Urban landscape — 15 December 2009

Once home to those Bohemian artists
who made such an impact on Edwardian London.

This area of London roughly bounded by Tottenham Court Road in the west, Euston Road on its northern edge, Gray’s Inn Road to the east and New Oxford Street through Bloomsbury Way and Theobalds Road at its southern extremity has remained neglected since the 1920s.

It was, in its day, the place to be seen for the fashionable enfants terrible of the literary and arts scene in London, with their emphasis on close interpersonal relationships and a fastidious attitude towards contemporary culture.

They held sceptical views on social and political conventions and religious practices with many people accusing them of elitism. Whether you were discussing your views while partaking tea at the Hotel Russell (note it’s not the Russell Hotel), strolling through the British Museum viewing the artefacts plundered from around the world or enjoying its many gardens, you were the talk of literary London.

But after the Second World War this area had been allowed to lapse into a race track of one-way streets and frequented by the scruffy students from University College of London. Now this area has been quietly undergoing a makeover.

First the British Museum constructed Norman Foster’s glass-covered court a triumph of architecture and design, while nearby St George’s Church the sixth and final London church designed in 1731 by the leading architect of the English Baroque, Nicholas Hawksmoor was reopened to the public in 2006 following a five-year restoration possible by the generosity of the Paul Mellon Estate and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

And quietly while this was going on Camden Council, in a rare excursion from hounding the motorist, has turned its attention to the Squares of Bloomsbury which remarkably for this small area of London it can boast no fewer than 19 squares and gardens:

Russell Square, a large and orderly square; its gardens were originally designed by Humphry Repton. The square is adjacent to the Russell Hotel and a short distance from Russell Square Tube Station.

Bedford Square, built between 1775 and 1783, is still surrounded by its original town houses and is one of the finest Georgian squares in London.

Bloomsbury Square, a small circular garden, but called a square, is also surrounded by Georgian buildings including the former Victorian House and state home of the Lord Chancellor.

Queen Square, home to many hospitals including the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.

Gordon Square, surrounded by the history and archaeology departments of University College London, as well as the former home of John Maynard Keynes, the famous economist.

Woburn Square, once an elegant Georgian square, demolished on 1969 to make way for the School of Oriental and African Studies.

Torrington Square, once known as the field of forty footsteps, also known as Brothers’ Steps, it was the ground which two brothers fought a duel in the 1680s over a girl with whom they were both in love. They were both killed. Tradition has it that 40 of their footprints were to be seen here for several years and no grass would grow upon the bank which the girl sat to watch the duel. The square is now home to other parts of University College London.

Tavistock Square, home to the British Medical Association; its eastern edge was the site of one of the 7 July 2005 London bombings.

Mecklenburgh Square, east of Coram’s Fields, one the few squares which remains locked for the use of local residents.

Coram’s Fields, a large recreational space on the eastern edge of the area, formerly home to the Foundling Hospital. It is only open to children and those adults accompanying children.

Brunswick Square, now occupied by the School of Pharmacy and the Foundling Museum.

Cartwright Gardens, this Georgian square is named after the political reformer who campaigned for universal suffrage, voting by ballot, annual parliaments and the end to slavery.

Regent Square, a small square with a Regency Terrace on one side.

Georges Gardens, small gardens adjoining Mecklenburgh Square.

Argyll Square, a small square to the north of Bloomsbury in need of restoration.

Two private squares off Bedford Place, these lie behind the properties on either side of this Georgian street.

A small park at the corner of Keppel Street and Mallet Street, the artist John Constable lived nearby.

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Gibson

(8) Readers Comments

  1. Probably a patronising thing to point out to a taxi driver, but isn’t Tottenham Court Road to the west of Gray’s Inn Road?

    • It certainly is, and I will correct the post. Thanks for your comment

  2. One of the great things i miss about London are the squares,parks and open spaces..i have lived in big cities in Spain and the lack of parks etc.,almost on your doorstep as in london, is terrible.
    Great informative blogging by the way!

    • Cecil John Rhodes said:
      To be born an Englishman is to win first prize in God’s lottery
      But there again like you he wasn’t living in England at the time, for him he resided in South Africa.
      You could apply that quote about London if there were no Londoners living there to dispoil the city. Whinge over, thanks for the comment

  3. You write “partaking tea at the Hotel Russell (note it’s not the Russell Hotel)” but then go on with “The square is adjacent to the Russell Hotel and a short distance from Russell Square Tube Station.” Hotel Russell or Russell Hotel?

    • I’m afraid it’s Hotel Russell, but Russell Square and not Square Russell Station

  4. I like the elitist tone to “Hotel Russell”.Maybe the underground stations could be pre-fixed with “Tube Station”…such as Tube Station Knightsbridge……not sure about Tube Station Surrey Docks though…opps!That should be Quays…..already elitist innit!

    • There used to be a Hotel Russell near Victoria Station (or should that be Station Victoria?), anyway it was a grotty place, I’ve often wondered whether some guests were taken to the wrong hotel by minicab drivers

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