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Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury Streets, Squares, and Buildings

Duke of Bedford’s 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 Duke of Bedford’s Estate

For many people the Bedford estate and Bloomsbury are synonymous, although sales of land in the twentieth century have reduced the original 112 acres to a mere 20 (Survey of London, vol. 5, 1914; Shirley Green, Who Owns London?, 1986)

The Bloomsbury holdings of the Duke of Bedford originated as the estate of Thomas Wriothesley, later Earl of Southampton, who acquired them at the dissolution of the monasteries in 1545 (Camden History Society, Streets of Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia, 1997)

This estate was inherited by Rachel (née Wriothesley), daughter of the fourth Earl of Southampton, when the Southampton title became extinct; it passed into the Russell family, Dukes of Bedford, through her marriage to the heir of the first Duke of Bedford

It was the widow of the fourth Duke, Gertrude Leveson-Gower, who was a prime mover in the residential development of the estate, which began in the late eighteenth century and was continued by her grandson, the fifth Duke, in the early nineteenth century (Camden History Society, Streets of Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia, 1997)

Much of this development was in the form of “wide streets and grand squares fit for the gentry” (Camden History Society, Streets of Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia, 1997); Donald Olsen described it as “the systematic transformation of the pastures of northern Bloomsbury into a restricted upper-middle class suburb” (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

It was a well-timed development; the Bedford Estate’s Bloomsbury rental was worth about £13,800 in 1805, but jumped to £17,242 in 1806 because of all the new buildings (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

By 1816 it was nearer £25,000, and by 1819 the London rental income was as much as all the other Bedford estates put together; by 1880 it was worth £65,791 (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

The very northern part of the estate was, however, swampy and more difficult to build on, a problem exacerbated by the building slump of the 1830s, which led to areas like Gordon Square being part-developed and left unfinished for decades (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

For the crucial part played by Thomas Cubitt in the development of this estate, see Hermione Hobhouse, Thomas Cubitt: Master Builder (1971)

The size and quality of the houses meant that for the most part, the Bedford estate was never likely to turn into a slum: “Except for Abbey Place and the other narrow courts east of Woburn Place, the Bloomsbury estate had no slums. Even its narrow streets south of Great Russell Street—such as Gilbert, Little Russell, and Silver streets—were, if undeniably lower-class in character, far superior to the streets just west and south of the estate” (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

However, as the area became more popular and convenient as a location for institutions, the Bedford estate had to fight to preserve its genteel residential character; it found itself “with the task of preventing, or at least discouraging, the conversion of dwelling houses into private hotels, boarding houses, institutions, offices, and shops” (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

In 1886 the Bedford steward reported 140 tenement houses in Bloomsbury; Little Russell Street had 21 of them (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

“By the middle of the century many of the huge houses in Bloomsbury had been illegally converted into private hotels...By 1892 Stutfield [the Bedford estate steward] had come to regard Montague Place as a lost cause” (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

By the 1890s, too, the estate had lost the battle to keep itself separate from the flow of traffic and pedestrians, originally enforced by a system of lodges, gates, and residents’ tickets of entry: “The five lodges and gates on the Bloomsbury estate—in Upper Woburn Place, Endsleigh Street, Georgiana Street (later Taviton Street), Gordon Street (originally William Street), and Torrington Place—had all been erected by 1831, presumably by Thomas Cubitt” (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

The removal of all these gates, except the one in Endsleigh Street, was authorised in 1890 by Act of Parliament; that of Endsleigh Street itself was authorised along with any other remaining gates in London in 1893 (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

Developments in transport during the century had affected the estate for decades before the 1890s: “The suburban train and the season ticket reduced the significance of Bloomsbury’s proximity to the City and the Inns of Court. To make matters worse, three of the railways chose to locate their London termini virtually at the entrances to the Bedford estate, thereby depreciating its residential value” (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

However, the estate “was generally successful in keeping bus and tram lines off its residential streets. For a long time the estate was able to exclude omnibuses from Hart Street (now Bloomsbury Way)...The 1806 Bloomsbury Square Act forbade hackney coaches from standing for hire in the square or within 300 feet of it. In 1886 the Bedford Office attempted, without success, to eject the cab ranks that had just been established in Tavistock and Russell squares” (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

The estate’s desire to maintain a certain standard of living for its residents included attention to public health issues: “In 1854 the Duke had made at his own expense sewers in Tavistock Mews, Great Russell Street, Little Russell Street, Gilbert Street, and Rose Street. The estate also was engaged at the time in a programme of installing water closets in the houses on its property, and connecting them with the new sewers, as required by law...In a letter to the Lancet that year the physician to the Bloomsbury Dispensary praised the Duke’s sanitary projects, and attributed to them the mildness of the recent cholera epidemic on his estate” (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

Along with concerns for the health of the residents, the estate continued to try to impose restrictions on what kind of tenants would be allowed in its houses: “The number of public houses and hotels on the estate fell from seventy-four in 1854 to fifty in 1869. By 1889 there were forty-one, and in 1893 only thirty-four...Such practices followed logically from the consistent desire to maintain Bloomsbury as an area of decency, uniformity, restraint, and above all of respectability” (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

