The walk begins at Chancery Lane underground station and ends at Tottenham Court Road underground station. The walk will take about three hours to complete, depending upon the time spent in gardens.
Most of the gardens are open to the public during the day, with the exception of Gray's Inn, which is open during weekdays only from 12 noon to 2.30pm. Mecklenburgh and Bedford Squares are private, but open to the public during Open Garden Squares Weekend.The gardens are accessible to wheelchairs, except where stated.
Please be aware of your personal safety and security when walking. Use this walk in conjunction with a detailed street map and use designated road crossings where possible.
This walk explores some of the oldest and most notable of London's squares, from the time of Charles II to the reign of Queen Victoria. Along the way you will meet some of the many characters who have lived in the squares over the years.
For further information on Bloomsbury squares and gardens, please see www.bloomsburysquares.org.uk
Begin the walk at Chancery Lane underground station. Leaving the station, follow the signs for Exit 1 and Gray's Inn Road, which take you out into High Holborn. Gray's Inn Road is behind you, and the Reed Employment Agency is on your right.
Walk up High Holborn, past Holland and Barrett, towards the Cittie of Yorke pub. Just before the pub, turn right into Gray's Inn.
If you are doing the walk at a weekend, when Gray's Inn is not open, continue on and turn right into Brownlow Street. Turn left at the end, then right into Bedford Row and left into Princeton Street, which takes you to Red Lion Square.
Go through the arch straight ahead into South Square. Turn right and walk around the square, where No. 1 is immediately on your right. Continue around the square.
On your right is the Hall. Beyond the Hall is Gray's Inn Square.
If you are visiting this garden on Open Garden Squares Weekend, be careful to check the opening times.
Gray's Inn is one of the four remaining Inns of Court, founded in 1370 as a place for lawyers to live and study. The Inn is named after Reginald de Grey, Chief Justice of Chester, whose London house was where the Inn began.
No. 1 South Square is where Victorian author and journalist Charles Dickens (1812-1870) once worked as an office boy. Gray's Inn provided a setting for parts of the action in several of Dickens' novels, including Martin Chuzzlewit and David Copperfield.
At the end of the square is a statue of essayist, historian and statesman Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), who lived at the Inn from 1576 until his death in 1626. As Lord Chancellor he has been credited with bringing greater fairness and impartiality to the English legal system. However, he was himself convicted of taking bribes, for which he was fined £40,000 and imprisoned in the Tower of London.
On your right is the Hall, which dates from 1560. It was the venue for the first performance of Shakespeare's play, A Comedy of Errors in 1594. The Hall was badly damaged in the Second World War, but has since been restored.
Beyond the Hall is Gray's Inn Square. Both this and South Square have 20th century garden layouts.
Between South Square and Gray's Inn Square, level with the Hall is a passage into Field Court. Go through here and the entrance to Gray's Inn Gardens is on the right.
There are gravel paths in the gardens, which may be difficult for wheelchairs. For a paved route, continue past the gates and follow signs for Atkin Building and Raymond Buildings. This will bring you to the exit on Theobald's Road.
To walk through the gardens, go through the gates. From here you either can walk along the main central path ahead of you and up a flight of steps at the end, or, for a route which avoids steps, bear left and walk along the parapet overlooking the gardens.
If you are visiting this garden on Open Garden Squares Weekend, be careful to check the opening times.
Gray's Inn Gardens were originally laid out by Sir Francis Bacon in the early 1600s with cherry, birch and groves of elms. There was a mount with a pavilion on the terrace to the west, a bowling green and a kitchen garden. The design was simplified in the mid-1700s by a 'Mr Brown' - probably Capability Brown.
The poet Shelley (1792-1822), who was severely in debt, used to meet his future wife Mary Godwin (1797-1851) here in secret on Sundays, which was the only day of the week when debtors could not be arrested.
The buildings on the west side of the garden date from the early 1800s. The dark grey buildings are Raymond Buildings, where Charles Dickens also worked as a solicitor's clerk, earning 15 shillings a week. Utterly bored, he amused himself by dropping cherry stones on the heads of passers-by.
At the northern end of the garden, turn left to exit into Theobald's Road, opposite the Holborn Library and Archive Centre. Turn left, cross over Jockey's Fields and take the next left into Bedford Row. Half way down, turn right into Princeton Street, carry on across Red Lion Street and into Red Lion Square. Go round to the left and stop outside No. 17.
Walk along and cross the road, entering the garden through the gate opposite Summit House.
