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Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury and the Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury People

What is the Bloomsbury Project?

The Leverhulme-funded UCL Bloomsbury Project was established to investigate 19th-century Bloomsbury’s development from swampy rubbish-dump to centre of intellectual life

Led by Professor Rosemary Ashton, with Dr Deborah Colville as Researcher, the Project has traced the origins, Bloomsbury locations, and reforming significance of hundreds of progressive and innovative institutions

Many of the extensive archival resources relating to these institutions have also been identified and examined by the Project, and Bloomsbury’s developing streets and squares have been mapped and described

This website is a gateway to the information gathered and edited by Project members during the Project’s lifetime, 1 October 2007–30 April 2011, with the co-operation of Bloomsbury’s institutions, societies, and local residents

Edward Irving (1792–1834)

a summary of his Bloomsbury connections

Irving was a charismatic Presbyterian preacher born in Annan, Dumfriesshire, the same town in which his friend and contemporary Thomas Carlyle was born

In December 1821 he was invited to London to minister to the small congregation at the Caledonian Chapel in Cross Street, Hatton Garden; his apocalyptic sermons and eloquent, theatrical preaching style greatly increased attendance among the many Scots in London and also attracted members of parliament and the aristocracy to hear him

Carlyle recalled how tickets were issued for his Sunday services, carrriages blocked the roads near the small chapel, Lady Jersey sat on the pulpit steps, George Canning, then foreign minister, attended, and they all listened “week after week as if to the message of Salvation” (Thomas Carlyle, Reminiscences, 1881)

This popularity led to a fundraising effort for a purpose-built church to house Irving, to be located in Bloomsbury; by December 1822 a building fund had raised £3000 towards the building of a new church to accommodate 2000 people (Tim Grass, The Lord’s Watchman: Edward Irving, 2011)

The new National Scotch Church, designed on the model of York Minster by William Tite, was opened in Regent Square on 11 May 1827, with a crowd of over 1700 attending (The Times, 12 May 1827)

Irving’s charismatic preaching led him into trouble with the Scottish Presbyterian church and with its London branch when he published sermons and pamphlets preaching the sinful nature of Christ

This, together with his encouragement of an outbreak of ‘speaking in tongues’ among his congregation, led to his dismissal from his ministry and expulsion from Regent Square in May 1832

He took a large proportion of his congregation with him round the corner to nearby Gray’s Inn Road, where he shared the Royal London Bazaar, originally built as a horse bazaar and repository, with various other organisations, including Robert Owen’s co-operative lectures and meetings

The Times reported that Irving had “engaged large premises at the Horse Bazaar, Gray’s-inn-lane, where the new ‘spiritual manifestations’ are to be again displayed. He and Mr Owen will thus hold forth from the same place, and exhibit, perhaps, the strangest conjunction that ever design or accident produced. The former will give his ‘new readings’ of the Apocalypse, with occasional interludes on the ‘tongues’; and the other his ‘new view of society’, with a little fiddling and a sixpenny hop, ‘for the benefit of the working classes’ ” (The Times, 5 May 1832)

By the end of 1832 Irving had moved with his congregation out of Bloomsbury to Newman Street, west of Tottenham Court Road

Here he continued to preach until his death from consumption in December 1834 at the age of forty-two while on a proselytising visit to Glasgow

For more information about Edward Irving and his congregation in Regent Square, see Barbara Waddington, ‘Edward Irving: A Shooting Star in a Presbyterian Pulpit’ (opens in new window)

For more general biographical information about Edward Irving, see his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

This page last modified 14 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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