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Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury Streets, Squares, and Buildings

Harrison 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 Harrison Estate

The estate comprised an eighteen-acre field which was already established as a brickmaking centre by the early seventeenth century, when it was owned by the Harrison family (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

Thomas Harrison, formerly a farmer, inherited the estate in 1783 (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

He observed closely the development of the Foundling estate to the south, and seems to have decided to follow their example by building on his land instead of producing the bricks for other developments (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

In 1807 he was himself living in one of the earliest houses to be built on the estate, at Sidmouth Place, fronting Gray’s Inn Road, but he had moved out by 1809 (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

Horwood’s map of 1807 shows the houses on Sidmouth Place and eight houses at the east end of Sidmouth Street; it also shows the tile kiln adjoining this small development

The famous “Harrison dust heap” was actually on the Battle Bridge estate to the north; the brickmakers mixed these ash with the rich brick earth (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

In 1809 an Act of Parliament was passed to allow Thomas Harrison to develop his estate properly, although the main development was further delayed as, ironically, the estate was too busy supplying its neighbours with bricks to be able to spare the time and materials for its own land until 1818 (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

The estate was bordered by the Cromer–Lucas estate to the north, the St George’s Bloomsbury parish boundary to the west, Gray’s Inn Road to the east, and the Foundling Hospital estate to the south (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

This means that it extended to a line north of Harrison Street and south of Cromer Street at its western end, down Wakefield Street in the west to the east end of Handel Street, across north of the burying grounds to include Prospect Terrace, and continuing this diagonal line to Gray’s Inn Road, the west side of which formed its eastern boundary

The Harrison estate still existed as such in the 1920s, when it was one of the interested parties represented in the negotiations over the future of the neighbouring Foundling Hospital site (The Times, 13 January 1928, 14 January 1928, 4 February 1928)

James Street

Also known as Derry Street

Not to be confused with Great James Street and Little James Street elsewhere in Bloomsbury, or other James Streets elsewhere in London

It was a tiny street in the north-east of Bloomsbury, leading east from Wellington Square between Sidmouth Street and Heathcote Street

It does not appear on Horwood’s map of 1813, when the site was shown as still fields, but is shown clearly on his map of 1819, which names it as James Street; at this stage, it was apparently a cul-de-sac

Cruchley’s map of 1827 shows exits into both Sidmouth Street and Prospect Terrace; the OS map of 1867–1870 shows both these exits as negligible or blocked

Some time between Cary’s map of 1837 (which names it as James Street) and the OS map of 1867–1870 (wh13 April, 2011

The origin of both names is unknown - although there seems to be a distinctively Irish flavour to the names in this locality

There are buildings but no numbers on Horwood’s map of 1819 nineteenth century

In 1882 it was described in The Times as “a squalid and overcrowded locality”, where all the houses were let out in tenements, many of them to young Irish labourers (The Times, 17 July 1882)

The area was in the news that year because of an explosion in the basement of no. 8 Derry Street, which was immediately suspected to be caused by the accidental ignition of a cache of Fenian ammunition stored in a little-used chimney (The Times, 17 July 1882)

Further investigation (and a search of all the chimneys in the area) revealed that it was instead a stash of faulty cartridges from Eley’s cartridge factory in Gray’s Inn Road, brought home and hidden there by the girl who had made them so that she would not lose her job for her poor workmanship (The Times, 17 July 1882)

It was still a poor and predominantly Irish area at the end of the century: around 1900 Mary Ward noticed that none of the poor children from Derry Street came to the Passmore Edwards Settlement (C. Carwen, ‘The Derry Street Play Centre’, In Memoriam: Mrs Humphry Ward and the Passmore Edwards Settlement, 1921)

At that time, apparently, Irish families were living in one or two rooms in the street’s slums; they were “hawkers of baked potatoes and chestnuts, stale fish and ‘trimmed vegetables’ ” (C. Carwen, ‘The Derry Street Play Centre’, In Memoriam: Mrs Humphry Ward and the Passmore Edwards Settlement, 1921)

Mrs Ward asked some of the Associates of the Passmore Edwards Settlement to go to their local day schools and see what could be done for them in the evenings in their own neighbourhood; she also gave money for toys, “and so was started one more of the numerous day centres so dear to Mrs Ward’s heart” (C. Carwen, ‘The Derry Street Play Centre’, In Memoriam: Mrs Humphry Ward and the Passmore Edwards Settlement, 1921)

In the twentieth century it was obliterated by the expansion of Prospect Street Board School and new public baths on the site, which are shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1914–1916

Its site is now occupied by Westminster Kingsway College, rebuilt in the early 21st century

This page last modified 14 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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