Enter the square garden, and walk around it anticlockwise.
Red Lion Square was laid out between 1698 and 1700 by Dr Nicholas Barbon (1637-1699), and was named after the nearby Red Lion Inn in Holborn. Barbon was one of the major developers in the early history of London squares, who pursued profits ruthlessly and dishonestly. He routinely ignored the law and often demolished buildings and built new houses without the permission of the owners. He forced through the development of Red Lion Square in his usual style, facing down fierce opposition from the lawyers of Gray's Inn, which led on one occasion to a physical fight between Barbon's men and the lawyers.
Most of the buildings around the square were replaced in the 19th and 20th centuries, but numbers 14 to 17 are houses originally built by Nicholas Barbon around 1686, which were re-fronted in the 19th century.
Number 17, where you are standing, was briefly the residence of poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), who founded the Pre-Raphaelite school of painting. Five years later, he recommended the rooms to his friends William Morris (1834-1896) and Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898), despite their dampness and decrepitude. It was here that Morris first tried his hand at furniture and textile design, producing the first of the medieval-style furnishings which gave rise to the Arts and Crafts movement. Burne-Jones too began to paint the quasi-medieval subjects for which he later became famous.
In 1861 Morris, Burne-Jones and Rossetti set up a design business together at No. 8 Red Lion Square, to produce high- quality furniture and fittings using traditional craft methods. Their housekeeper, known as 'Red Lion Mary', did much of the sewing and tapestry, and also contributed to some of Morris's designs.
On the corner of Summit House is a plaque to John Harrison (1693-1776) who lived at number 12. He invented the marine chronometer, the first accurate nautical instrument to plot longitude.
Another 18th- century resident of the square, philanthropist and merchant Jonas Hanway (1712-1786) is reputed to have been the first habitual user of an umbrella in London. He teamed this with a sword, which by that time was a most unfashionable article of apparel!
The body of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was popularly believed to have been buried where the square now stands. In 1660 when Charles II returned from exile, he took his revenge on all those who had supported the Parliamentary cause. The leading parliamentarians, Oliver Cromwell, John Bradshaw and Henry Ireton were all dead, but in 1661 Charles had their bodies dug up and given a trial for regicide. They were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. The bodies of Cromwell and Ireton were kept overnight at the Red Lion Inn before being taken to Tyburn and hanged. One version of the story goes that the corpses were substituted for others, and Cromwell's body was in fact buried in Red Lion Square. Whatever the facts, the square is now said to be haunted by the men. Many claim to have seen the three, deep in conversation, walking diagonally across the square, only to vanish gradually as they pass the centre of the garden.
Leave Red Lion Square via the west gate, opposite the statue of Fenner Brockway, and turn right. Cross at the traffic lights towards Transport House, turn left and continue across Old Gloucester Street and Southampton Row. Continue along Vernon Place and turn right into Bloomsbury Square.
Enter the square via the gate on the left and walk to the central paved plaza.
In the central paved plaza there is a quotation engraved in the stone, from John Evelyn's Diary of 1665:
‘Dined at my Lord Treasurer's the Earl of Southampton in Bloomsbury, where he was building an oval square or piazza, a little town.’
After the Great Fire of London in 1666, wealthy Londoners did not want to return to the crowded, dangerous conditions of the old medieval City. The new estates being built by landowners in the countryside to the west of London offered a new way of life, and became London's first suburbs.
Bloomsbury, then on the northern edge of London, had, in the words of Dr Everard Maynwaringe,
‘…the best air and finest prospect, being the highest ground…A fit place for nobility and gentry to reside…there being the country air, pleasure and city conveniences joined together.’
The underlying pattern of Bloomsbury, with the diverse shapes and sizes of the squares, can be traced from the fields and closes from which the estate developed.
Bloomsbury Square was the centrepiece of the Bloomsbury Estate, which was developed from the 1660s to the 1850s. It was the first square to be called a ‘square’, and was laid out by the 4th Earl of Southampton as the forecourt to his grand London home. If you look to the north, you can see a terrace of Regency houses, built by James Burton, just beyond which the mansion once stood.
On the remaining three sides of the square, the Earl sold plots of land to builders on 42-year leases, at rents of around £6 per year, for the construction of what he stipulated must be high-quality housing.
Gradually, the up-market houses of the square were surrounded by more modest streets, shops and services, creating a new, self-contained estate for the wealthy classes who flocked to live there.
