UCL logo




Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury Streets, Squares, and Buildings

Foundling Hospital 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 Foundling Hospital Estate

In addition to its work as an orphanage, the Foundling Hospital became, almost by accident, a major landlord in the fast-developing Bloomsbury area in the nineteenth century

The Governors of the Hospital had been forced to buy much more land (56 acres in total) than was actually needed for the orphanage itself, and by the late eighteenth century, when the Hospital faced a shortage of funds, residential development of the surplus land became its best financial option (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

The planned development met with opposition from both local residents who had hitherto enjoyed uninterrupted views, such as the residents of Queen Square and Great Ormond Street, and also from concerned citizens who worried about the adverse effect on the health of the children as the surrounding area was built up (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

The Hospital faced the further difficulty of the isolation of its site, and the surrounding estates which intervened between it and the established main traffic routes in the area; only Red Lion Street connected the estate’s land with the outside world (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

Another potential problem was posed by St George’s Burial Grounds, north of the Hospital buildings; if the estate opened up road access across this part of its land, it risked funeral processions travelling through its streets (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

Despite (or perhaps because of) these difficulties, the Governors of the Hospital went ahead with the development in the most careful and considered way possible, aided by their architect and surveyor, Samuel Pepys Cockerell, who submitted his plans to them in 1790 (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

The plans included a variety of residential housing of different classes, with the two grand squares of Brunswick Square and Mecklenburgh Square at the heart of the estate, flanking the Hospital buildings (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

Development began almost immediately, thanks largely to James Burton, who took building leases on large parts of the estate from the 1790s onwards, and who became its major builder (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

Difficulties in executing the plans, including complications caused by insufficiently-supervised subcontractors and the (unjustified) allegations of rival surveyors about the poor quality of his work, led Cockerell to be edged out by 1808 and replaced by Joseph Kay (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

The estate was originally planned as being entirely residential, and requests to build shops or convert houses into shops were not permitted in Compton Street or Great Coram Street, although some were allowed in Kenton and Upper Marchmont Streets, which later became shopping streets sanctioned as such by the estate (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

Despite its proximity to the Bedford estate and the high standard of much of its housing, similarly aimed at the well-to-do middle classes, the Foundling Hospital estate faced quite different problems from the Bedford estate during its first century of residential development

One perennial problem in the area was prostitution: in 1827, 34 inhabitants of Hunter Street petitioned the estate paving commissioners saying the street “has become the common walk of the lowest prostitutes”, and in 1845 the same problem was reported in Brunswick and Mecklenburgh Squares (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

Another problem was the development of slums on the estate, particularly in its mews, which turned out not to be needed by many of the residents of the estate (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984); the Foundling Hospital estate appears to have been much less successful in this respect than the Bedford estate

Instead of being used for stabling, the Foundling Hospital’s designated mews were increasingly occupied by poor families, often criminal, and “chiefly Irish” in Compton Place, according to complaints made by residents of Compton Street in 1823

The Irish were also said to be causing problems in courts behind Great Coram Street in 1845 (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

Compton Place was one of the two main slum areas which developed on the estate; it was continually altered, pulled down, and re-erected, only for the same problems to recur, and complaints were still being made in 1858 (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

The other problem area was on the western edge of the estate, between Tavistock Place and Bernard Street (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

“In January 1857 the medical officer of St Pancras suggested a permanent solution: the purchase of all the leasehold interests, followed by the demolition of the buildings. On their site could rise model lodging houses, the great new enthusiasm of the Victorian philanthropist” (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

Despite statistics showing the alarmingly high death rates in the slum areas, it was to be more than a decade later that such drastic measures were finally approved on the Foundling estate, in comparison to the building of model lodging houses on the Bedford estate as early as 1849–1850 (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

“The 1870s finally saw the beginning of a vigorous program of demolition and redevelopment, but the initiative came from outside the Foundling Hospital. In the summer of 1872 the St Giles’s Board of Works obtained a legal order for the demolition of the whole of Russell Place and Coram Place. Later that summer the Peabody Trustees applied to purchase the freehold of Coram, Russell, Marchmont, and Chapel places, together with a portion of Little Coram Street. After some hesitation the governors agreed to sell the property for £5400” (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

The vestry of St Pancras condemned property in the Colonnade and in Poplar and Compton Places in 1884, buying up the leasehold interests and surrendering them to the Foundling Hospital, although nothing was built on the cleared sites in Compton Place until the late 1890s, and there were still 18 houses whose leases did not expire until 1907 (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

