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Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury Streets, Squares, and Buildings

Bedford Charity (Harpur) 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)

Red Lion Street

Also known as Red Lyon Street

Not to be confused with other streets of the same name in London

It is in the south-east of Bloomsbury, leading north from High Holborn to Theobald’s Road; its line is continued northwards by Lamb’s Conduit Street

It was the western boundary of the southern part of the Bedford Charity estate in 1654 (David Hayes, East of Bloomsbury, 1998)

In the eighteenth century, Red Lion Street was considered to extend as far north as Great Ormond Street and New Ormond 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

It also formed a parish boundary; Horwood’s map of 1819 shows that the houses on the west side were in the parish of St George the Martyr, while those on the east side were in the parish of St Andrew Holborn

It was developed in the late seventeenth century, on the Red Lion Fields area

Horwood’s map of 1819 shows on the east side consecutive numbers from 1 to 40, running from south to north, with Bedford [Sandland] Street between 16 and 17, Gray’s Inn Passage between 18 and 19, and Princes Street between 28 and 29; on the west side mostly consecutive numbers from 42 (ie no 41) to 78, running from north to south, with Lamb’s Conduit Passage between 43 and 44, a gap where 45 should be, an unnamed yard between 50 and 51, Princes Street between 52 and 53, Red Lion Passage between 61 and 62, and Eagle Street between 64 and 65

It was developed as a professional residential area, but by the end of the eighteenth century had small businesses such as tobacconists and watchmakers (David Hayes, East of Bloomsbury, 1998)

In 1817 it housed many manufacturers and retailers of necessities, as well as more specialist tradesmen not often found in Bloomsbury, such as a currier, a cooper, and a stay and corset warehouse, as well as the radical engineer Alexander Galloway at no. 1 (Johnstone’s London Commercial Guide, and Street Directory, 1817)

It also had several taverns

By 1832 it had become more of a local high street, selling books, bread, meat, cheese, confectionery, fruit, tea, clothes, furniture, and china, as well as providing services such as printing, ironmongery, silk dyeing, and glass cutting, according to Robson’s Directory of that year

The same directory also lists four pubs: the Thatched House, the Grapes, the Dolphin, and the Wheatsheaf, as well as “M. Robinson & Co, manufacturers of patent barley & groats” at no. 64 (Robson’s Directory, 1832)

This company later became the famous name Robinsons Barley Water, inescapably associated with Wimbledon tennis in the 20th and 21st centuries; founded in 1823, it had its origins in a patent taken out in August of that year by Mathias Archibald Robinson of no. 64 Red Lion Street for “a superior mucilaginous beverage” made from pearl barley and groats (grits)

In the late nineteenth century it became particularly associated with the Italian expatriate community in London

No. 51 was the last home of the Mazzini–Garibaldi club for working men, which moved here in 1932

The street was heavily bombed in the Second World War and subsequently redeveloped, although a few pre-nineteenth century buildings survived

This page last modified 14 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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