The enterprising Earl's new building-lease system proved very profitable, and was enthusiastically adopted by other aristocrats developing their estates around London.
The estate fell into the hands of the dukes of Bedford as a result of Lord William Russell's marriage to the Earl of Southampton's daughter, Lady Rachel, in 1669. Building slowed for the next century, but in 1800 the fifth Duke of Bedford, Francis Russell (1765-1802), was keen to continue development, and he had his mansion torn down to make way for more houses. By 1819, the estate was generating half of the family's considerable income.
Originally the garden at the centre of the square was very plain, with grass divided into eight parts by four crossing paths. In 1807 the Duke commissioned leading landscape gardener Humphry Repton (1752-1818) to design a new garden, which he laid out in the high style of the day with curving paths, a formal lime walk and shrubberies.
The square remained private, for the use of residents only, right up to the Second World War, when its railings were removed to be melted down for armaments. This allowed other people to come into the square for the first time, and in 1950 it was officially made public.
The gardens have recently been restored, combining elements of Repton's design with the earlier 18th-century layout of paths, and a mix of shrubs and herbaceous plants, laid out as they would have been in Regency times.
Many rich, famous and influential people have lived in the square over the years. Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729), one of the earliest journalists and an MP, who founded both The Tatler and The Spectator magazines, lived here in the late 17th century.
The Arts and Crafts architect Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) lived here in the early 20th century. Already well-known as a designer of country houses, where he collaborated with the celebrated garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, it was during this time that he received his first major public commission for the buildings at the heart of Hampstead Garden Suburb.
Looking across to the west, you can see White Hall, where Dr Robert Willan (1757-1812) lived for the last 12 years of his life. A dermatologist, Willan was the first person to classify diseases of the skin. He was also an advocate of the curative effect of mineral waters, and in 1803 published the luridly-titled Account of the Dreadful Effects of Dram-Drinking.
Looking a little further to the left, No. 6 was home to Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), who lived here from the age of 13 between 1817 and 1824. Disraeli went on to become the leader of the Tory Party and was Prime Minister twice, as well as a popular novelist. The plaque on the house is dedicated to his father, Isaac, who was also a novelist.
The residence of William Murray, Earl of Mansfield (1705-1793), was also once in Bloomsbury Square. During the Gordon Riots of 1780, the Earl's house and precious library were attacked and burned by anti-Catholic rioters. In the subsequent trial of the riot leader, Lord George Gordon, the Earl himself was the judge. He treated the accused so impartially that Gordon was actually acquitted of the charges against him.
From the piazza, walk towards the northern end of the square, exit, and walk round to the statue of Charles James Fox.
Charles James Fox (1749-1806), whose statue stands at the north end of the square, was a leading Whig politician in the late 18th century. His statue, by Sir Richard Westmacott, faces that of the fifth Duke of Bedford, also by Westmacott, along Bedford Place.
Fox and the Duke were both Whigs, and were political allies as well as great friends. Both were part of the glittering Devonshire set, the leading social clique of the day, which centred around the highly- fashionable Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. The Duke declined to join in with the excessive gambling which his friends enjoyed, but he helped to pay Fox's considerable gambling debts, and left him £5000 in his will.
Cross Great Russell Street with care and continue along Bedford Place towards Russell Square.
At the end of Bedford Place, cross the busy road very carefully owards the statue of Francis Russell, the fifth Duke of Bedford.
You are now walking through what was once the private garden of the Duke of Bedford's mansion, laid out by the fourth duke with groves of limes and acacias, gravel walks and a greenhouse for growing melons. The end of the garden had a raised terrace walk, which covered earthwork fortifications put up by the Parliamentarians to defend London during the English Civil Wars.
The statue of Francis Russell shows the Duke with one hand resting on a plough and the other holding some ears of corn. He was well-known for his interest in the improvement of agriculture and maintained a model farm of some 4000 acres at Woburn, his country estate.
Enter Russell Square to the right of the statue, turn left and walk around the gardens clockwise past the statue and then right onto the inner horseshoe path. Walk along this path with the fountain plaza on your right.
Russell Square was founded by the fifth Duke in 1799, and became the largest square in London, eclipsing Grosvenor Square. The houses were the work of builder James Burton (1761-1837), the most successful developer at that time. His workforce was so large, that In 1804, when Britain was threatened with invasion, Burton raised a 1000-strong regiment of men, with architects and foremen as officers, to protect the borders of the new town they were creating.
