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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

Great Coram Street

Also known as Coram Street

It is in the east of Bloomsbury, and originally ran from Woburn Place to Brunswick Square; much of it now lies beneath the late twentieth-century Brunswick Centre

It was developed in 1800–1804, on the previously-undeveloped fields of the Foundling Estate

It was named after Thomas Coram, founder of the Foundling Hospital

Horwood’s map of 1819 shows on the south side, consecutive numbers from 1 to 30, running from west to east, and on the north side, consecutive numbers from 31 to 55, running from east to west; later a no. 56 was added next to the Russell Institution

It was part of the generally respectable residential development of the Foundling Estate, who endeavoured to keep the street residential by refusing permission for shops to be opened here (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

No. 55 (demolished; site now occupied by Witley Court flats) was the location of the Russell Institution assembly rooms, built by James Burton in 1802 and then rebuilt as a club (the Russell Institution for the Promotion of Literary and Scientific Knowledge) after it burned down a year later

No 32 was the home, c.1811-c.1816, of the lawyer, antiquary and publisher Edward Vernon Utterson (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography) and his wife Sarah Elizabeth Utterson, who translated the French book of ghost stories Fantasmagoriana (which influenced Shelley’s Frankenstein) as Tales of the Dead (1813) (source: Matt Gilson).

In 1817, despite the Foundling Estate’s endeavours, the street had a mixture of occupants including some professional men and some dealers; it was home to a solicitor, a barrister, an army agent, a milliner and dressmakers, a lace dealer, a music seller, and a wine and brandy merchant (Johnstone’s London Commercial Guide, and Street Directory, 1817)

The wine merchant at no. 14 was George Christopher, who lived there with his wife Isabella (née Ashington) and their fourteen children; one was the Church of England clergyman Alfred Christopher, born there in 1820 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

William Babington, the physician and lecturer on chemistry at Guy’s Hospital Medical School, had a house here; his friend and colleague Alexander Marcet died there in 1822 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the entry for Alexander Marcet; the entry for William Babington does not mention this home)

No. 21 was the home of medical conman William Brodum (or “De Brodum”) in 1824 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

John Jones, the Unitarian minister, and tutor in classics to the sons of Sir Samuel Romilly, died here in 1827 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

In 1831 no. 21 became home to American engineer Angier March Perkins, his wife Julia (née Brown) and his parents and sister; his second son Loftus Perkins (also an engineer) was born there in 1834 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography), and the Perkins family were still listed there in the 1841 Post Office directory

Robson’s Directory for 1832 listed a mixture of professional men and tradesmen here, including two bakers and a butcher, a fishmonger, a cow keeper, a bricklayer, a wine merchants (at no. 55 with the the Russell Institution), and several surgeons

The engraver James Heath died here in 1834 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

In the 1840s, no. 35 was the home of barrister Charles Weston and his wife Agnes (née Bayly); their daughter, Dame Agnes Weston, the philanthropist particularly associated with the navy, was born there in 1840, but the family moved to Bath in 1845 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 13 (demolished; on the site now occupied by Forte Posthouse) was the home of novelist William Thackeray, who lived there (following his wife’s committal for insanity) from 1842 to 1846 with his cousins Charles and Mary Carmichael (née Graham) (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

Thackeray used the street as the address for Mr Todd in Vanity Fair

The caricaturist John Leech shared the house with him in 1837 and in 1842, Edward Fitzgerald lived there as well

The 1841 Post Office directory shows a street packed with professional, middle-class families, and middle-class retailers and services, including two bakers, a tea-dealer, a stationer, a perfumer, two barristers, a linen-draper, a dairyman, seven surgeons and one physician, a wine merchant; a Post Office receiving house, a fishmonger, an auctioneer/appraiser, a surveyor and estate agent, the warm and cold baths at no. 56 (next door to the Russell Institution) and a ladies’ seminary run by Miss Richards at no. 19

It was still there in the 1861 directory, run by Miss Jane Richards; the baths were still there then, too

In the sporting novel Handley Cross (1843), Great Coram Street is the home of the wealthy and upwardly mobile Mr Jorrocks

The street is described as “a nice, quiet street, highly popular with Punch and other popular characters” with its “neat unassuming houses” ([R. S. Surtees], Handley Cross, 1843)

It is, however, “a curious locality, – city people considering it west, while those in the west consider it east. The fact is, that Great Coram Street is somewhere about the centre of London, near the London University, and not a great way from the Euston station of the Birmingham railway” ([R. S. Surtees], Handley Cross, 1843)

Fanny McIan, of the Female School of Art, lived at no. 9 with her husband Robert in the 1840s

