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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)

Tavistock Mews

Not to be confused with the Tavistock Mews, now Morwell Street, near Bedford Square

It was in the east side of Bloomsbury, off what was then the east side of Little Coram Street; it was immediately behind the houses at the top of Woburn Place on the east side, but it was accessed via Abbey Place

It was apparently built at the same time as Abbey Place, around 1801; it is shown on Horwood’s 1807 map

This was the part of the Bedford estate which was still covered in fields in 1800

It was presumably designed as the nearest possible Mews for Tavistock Square, which had planned streets to its south and west, Tavistock House to its east, and the Duke of Bedford’s nursery garden to its north

Its buildings are not numbered on Horwood’s maps

In 1817 the Waterloo Stables were here, according to an advertisement offering a gelding for sale (The Times, 8 March 1817)

Later in the century, it became a slum (David Hayes, East of Bloomsbury, 1998)

In 1898, the land was bought by Holborn Borough Council, who went on to erect Coram House, Dickens House, and Thackeray House here between 1902–1904 (Hayes, East of Bloomsbury, 1998; London County Council, Housing of the Working Classes in London, 1913)

This page last modified 14 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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