As with Bloomsbury Square, the Duke commissioned Humphry Repton to design the gardens.
Repton's design included a broad perimeter walk (with high hedges to screen the walk from the street) and a horseshoe-shaped central walk under two rows of clipped lime trees. There was a trellis-covered shelter at the centre, with eight seats, which cleverly concealed the gardeners' shed in a small courtyard at the centre.
The eighteenth century poets William Cowper (1731-1800) and Thomas Gray (1716-71) both had lodgings in Russell Square. Gray praised the square for its ‘air and sunshine and quiet’.
The 20th-century poet, T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), lived at 28 Bedford Place and had his offices at 24 Russell Square (in the western corner), where he was director of Faber & Faber, which specialised in publishing poetry. While here, Eliot endured increasingly bizarre behaviour from his estranged wife, who was mentally ill. She would march up and down the pavement outside the offices, wearing a sandwich board which proclaimed ‘I am the wife that T.S. Eliot abandoned.’ On one occasion she poured a tureen of hot chocolate through the letter-box of his office door. It was here at the age of 68 that Eliot proposed to his second wife, Valerie, who was 38 years his junior.
No. 21 was home to lawyer and MP Sir Samuel Romilly (1757-1818). From 1806, as Solicitor-General, he worked hard to reform the criminal justice system, reducing sentences and cutting the number of petty crimes which carried the death penalty, such as pick-pocketing. He was also a vocal opponent of slavery and supported the campaign for Catholic emancipation. In 1818, overcome with grief at the sudden death of his beloved wife, the grief-stricken Romilly killed himself.
Also on the west side of the square is a cabmen's shelter of 1897. It was part of a network built between 1875 and 1914 by the Cabmen's Shelter Fund. The Fund was founded by Captain George Armstrong, managing editor of The Globe newspaper, after he failed to find a cab because all the drivers were in the pub. Victorian cabmen were notorious for their drunkenness, having nowhere else but the pub to shelter in bad weather. The alcohol-free shelters offered tables and benches, with even a kitchen for cooking meals, and are still in use by London's cab drivers.
The Victorian architect G.E. Street (1824-1881) lived at 51 Russell Square. He designed more than 260 buildings, of which his masterpiece was the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand, the stress of which drove him to an early grave before the building was completed.
No. 61 was where Mrs Humphry Ward (1851-1920) lived from 1881. She was a tireless supporter of good causes, an opponent of the death penalty and a prolific novelist, but was strongly opposed to votes for women. In a public debate on the subject in 1909, she lost by 235 votes to 74 and vowed never to take part in such a debate again.
Mrs Ward would not have see eye to eye with one of her neighbours, Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928), who lived at number eight with her family from 1888 to 1893. Emmeline was leader of the campaign for women's suffrage, and her daughters Sylvia (1882-1960) and Christabel (1880-1958) were considerably influenced in their own development as political activists by the people they met during their time here. The house was a centre for political gatherings of socialists, Fabians, anarchists, suffragists, freethinkers and radicals, and the young Pankhursts helped out at these meetings from an early age.
The theatre impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte (1844-1901) lived at 71 Russell Square. Founder of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, and promoter of works of Gilbert and Sullivan, he also built the Savoy Theatre and Savoy Hotel.
Walk towards the Café in the Gardens. There is an accessible toilet here. Leave the square via the gate to the rear of the café. Cross at the traffic lights and turn right past the front of the Hotel Russell and left into Guilford Street. Cross over Herbrand Street and continue on for a short way, crossing over opposite the entrance to an underground car park. Take the pedestrian path beside it, which continues through into Queen Square.
Walk straight ahead and enter the square garden by the gate on the left. Walk to the middle of the square
Leave the square by the gate ahead of you and look to the left.
Queen Square was originally known as Devonshire Square and was laid out in 1716 on land owned by Sir Nathaniel Curzon. It was renamed in honour of Queen Anne, the reigning monarch.
Houses were built around the square from 1713 to 1725, but the north end was left open to give a view of the villages of Hampstead and Highgate. The writer Fanny Burney (1752-1840) lived on the south side of the square in the 1770s, and wrote in her novel, Evelina, of the ‘beautiful prospect’ from her house ‘of the hills, ever verdant and smiling’.
An Act of 1832 provided that the square was to be ‘used and enjoyed by the inhabitants thereof in such a manner as the Trustees shall direct’. It was maintained by a rate ‘not exceeding one shilling in the pound, assessed on buildings around the square’.
