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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 £13800 in 1805, but jumped to £17242 in 1806 because of all the new buildings (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

By 1816 it was nearer £25000, 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 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)

Russell, Bedford, and Tavistock Houses, c. 1900

By kind permission of Dickens House

Tavistock House (2)

Also known as 1 Tavistock Place North/1 Tavistock Villas

Not to be confused with the original Tavistock House, to which it was adjacent

It was in the north of Bloomsbury, on the Duke of Bedford’s estate, east of Tavistock Square, in grounds which stretched towards Tavistock Place to the south

It stood on the site of the twentieth-century Tavistock House, headquarters of the British Medical Association from 1925

It was built after Thomas Hill took over the lease in 1825, adjoining the original Tavistock House to the west (E. Muirhead Little, ‘Historical Notes on the Site of the Association’s New House,’ British Medical Journal, 18 July 1925)

“The Duke of Bedford’s improvements in Tavistock-square and that neighbourhood are nearly complete. There is now a noble road, a free communication, and a delightful home view, in the line of the London University, from the late Mr Perry’s fine mansion, to Gower-street and Tottenham-court-road. The site on which Mr Perry’s house (called Tavistock-house) was originally built, comprehends nearly two acres of ground, and three large houses are now erected upon it. The view from the upper apartments, of the Hampstead and Highgate hills, is perfectly uninterrupted, in consequence of cutting down the trees in the front, but the entire gardens and extensive shrubberies are, we perceive, very properly preserved” (The Times, 17 March 1829)

It took the name of the original house, which had been named after the Duke of Bedford’s property in Devon

It was designed for prosperous and respectable inhabitants

In 1831 it was insured with the Sun Fire Office by Richard O'Gordon, esq. (Sun Fire Office records, 10 February 1831, Guildhall Library MS 11936/524/1121006)

It was leased to controversial auctioneer George Henry Robins in 1842, after the death of Thomas Hill (E. Muirhead Little, ‘Historical Notes on the Site of the Association’s New House,’ British Medical Journal, 18 July 1925)

In 1843 he was advertising the house and 2 acres as suitable for a merchant or respectable professional man, at a rent of 150 guineas per year (The Times, 11 December 1843)

It later became the home of artist Frank Stone from 1845 until 1851, when he moved into the neighbouring Russell House to make way for his friend Charles Dickens (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

The 1851 census listing suggests that the Stone family had not been occupying the whole house; an apparently separate household consisted of brewer Sidney Hawkes, and piano tuner Rowland Turner and his family

When Charles Dickens moved in, though, it was the whole house he occupied, from 1851 to 1860, one of the longest spells he spent in any home (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

During this time it became famous for the “Tavistock House Theatricals”, plays performed in a theatre Dickens had built in the house

The 1861 census shows it had by then become the home of solicitor James P. Davis, his wife Eliza, and their 9 children and 5 servants, as well as a niece, mother-in-law, and visitor

In the 1871 census the Davis family were still listed as its occupants, by now down to the parents, 6 children, 5 servants, and mother-in-law

From 1871–1880 it was the home of Mr and Mrs Henry Weldon

Georgina Weldon, the ‘Portia of the Law Courts’ (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography) was a spiritualist, vegetarian, and campaigner against lunacy laws, who established a National Training School of Music for poor orphans at the house

The composer Gounod lived with her at Tavistock House for a while, causing a scandal (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

Henry Weldon left his wife in possession of the house in 1875 with an allowance (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography); his later attempts to have her committed by Dr Forbes Winslow led to more court action by Mrs Weldon

Mrs Weldon was also frequently in trouble with her landlord; in 1877 it was because the garden of Tavistock House was untidy, and in 1878 the Duke of Bedford’s agent wrote to her to remind her that she was “not entitled to interfere with the tenants of the two houses adjoining Tavistock House in their enjoyment of the common roadway in front of the house” (quoted in The Times, 6 February 1885)

The 1881 census shows the house occupied by servants only; by this stage, Mrs Weldon was in Newgate Prison

See Georgina Weldon, The Ghastly Consequences of Living in Charles Dickens’ House (1882); reprinted in Roy Porter and Helen Nicholson ed, Women, Madness, and Spiritualism, vol. I: Georgina Weldon and Louisa Lowe (2003)

By the time of the 1891 census the house had become the home of the Jews’ College, with Michael Friedlander as its resident Principal

It was demolished in 1901 (E. Muirhead Little, ‘Historical Notes on the Site of the Association’s New House,’ British Medical Journal, 18 July 1925)

This page last modified 19 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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