It clearly existed by 1810

It may have been associated with a pub called the Feathers

It was clearly a typical mews, providing stabling and coach-making premises

It was still there in 1863, when T. Skinner was advertising second-hand brougham sales (The Times, 9 February 1863, 7 March 1863)

It apparently ceased to exist in or before the twentieth century

This page last modified 14 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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