Looking north, you will see a lead statue of a queen in ornamental robes, which originally held a sceptre. It is thought to be of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, but could possibly be Queen Anne or Mary II.
A circular paved area on the north lawn marks the spot where a Zeppelin bomb fell during the First World War. Although around 1000 people slept in the surrounding buildings, no-one was injured. During World War 2 around 2,000 people slept in an air-raid shelter beneath the square.
To the south, the church of St George the Martyr, established in 1706, was once known as the sweeps' church because kind parishioners provided Christmas dinners for 100 chimney sweeps' apprentices or ‘climbing boys’. It was here that poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath married in June 1956.
The Queen's Larder at number one dates from 1710. Tradition has it that Queen Charlotte rented a cellar under a beer shop to store the king's food while her deranged husband, George III was being treated by his doctor, Dr Willis, for his recurrent bouts of madness.
The square is also notable for the number of medical institutions based here. The London Homeopathic Hospital has been here since 1859, and the Italian Hospital since 1884, when Holborn was the main location for London's Italian community.
The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery stands on the site of No. 29, once the home of Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927). Jerome was a railway clerk who became an actor and then went on to write the Victorian classic and bestseller Three Men in a Boat (1889).
In 1865, William Morris moved his furnishings business, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co, from nearby Red Lion Square into number 26. Morris and his family lived ‘over the shop’, which was on the ground floor, and a ballroom was converted into workshops at the back. It was during this time that Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Janey, William Morris's wife, fell in love – a relationship that was to cause Morris great pain, although he never tried to interfere.
Cross the road on the NE side of Queen Square, turn right and walk past the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, turning left into Great Ormond Street. At the junction with Lamb's Conduit Street, turn left and walk up towards Coram's Fields, crossing at the zebra crossing.
If you have a child with you, you can enter the playground, otherwise there is a reasonably good view of the site through the iron railings.
Coram's Fields are what remains of the forecourt of the 18th-century Foundling Hospital established by Captain Thomas Coram (1668-1751), a retired shipwright and entrepreneur, who was shocked by the numbers of destitute children he saw each day in the streets of London. About a thousand illegitimate babies were being abandoned, either dead or dying, each year, but there was no organization to care for them.
The Captain gained support for his project slowly, and after 17 years of campaigning and fund-raising, work began in 1742 to build the Hospital on 56 acres of Lamb's Conduit Fields, bought from Lord Salisbury for £6,500.
The Hospital was an instant success, and was a popular cause for the rich and famous. The composer George Frideric Handel conducted annual performances of his Messiah in the Hospital chapel, raising £7000. The artist William Hogarth was another supporter from the outset. Under his influence, the Hospital became a public art gallery, filled with work given by the best artists of the time, including Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Jonas Hanway, the man with the umbrella and sword, whom we met in Red Lion Square, became a governor of the Hospital in 1756. He worked to expose the abuse of children, and in the 1760s was responsible for new laws which required parishes to take some responsibility for children in their areas.
The Hospital was demolished in 1926, but the colonnaded Georgian buildings of the original forecourt remain. The central pavilion, with its frieze of children at play, was built in 1936, and the forecourt preserved as a children's playground.
With your back to the gates of Coram's Fields, turn left and walk up Guilford Street. Turn left into Mecklenburgh Place, and walk on into Mecklenburgh Square.
Walk round the square, stopping opposite No. 21.
Continue round the square.
If you are visiting this garden on Open Garden Squares Weekend, be careful to check the opening times.
Mecklenburgh Square is part of the Foundling Estate, one of two new residential squares planned in 1790 by Samuel Pepys Cockerell to provide rental income to support the Hospital and to keep the surrounding land airy and open.
The square was eventually designed by Joseph Kay, as Cockerell had fallen out with the Hospital governors. It was named after Queen Charlotte, who before her marriage was Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The garden was also laid out by Kay around 1810, and remains close to the original design, with mature planes and other ornamental trees, formal lawns and gravel paths.
Richard Henry Tawney (1880-1962), who is commemorated with a blue plaque at No. 21, was clearly fond of the square, living at four different houses: first at number 17, then number 44 and after the war at number 26, before finally settling at number 21. A Christian Socialist and professor at the London School of Economics, Tawney was one of the leading left-wing thinkers of the 20th century, a critic of capitalism and a strong influence on Labour governments after the Second World War.