The desire to maintain the integrity and amenities of the estate persisted throughout the nineteenth century: “In 1895 the Duke decided to turn the waste ground north of Tavistock Place North and behind the houses in Upper Woburn Place into a lawn tennis ground” for some of the local tenants (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

Efforts to continue development and improvement in response to changing circumstances were assisted by the length of the leases granted on the estate right from the start of residential development in the 1770s: a standard 99 years: thus “[t]he later years of the century saw a great deal of new building in Bloomsbury as the original building leases fell in” (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

The estate seized the opportunity for wholesale redevelopment of streets which were no longer suited to their location or which no longer fulfilled their original purpose, mews premises being a good example of the latter

“In 1880 the estate took down the block of houses between Store Street and Chenies Street, from the City of London’s estate on the west to Chenies Mews on the east...The estate widened Chenies Mews and formed it into the present Ridgmount Street. It proposed to let most of the vacant ground for institutions or factories, as it did not think the location suitable for dwelling houses” (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

“In 1898 and 1899 the estate demolished the whole of the stable premises in Southampton and Montague Mews (between Southampton Row, Bedford Place, and Montague Street) and had the sites landscaped. The Duke had similar plans for Tavistock and Woburn Mews (east of Woburn Place) before he decided to sell the property to the London County Council for a housing scheme” (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

“Far from being typical, the Bedford estate may well have been the best managed urban estate in England” (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

Keppel Street

Also known as New Store Street

Not to be confused with Keppel Street, Chelsea

It originally ran from Gower Street right through to Russell Square

Development was begun by Thomas Lewis in 1807, who built small houses in the hope of a quick profit; its remaining houses were mostly built in the 1840s, also to a low specification in defiance of the Bedford Estate standards (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

A new Particular Baptist chapel had been built here in 1795 for a congregation from Grafton Street, Soho; it became a focus of controversy among dissenting congregations

It was originally named New Store Street, and appears thus on a Bedford estate map of 1795

It was renamed before 1800 after the mother of the fifth and sixth Dukes of Bedford, Elizabeth Keppel (d. 1768)

It was originally occupied by prosperous professional men and their families

No. 16 was the home of barrister Thomas Trollope and also, from 1809, his new wife, author Fanny (née Milton); their son Anthony Trollope, the author, was born here in 1815, although the family moved out shortly afterwards; Anthony Trollope later used the street as one of the main settings for his novel Lady Anna (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 39 was the home from 1809 of French-born artist and draughtsman Auguste Pugin and his wife Catherine (née Welby); their only child, architect Augustus Pugin, was born here in 1812 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

The physician Richard Pearson lived here in the early nineteenth century (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 20 was the home of Godfrey Higgins, reformer and religious historian, in the early nineteenth century (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

The dissenting minister Dr Charles Lloyd ran a school here in the early nineteenth century; historian Charles Merivale was one of its pupils (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 1 became in 1817 the home of painter John Constable shortly after his marriage to Maria Bicknell, and he also had a studio here; the family moved out in 1822 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

The flower painter Eliza Abraham (née Brown) lived here with her husband, architect Robert Abraham, and their ten children, until her death in 1818 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 15 was the home of famed physician and experimenter Marshall Hall, Edinburgh contemporary of Robert Grant, who lived here with publisher William Burnside in the late 1820s (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

By mid-century, it was still occupied by artists, doctors, and other professionals

No. 15 was occupied by physician and tuberculosis expert Theophilus Thompson and his wife Anna (née Wathen); their son Edmund Symes-Thompson, who also became a physician specialising in diseases of the chest, was born here in 1837 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 4 was the home of painter Thomas Lupton from 1837 until his death there in 1873 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

Physician Dr Robert Davey had a house here in the middle of the nineteenth century, as the 1851 census records

On the day of that census in 1851, John Dickens, father of novelist Charles Dickens, died here following an operation on his bladder; his wife and four of his children, including Charles, were recorded on the census as staying here overnight with him

No. 12 was the home in the mid nineteenth century of Lazarus Lee (earlier Levi), the ambitious Jewish merchant and dealer in ostrich feathers, and his wife Jessie (née Davis); their daughter Elizabeth Lee, author, editor, and translator, was born here in 1857 or 1859, and their son Sir Sidney Lee, second editor of the original Dictionary of National Biography, was born here in 1859 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 28 was the home in retirement of Irish-born actor and playwright Edmund Falconer (real name Edmund O’Rourke); he died here in 1879 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

In the 1880s no. 16 was home to author Augustus Moore and Irish politician Charles Parnell (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

Many of its leases were due to fall in during 1901 (Bedford Estate Middlesex Estates’ Report Book 2, 1883–1895)

Most of it was demolished for the development of the University of London’s Senate House in the 1930s

This page last modified 14 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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