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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)

Gordon Square

Also known as Rothsay Square

It is in the north-west of Bloomsbury, west of Tavistock Square

The area was undeveloped fields until residential development began in the early nineteenth century

It was begun in the 1820s by Thomas Cubitt after he had completed neighbouring Tavistock Square

The north side was built first (despite the numbering); nos 55–59 on the south side were also completed by 1824, nos 36–46 on the east side by about 1825, and nos 1–6 on the south side in the 1830s, followed by nos 26–28 on the west side

Cubitt then found it increasingly difficult to sell houses in the square, hence the sale of leases to the University and the Catholic Apostolic Church (Hermione Hobhouse, Thomas Cubitt, Master Builder, 1971)

The houses on the west side were completed only after Cubitt’s death in 1855 by his executors, and the square was finally finished in 1860 (Hermione Hobhouse, Thomas Cubitt, Master Builder, 1971)

According to Rowland Dobie, it was known as Rothsay Square when originally planned (Rowland Dobie, The History of the United Parishes of St Giles in the Fields and St George, Bloomsbury, 1830)

Compare Woburn Square, which was said to have been originally intended to be named Rothesay Square (Walter Besant and Geraldine Edith Mitton, Holborn and Bloomsbury (The Fascination of London), 1903)

It was eventually named after the wife of the sixth Duke of Bedford, who was the daughter of the Duke of Gordon

Numbering began at no. 1 in the middle of the south side, and ran consecutively to no. 6 at the western end of this side

Nos 7–13 was a planned terrace at the south end of the west side (at least partly built), subsequently displaced by the building of the Catholic Apostolic Church and its attached Cloisters in this location; nos 14–15 were purpose-built as University Hall, and numbering then continued north to no. 28 at the north of the west side

The north side was numbered consecutively from 29 to 35, running from west to east

The east side was numbered consecutively from 36 to 53, running from north to south

The numbering then finished with consecutive numbers from 55 (sic) to 59, running from east to west, and ending next to no. 1

There was never a no. 54

Intended as a prestige residential development, it ended up also playing host to local educational and religious institutions because of the building slump

No residents are listed in Boyle’s Court Guide of 1829, the Royal Blue Book of 1831, or Pigott’s Guide of 1838

Robson’s Guide of 1841 lists only three residents, at nos 1, 42, and 55

The lawyer and editor of Jeremy Bentham’s works, Peregrine Bingham, lived here from 1843 until his death at the house in 1864 (Survey of London, vol. 21, 1949)

No. 32 became in 1844 the home of John Romilly, lawyer and politician, and son of Sir Samuel Romilly, friend of Jeremy Bentham, in the early stages of his career; he lived there until 1852

No. 38 became in 1844 the first of three homes in the Square for Christopher Heath, minister of the Catholic Apostolic Church in succession to Edward Irving; he lived there until 1849, and subsequently at no. 26 in 1852 and at no. 28 from 1853–1863 (Survey of London, vol. 21, 1949)

Nos 14–15 (west side) were built 1848–1849 in Tudor style (designed by Thomas Donaldson) as University Hall, the hall of residence for male liberal dissenting students; the premises were soon after shared by Manchester New College

On the site of no. 7 and other houses in the south-west corner, the Catholic Apostolic Church of Christ the King was built between 1851 and 1854 for the Irvingites, although not on the monumental scale originally planned

No. 53 (east side) was built by Cubitt for the owner of no. 7, demolished to make way for the building of the Catholic Apostolic Church (Hermione Hobhouse, Thomas Cubitt, Master Builder, 1971)

At the same time as the establishment of the Catholic Apostolic Church in the Square, it was also home to the Vicarage of St Pancras, at no. 31; Rev. Thomas Dale occupied this as Vicar from 1852–1860 (Survey of London, vol. 21, 1949)

No. 28 was from 1864–1868 one of the many homes in the Bloomsbury area of art patron and co-founder of the Art Union of London Lewis Pocock, his wife Eliza (née Bassett), and, perhaps, some of their twelve children (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Survey of London, vol. 21, 1949)

No. 5 was the home of the Welsh sculptor and singer William Davies, whose daughter Dilys Davies (later Jones, a campaigner for Welsh women’s education) was born here in 1857 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 39 was where barrister and campaigner against the death penalty Charles Phillips died in 1859 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

The Square was the home of distinguished historian and sometime deacon of the Catholic Apostolic Church, Samuel Rawson Gardiner (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography); the 1871 census has him listed as resident at no. 22 with his first wife, Isabella (née Irving), daughter of Edward Irving, and (contra ODNB) their 2 sons and 4 daughters

No. 4 was the home of Thomas Graham, Scottish chemist, Professor of Chemistry at University College London, and later Master of the Royal Mint; he died here in 1869 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

The public health administrator Edward Seaton took a house here in 1877 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 18 (west side) was the home of famous surgeon Sir Frederick Treves from 1880 to 1885 (Survey of London, vol. 21, 1949)

No. 35 became the home in 1881 of Unitarian minister and Principal of Manchester New College; he died at his home here in 1900 (Survey of London, vol. 21, 1949)

No. 20 was the home of William Irons, clergyman and editor of the Literary Churchman, who died there in 1883 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 3 was where Mary Anne Brooke (née Sewell), widow of Charles Brooke, a surgeon and inventor of scientific instruments, died in 1885 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

Nos 14–15, built as University Hall, became in 1890 the new home of Dr Williams’s Library

No. 22 was the home of Rev. Henry Wace, Dean of Canterbury, from 1898–1900 (Survey of London, vol. 21, 1890)

No. 35 was the house where the Unitarian minister James Martineau had died in 1900 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

Nos 31–34 (north side) were the first to be built in the Square by Cubitt, but were demolished in the 1930s to make way for the University’s Institute of Archaeology

Nos 27–28 (west side) were demolished by University College to make a back way into the University premises (now the entrance by the Bloomsbury Theatre)

No. 35 was demolished to make way for the (side of the) examination halls built in Taviton Street for University College

In the 1950s the whole Square was sold to the borough of St Pancras by the Bedford estate

Nos 1–6 (south side) were demolished to make way for the Warburg Institute in 1958; this does, however, incorporate a frieze salvaged from no. 1 in the side of the building

Nos 55–59 (southeast corner) survive, but no. 54 was demolished to make way for the (side of the) new Institute of Education building in 1971

Most of the Square thus became occupied by University College London or parts of the University of London, either in the original houses or in purpose-built buildings

This page last modified 14 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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