Syed Ahmed Kahn (1817-1898) was a Muslim reformer and scholar who also lived at number 21. As a magistrate in the service of the East India Company, Khan saved thousands of British lives during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, and became the first Muslim to be knighted. He studied the English university system while living here, and founded a university at Aligarh on his return, which has educated many Indian Muslim leaders. He was a pioneer of Islamic modernism and social reform.
William Goodenough House now stands on the site of No. 37, where Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived from 1939 to 1940. Further along at No. 44 there is a plaque to Hilda Doolittle, American Imagist poet and writer. Doolittle was married to novelist Richard Aldington, whose mistress, an American called Dorothy Yorke, lived in another part of the house. In 1917 Dorothy had her friend D.H. Lawrence to stay, who wrote part of the novel Women in Love while he was here. Also at No. 44, the crime writer Dorothy L. Sayers lived from 1918 to 1921, where she created her most famous character, Lord Peter Wimsey.
Retrace your steps to the corner of the square, turn left into Mecklenburgh Street and left again into Heathcote Street. At the end of the street, go through the wrought- iron gates on the right into St George's Gardens.
The three-acre St George's Gardens were once a meadow, bought in 1713 to make a burial ground for two churches – St George Bloomsbury and St George the Martyr, which you saw in Queen Square. It was the first burial ground in London to be located away from its church. The two cemeteries were originally divided by a brick wall and had separate entrances.
Among the many hundreds buried here was Zachary Macaulay (1768-1838), a leading figure in the campaign to abolish the slave trade in 1807, and editor of the Anti-Slavery Reporter. As a young man, he had worked on a plantation and witnessed the horrors of slavery at first hand. He was also governor of a colony of freed slaves in Africa. He died in 1838, five years after slavery was finally made illegal.
The burial grounds became full up and were closed around 1854, and after a period of neglect were re-opened in 1889 as part of the movement to make overgrown graveyards and other urban spaces into ‘open air sitting rooms for the poor’.
Walk through St George's Gardens, out through the gates at the west end and straight ahead along Handel Street. Turn left into Hunter Street and walk down to Brunswick Square. Turn left into the square.
Cross the road and go through the gate into the gardens.
Brunswick Square was built by James Burton between 1795 and 1802, under the supervision of Thomas Merryweather, secretary of the Foundling Hospital. The gardens were laid out and railed in 1799. The square was named after Caroline of Brunswick, the Prince Regent's wife.
Sadly, many of the houses around the square were bombed in the Second World War, and it has been extensively rebuilt. The garden has been recently restored to its 18th-century appearance, and its railings, which were lost in the war, replaced.
On your left, the University of London School of Pharmacy now occupies the site of Nos 27 and 38. Novelist E.M. Forster (1879-1970), author of books such as A Passage to India and A Room with a View, lived at number 27 from 1925 to 1930. He then moved next door for a further 10 years. His permanent home was in Surrey with his mother, but the flat in town allowed him to meet his various male acquaintances away from her watchful eye.
Virginia Stephen, better known by her married name as author Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), lived at No. 38 from 1911 to 1912, sharing the house with her brother Adrian, painter Duncan Grant and economist John Maynard Keynes, some of the key members of what later became known as the Bloomsbury Group.
A little further on, 40 Brunswick Square is the new house built in the 1920s for the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children on the part of the old Hospital gardens. The building now houses the Foundling Museum, with a notable collection of paintings, including works by Hogarth, Reynolds and Gainsborough. The museum has a pleasant café overlooking the square and accessible toilets.
Outside the museum is a statue of Captain Thomas Coram, by William Macmillan, installed in 1963.
At the junction with of Tavistock Place Woburn Place, cross at the traffic lights and continue on, turning right into Tavistock Square Garden. This entrance has steps: to avoid these, use one of the three entrances on the other sides of the garden, which are sloped.
Walk towards the statue of Gandhi at the centre.
Leave the square via the gate on the west side, behind the statue of Gandhi.
Also part of the Bedford Estate, Tavistock Square was established by the fifth Duke of Bedford in 1800, at the same time as Russell Square, although the garden was not laid out until 1825. The houses were built first by James Burton and completed from the 1820s by Thomas Cubitt. The present layout of the garden dates from the late 1800s.
Thomas Cubitt (1788-1855) was the leading developer of the early 19th century. He was the first large-scale commercial builder, employing his own workforce, including dozens of brick-makers, masons, plasterers and painters. He also had a professional staff of architects and surveyors, as well as his own legal and letting departments. From 1821 he completed Burton's work in Bloomsbury.
