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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)

Woburn Square

Also known as Rothesay Square

It is just north of the centre of Bloomsbury

It was built by James Sim and family in 1821–1828

This area was undeveloped and marshy land until the end of the eighteenth century

A square is drawn in outline here on Horwood’s maps of 1807 and 1813, but it is not the same shape as the finished square, which was long and narrow, not much wider than a street

It seems to have been developed as an afterthought; Greenwood’s and Cruchley’s maps of 1827 both show Upper Montague Street running all the way through from Gordon Square to Russell Square

It was named after Woburn Abbey, the seat of the Dukes of Bedford

According to Besant and Mitton’s Holborn and Bloomsbury (The Fascination of London), 1903, it was originally intended to be named Rothesay Square

But compare Gordon Square, which was said to have been originally intended to be named Rothsay Square (Rowland Dobie, The History of the United Parishes of St Giles in the Fields and St George, Bloomsbury, 1830)

Christ Church was built to a design by Lewis Vulliamy on the east side of the square in 1831–1833 as a chapel of ease to St George’s, Bloomsbury

No. 11 was home to comic actor George Bartley and his second wife Sarah (formerly Smith), also an actor, following the deaths of both their children in the 1840s; Sarah herself died there in 1850, and George died there in 1858 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 41 was the home of radical author G. W. M. Reynolds (whose works outsold those of Dickens) from 1858, when he was widowed (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 30 was the home of Sir George Williams, co-founder of the YMCA, his wife Helen (née Hitchcock), daughter of a very successful draper, and their several children, from about 1853 to about 1873 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 5 was the home from 1859 to 1866 of Church of England clergyman and amateur scientist Thomas Pelham Dale (son of Rev. Thomas Dale) with his wife Mary (née Francis); they had moved there to look after Mary’s mother (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 23 was the home of architect and engineer William Hosking and his wife Elizabeth (née Clowes); he died there in 1861 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 38 was the home of retired actor Thomas Potter Cooke until the death of his wife in 1863 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 31 was the home of auctioneer Howard Winstanley and his wife Katharine (née Skilbeck); their son Denys Winstanley, the historian, was born there in 1877 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 41 remained the home of author G. W. M. Reynolds until 1879, when he died there (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

The Post Office directory for 1881 shows a still respectable square, with residents including clergymen, a surgeon, and (at no. 11) Charles Critchett, friend and correspondent of the artist Whistler

The medical officer Sir George Newman and his wife, the Quaker artist Adelaide (née Thorp) took a house here as newlyweds in 1898 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 28 was the home of Charles Rieu, former Keeper of Oriental Manuscripts at the British Museum and Professor of Arabic and Persian at University College; he died there in 1902 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 15 was the home of Daily Telegraph drama critic and Catholic convert Clement Scott, who died there in 1904 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 31 was the home of William Addinsell, accountant, and his wife Annie (née Richards); their son Richard Addinsell, composer of the Warsaw Concerto, was born there in 1904 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

The whole Square was sold to London University by the Bedford estate

The square was bombed in World War II, and subsequently overwhelmed by the development of surrounding University buildings; however, a few original houses survive at nos 10–18

Christ Church was demolished in 1974

This page last modified 14 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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