Like the Bedford estate, the Foundling Hospital estate had insulated itself by a gate at the end of Heathcote Street and by having few streets going across the estate’s northern boundary (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

Boarding houses or let apartments were not allowed in the two showpiece squares until 1892 (Brunswick Square) and 1909 (Mecklenburgh Square) (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

The rental income of the Foundling Hospital estate was over £18,930 by 1897; the entire estate was eventually sold for £1.65 million in 1926 (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984), after an unsuccessful attempt in the early 1920s by the University of London to acquire the site and turn it into a “University Quarter” (The Times, 26 May 1920, 1 October 1920, 7 October 1920)

Another large local institution, Great Ormond Street Hospital, made an equally unsuccessful attempt to take over the site when it was sold

Mecklenburgh Square

Also known as Mecklenburg Square

It is in the east of Bloomsbury, to the immediate east side of the Foundling Hospital

It was originally planned by Cockerell in the 1790s as one half of a symmetrical development, along with Brunswick Square to the west of the Foundling Hospital (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

Both squares are shown on Milne’s map of 1800

However, Mecklenburgh Square was not built until much later than Brunswick Square; most of the building only commenced after new plans designed by Joseph Kay were approved by the Foundling Hospital in 1810 (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

The south side was built between 1800–1810, the east side between 1810–1820, and the north side between 1824–1825 (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)

It was named after the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, father of Queen Charlotte (David A. Hayes, East of Bloomsbury, 1998), though with the spelling usually anglicised

On Weller’s map of 1868, it appears as Mecklenburg Square

Its numbering system was on the south side: consecutive numbers from 1 to 10, running from west to east; on the east side: consecutive numbers from 11 to 34, running from south to north, and on the north side: consecutive numbers from 35 to 47, running from east to west

The west side was an open aspect to the Foundling Hospital

It was not as prestigious a location as Brunswick Square, but the houses were still designed to appeal to wealthy and professional occupants

Its gardens, unlike those of Brunswick Square, were private and accessible to keyholders only, and its houses were grander and less plain

The merchant Thomas Buckle and his wife Jane (née Middleton) had their family home here in the 1820s; their son Henry Buckle, the historian, born in 1821, was brought up here (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 30 was the home of the chemist and unitarian Samuel Parkes, who died here in 1825 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

The Times journalist, businessman, and Beethoven enthusiast Thomas Alsager lived in a grand house here before moving to Queen Square in 1830 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

In 1845 residents of this square and Brunswick Square were complaining of prostitutes working here at night (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

No. 15 was the home of John Cavell and his daughter Ellen, who married painter James Hayllar in 1855; the Hayllars continued to live here (with Ellen’s father until he died in 1863) until 1868, along with their nine children (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 25 (east side) was the home of the West Central Collegiate School

No. 43 (north side) was the home of Sir William Cubitt, Mayor of London and brother of builder Lewis Cubitt, from 1857 to 1860

No. 26 was the home of publisher John Maxwell and his five children in the middle of the nineteenth century (his wife was in a mental hospital); in 1861 the author Mary Elizabeth Braddon and her mother moved in, and Braddon subsequently bore Maxwell several children and married him as soon as his wife died (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

By 1868 the Maxwells had left no. 26, which then became the business practice and home of theatre architect Charles Phipps, his wife Honor (née Hicks), and their four children; he died there in 1897 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 21 (east side) was the home of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Muslim reformer, from 1869 to 1870; his residence is commemorated by a plaque

The Positivist Richard Congreve, founder of the Church of Humanity in nearby Chapel Street, lived at no. 17 in the 1870s (David Hayes, ‘Holborn’s Church of Humanity, Its Roots and Offshoots,’ Camden History Review, vol. 24, 2000)

No. 46 (north side) was the home of novelist George Sala from 1878 to 1884

No. 7 was the home of actor and author Lewis Wingfield in 1880 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

No. 41 was the home of publisher Sampson Low, who died here in 1886 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

Boarding houses and apartment letting houses were not allowed here until 1909 (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984)

It was damaged by bombing in the Second World War, particularly the south-east part now occupied by London House

This page last modified 14 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


Bloomsbury Project - University College London - Gower Street - London - WC1E 6BT - Telephone: +44 (0)20 7679 3134 - Copyright © 1999-2005 UCL

Search by Google