Looking to the south you will see the Tavistock Hotel, which stands on the site of number 52, where Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived from 1924 to 1939. Virginia wrote many of her best-known novels here, including To the Lighthouse and The Waves, and the house was also the first home of the Hogarth Press, run by Leonard Woolf.
Also in the square is a bronze bust of Louisa Aldrich-Blake (1865-1925), who was the first woman in Britain to become a Master of Surgery and went on to become Dean of the London School of Medicine for Women. She was also renowned for her skill at cricket and boxing!
The statue of Mohandas Gandhi, by Polish sculptor Fredda Brilliant, was unveiled in 1968. Gandhi (1869-1948) was the founding father of independent India, having trained as a barrister at the Inner Temple in London. After the First World War, he became the main Indian nationalist leader, directing the struggle against the British authorities, using non-violent tactics of ‘passive resistance’. He became universally known as ‘Mahatma’, meaning ‘great soul’, and eventually saw India gain independence in 1947.
A beech tree was planted in the square in his memory by Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), a close associate of Gandhi's in the nationalist struggle, and the first Prime Minister of independent India from 1947 to 1964. Looking to the north eastern corner of the square, the British Medical Association headquarters now occupies the site of Tavistock House, an 18-room mansion, where Charles Dickens lived from 1851 until 1860. While here, he wrote Bleak House, Hard Times, Little Dorrit and A Tale of Two Cities. He also entertained other literary friends, such as Wilkie Collins (author of The Woman in White and The Moonstone) and Hans Christian Anderson. It was here that his marriage became increasingly strained. In 1857 Dickens fell in love with an 18-year-old actress, and the following year he and his wife parted. Two years later Dickens sold up and left London for good.
On the wall opposite the west gate at No. 33, is a plaque to barrister Mohammed Ali Abbas, one of the founders of Pakistan.
Turn right and leave Tavistock Square by turning left into Endsleigh Place. Continue on into Gordon Square. Turn left and walk down the road to No. 46.
Turn around and retrace your steps, entering the square by the gate opposite No. 45. The square garden has recently been restored.
Like Tavistock Square, Gordon Square was established as part of the Bedford Estate in 1800, but Cubitt did not begin building until the 1820s. The square was named after Lady Georgiana Gordon, second wife of the sixth Duke of Bedford, and the garden was designed by the Duke himself with a complex layout of curving paths and shrubberies.
No. 46 was home from 1904 to 1907 to Virginia Stephen and her sister Vanessa, after the death of their father, Sir Leslie Stephen. The house was the early focus of what became known as the Bloomsbury Group, a network of artists, writers and critics, who delighted in ‘the pleasures of human intercourse and the enjoyment of beautiful things’.
Vanessa (1879-1961), who was one of the first abstract painters in Britain, married art critic and writer Clive Bell in 1907 and they continued to live in the house until 1916, while Virginia moved to Fitzroy Square and then Brunswick Square with her brother Adrian.
The ‘Bloomsberries’, as they were known, were notorious for their sexual entanglements, and have been referred to as ‘couples who live in squares and have triangular relationships’. The painter Duncan Grant had affairs with Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes and Virginia and Vanessa's brother Adrian before settling into a long liaison with Vanessa herself. From 1915 they lived virtually as man and wife, co-existing quite happily with her husband Clive Bell, who had many love affairs of his own.
Economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) moved into No. 46 with the Bells, and took over the lease in 1918, staying there for the rest of his life. He astonished his Bloomsbury friends by falling in love with, and marrying, Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova in 1925. This was despite his apparently low first opinion of her, commenting to a friend: "She's a rotten dancer - she has such a stiff bottom." They settled down together at No. 46 and she continued to live there for two more years after his death.
Another member of the group was Lytton Strachey (1880-1932), who lived at Nos 41 and 51. Strachey was a well-known historical biographer, who wrote Emminent Victorians and Elizabeth and Essex. So many members of the group were living in the square, that Lytton observed to Virginia Woolf:
"Very soon I foresee that the whole square will become a sort of college, and the rencontres in the garden I should shudder to think of."
In the 1960s, Strachey's biographer, Michael Holroyd, found an unpublished work of Strachey's on Warren Hastings in the cellar of the house. It then got thrown out by accident, leading to a tussle in the street between Holroyd and the dustmen.
In a memoir of old Bloomsbury, Virginia Woolf wrote of Gordon Square:
‘It was astonishing to stand at the drawing room window and look into all those trees; the tree which shoots its branches up into the air and lets them fall in a shower; the tree which glistens after the rain like the body of a seal.’