Rooms in no. 6 were the home of Walter Bagehot from February 1847 (when he was 21) until December 1851; he had graduated with a first in classics from UCL in 1846, and lodged in Camden with its Professor of Moral and Mental philosophy, Rev. John Hoppus, as a student, and went on to be on the committee of University Hall (Norman St John-Stevas ed, The Collected Works of Walter Bagehot, vol. 12, 1986)

The 1851 Post Office directory shows a similarly diverse population still including seven surgeons as well as naval men, two bakers, a solicitor, a coal merchant, a house decorator, an accountant, a confectioner, and a coal merchant; and one Adolphe Ragon, listed as Professor of Languages

Ragon was a Professor at the City of London College and Birkbeck, and an author on French language, including language for business purposes, and editions of French literature; he was also Professor of French at the Ladies' College in 1852-1854 (The Times, 14 April 1852, 9 September 1852, 17 September 1853); and held a series of lectures on French language and literature at Store Street music hall in May 1853 (The Times, 24 April 1853)

He also lectured briefly at the shortlived Stamford Hill College for Ladies in 1856 where his colleague, teaching Geography, was Gottfried Kinkel (The Times, 14 April 1856)

No. 22 was the home in 1852 of Miss Todd, who took in female pupil boarders and also held a morning class for young ladies, according to her advertisement in The Times (The Times, 14 January 1852)

The Russell Institution’s longtime secretary Edward Wedlake Brayley died there of cholera in 1854

No. 6 became the home and business premises of Emily Faithfull, founder of the women-only Victoria Press from 1860 to 1862

The warm and cold baths were still listed in the 1861 Post Office directory, with yet another new proprietor; also listed this year along with the bakers, the coal merchant, and the solicitor were an art dealer, two dressmakers, a wine and spirit merchant, two artists (Edward Henry Wehnert and Alexander Craig), and, ominously, lodging houses at nos 15 and 32

The Marquess of Cornwallis pub on the corner with Marchmont Street was listed with a Great Coram Street address (no. 44A Great Coram Street) in the 1871 Post Office directory; long-established here, it features prominently in Handley Cross

The 1871 Post Office directory also shows some changes; the baths had gone, the Russell Institution appeared to be sharing its premises with the YMCS, there were now three lodging houses (at nos 13, 17, and 20), a mere 2 surgeons, a medical agent, a wine and spirit merchant, a dressmaker; a surveyor, a greengrocer, a dyer, a coal merchant, a wood engraver, a diamond merchant called Barnett Boam, and Henry Charles Lunn, Professor of Music

Lunn studied piano, flute, and clarinet at the Royal Academy of Music until 1843 and then taught there, eventually as Professor (W. W. Cazalet, The History of the Royal Academy of Music, 1854); he was editor of The Musical Times from 1863 to 1887, and died in 1894 aged 75 (The Times, 25 January 1894)

There were also several institutions by 1871: an academy at no. 1 (Rev. Bernard Spiers), an Infants' Home at no. 35 (Mrs Ann Smith, matron), and a ladies' school at no. 52 (Silvester & Solomon)

On Christmas Day 1872 a violent crime at no. 12 made the headlines; Clara Burton, described at her inquest as a “well-behaved prostitute”, was found with her throat cut in the second-floor back room she occupied there (The Times, 26 December 1872, 16 January 1873)

Her real name was apparently Harriet Buswell or Boswell; after the birth of her first and only surviving illegitimate child, she had worked part-time as a ballet dancer and part-time as a prostitute from many Bloomsbury addresses, including Millman Street, Regent Square, Henrietta Street, no. 50 Hunter Street, and various houses including no. 27 in Argyle Street (The Times, 28 December 1872, 31 December 1872, 16 January 1873, 22 January 1873)

A German clergyman, Dr Henry James Bernard Gottfried Hessel, was later arrested for her murder, but released when it became clear there was no real evidence against him; no-one was ever convicted of the crime (The Times, 31 January 1873)

No. 12 subsequently became Miss Stride’s homes for destitute girls and fallen women; Sarah Elizabeth Stride, the proprietor, saw a good business opportunity in this house which no-one else wanted to occupy after the murder

She lived at nearby Hart Street until after the homes went bankrupt in 1878, when she moved to Bernard Street

In 1881 Great Coram Street was still generally respectable, if eclectic, with inhabitants including bakers, a grocer, a wine merchant, the Russell Institution and Whist Club, a private tutor, a temperance hotel, and the aptly-named Mrs Box, wardrobe dealer

By 1891 it had lost its institutions, and gained lodging-houses and livery stables (Post Office directory, 1891)

By 1901 it had become known as Coram Street, and had lost much of its original eclectic character; in addition to apartments to let, it had a dressmaker, tailor, baker, greengrocer, and physician (Post Office directory, 1901)

The site of the Russell Institution disappeared completely under Witley Court mansion flats, erected in the 1930s

The rest of the street was dominated by shops, services, and a hotel

This page last modified 21 September, 2012 by Deborah Colville


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