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Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury Streets, Squares, and Buildings

Bedford Charity 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 Bedford Charity (Harpur) Estate

The Bedford Charity, also known as the Harpur Trust, was founded in the sixteenth century by Sir William Harpur, for the benefit of a school he had helped to found in Bedford (www.bedfordcharity.org.uk)

The original 13-acre site in the east of Bloomsbury which formed part of the original endowment is now reduced to a mere 3 acres, but is still worth millions (Shirley Green, Who Owns London?, 1986)

The original estate encompasses a crooked area south of the Rugby estate and north and east of Red Lion Square, including the southern half of what is now Lamb’s Conduit Street but was known as Red Lion Street until the late eighteenth century

Its proximity to already-developed areas to the south and east of Bloomsbury, including the legal centre of Gray’s Inn, meant that it was developed residentially much earlier than the western and northern areas of Bloomsbury, beginning in 1686

Much of the development was carried out by unscrupulous builder Nicholas Barbon, who built houses all over the Red Lion Fields area without necessarily obtaining the permission of the legal owner first (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

The Trust continues to own freeholds in Dombey Street, Bedford Row, New North Street, Sandland Street, Red Lion Street, and Theobald’s Road; it also invested in property in Eagle Street, outside the original estate boundaries, as a “vote of confidence in the present Estate’s future” (Shirley Green, Who Owns London?, 1986)

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)


Lamb’s Conduit Street

(formerly less extensive)

It is in the east of Bloomsbury, continuing the line of Red Lion Street up to Guilford Place opposite the Foundling Hospital

In the eighteenth century, only the part north of Great Ormond Street and New Ormond Street was known as Lamb’s Conduit Street; south of this was still considered to be Red Lion Street, and is shown as such on Rocque’s map of 1746, which does not even name Lamb’s Conduit street itself

By Cary’s map of 1795, however, Red Lion Street is shown only extending as far north as Theobald’s Road, with the street north of this now known as Lamb’s Conduit Street

Lamb’s Conduit Street is shared between the Rugby and Bedford Charity estates, the former owning both sides of the northern end and the latter owning both sides of the southern end (Shirley Green, Who Owns London?, 1986)

Its south end was developed from the 1680s by Nicholas Barbon

It was built on and named after Lamb’s Conduit Fields, which in turn gained their name from the conduit financed by Sir William Lambe (sic) in 1577, which supplied water to the City of London from the springs and rivers in the meadows here until its demolition in 1746

In the eighteenth century, it was a street occupied by many lawyers

The Lamb pub (formerly the Lion and Lamb) dates from 1779

Theatrical performances took place here in the early nineteenth century

The Sun pub (later Finnegan’s Wake) was opened here in the early nineteenth century

It seemed to take on its character as a local High Street quite early in the century; by 1817 many of its 78 houses were occupied by retailers of necessities such as general groceries, medicines, cakes, tea, cheese, wine, jewellery, stationery, toys, clothes, books, and furniture, as well as several solicitors (Johnstone’s London Commercial Guide, and Street Directory, 1817)

No. 28 was the home of solicitor William Cardale and his wife Mary (née Bennett); their son John Bate Cardale, a solicitor who later became first Apostle of the Catholic Apostolic Church, was born here in 1802 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 66 was the home of lawyer and unsuccessful reformer Joseph Day in the early nineteenth century (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

The author and elocution teacher Benjamin Smart (“Francis Drake”) lived in a house here in 1813 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 40 was the home of clergyman and scholar Rev. Cornelius Neale and his wife Susanna (née Good); their son John Mason Neale, author and Church of England clergyman, was born there in 1818, but the family moved out in 1823 on the death of Cornelius Neale ( Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 42 was the business premises of Sampson Low from 1819; he sold books and stationery, and had a circulating library and reading room there (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 68 was the home of surgeon George Calvert; he died there in 1825 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

In 1832 it was still a local High Street, providing the whole range of household goods, provisions, furnishings, clothing, and services, from fuel and food to fine china and jewellery, hats and silk clothes, as well as chemists, solicitors, and hairdressers; there were also two pubs, the Sun, and the Lamb, and livery stables at no. 40, according to Robson’s Directory of that year

The painter of coaching scenes, Charles Cooper Henderson, lived at no. 3 with his wife Charlotte (née By) and their many children in the 1830s and 1840s (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 56 was the home of physician and insanity specialist John Haslam, who died there in 1844 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 19 was the business premises of Leighton Brothers, colour printers, from 1849 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

In 1851 a reservoir which had once been part of the water supply system was rediscovered in the cellar of no. 88

No. 35 was Rossie House, a home for working boys, from about 1879

No. 64 was formerly a home of the United Patriots National Benefit Society, founded in North Gower Street in 1843

This page last modified 14 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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