Across the square is Dr Williams' Library, built in Tudor Revival style in 1848. There is a blue plaque to Robert Travers Herford (1860-1950) on the wall, who lived and worked here from 1914 to 1925. A Unitarian minister, Herford was a pioneering scholar of Judaism and confronted some of the most deeply-rooted assumptions of anti-Semitism at a time when, in the build up to the Second World War, such matters were of much more than academic significance.
Christ Church, which adjoins the Library, contains an altarpiece by Sir Edward Burne-Jones in memory of Christina Rossetti, poet and sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Leave Gordon Square via the gate past the small café kiosk. Cross at the zebra crossing and enter Woburn Square, which has also recently been restored.
Woburn Square was laid out by the Duke of Bedford in the 1830s, and was named after his country estate at Woburn Abbey. The Green Man statue is by Lydia Kapinska.
Walk through Woburn Square, turn right outside the gate and continue along the pedestrian walkway into Torrington Square, which has been re-landscaped in contemporary style. Cross the road and walk to the right along the centre of the square. At the end is another view of Christ Church.
Turn back and walk up the square towards the University of London Senate Building, passing Birkbeck College on the right. Turn right at the end and leave the University precinct, turning left into Malet Street. Walk along to the zebra crossing outside the front of Senate House.
Much of the original building has disappeared, but the Georgian terrace containing number 30 remains. Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) lived here with two aunts from 1877 until she died, in great pain from cancer. She wrote many poems, including Goblin Market and the lyrics to the Christmas carol, In The Bleak Mid-Winter.
The Senate House served as the Ministry of Information during the Second World War. Its staff included many well-known writers, such as Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and Dorothy L. Sayers, and it became the model for the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's 1984.
Go over the zebra crossing in Malet Street, turn left and cross Keppel Street. Go past Malet Street Gardens on your right and turn right into Montague Place. Cross Gower Street at the traffic lights, cross again into the pedestrian zone around Bedford Square and stop opposite No. 13.
Walk round the square clockwise, keeping the garden on your right. Stop opposite No. 6.
Continue along to the corner of the square to No. 1.
Continue around the square to No. 53.
At the corner of the square, close to the junction with Adeline Place, look across the square to No. 35
Leave the square via Adeline Place and walk to Great Russell Street, crossing Bedford Avenue. Turn right at Great Russell Street and then left into Tottenham Court Road, where the walk ends at Tottenham Court Road underground station
Bedford Square is the finest surviving Georgian square in London, laid out between 1775 and 1780 as a show-piece for the next phase of the Bedford Estate. Despite the success of Bloomsbury Square, the Earls of Bedford had been slow to continue developing. The fourth duke eventually drew up the plans for Bedford Square, and after his death, his widow forged ahead with the building.
The square's architect, Thomas Leverton (1743-1824), lived at No. 13 from 1795 until his death. His design was notable for the ‘palace front’, used on each side to make the terraced houses look like a single country mansion, and was much copied.
No. 13 was also the birthplace of Sir Harry Ricardo (1885-1974), designer of advanced aircraft engines, who lived here until 1911. He had a workshop in the basement of the house where he built his first internal combustion engine at the age of 17.
Looking back to the corner of Gower Street, No. 11 was where natural philosopher Henry Cavendish (1731-1810) lived from 1786 until his death. He had a museum, a laboratory and a library of some 12,000 volumes in his house. He was so reclusive that he ordered his dinner by leaving a note on the hall table for his servants. His female staff were under threat of instant dismissal if ever he were to catch sight of them. He was also notoriously frugal; but, when he died, he left a fortune of almost one million pounds to his relatives.
No. 6 was home to the deeply unpopular Lord Eldon (1751-1838). He served as Lord Chancellor almost continuously from 1801 to 1827, and vigorously opposed all the great reforming causes of the day, such as the abolition of slavery and an end to using children as chimney sweeps. He also helped to pass the Corn Laws, which led to a huge rise in the price of bread, a staple item in the diet of the poor. In 1815 an enraged mob gathered outside his house and began to smash windows. Eldon met them on the doorstep, brandishing a shotgun, while Lady Eldon ran for help. Luckily for the rioters, Eldon was such a bad a shot that his brother Lord Stowell once declared that he had killed nothing but time.
At No. 1 lived Weedon Grossmith (1854-1919), who illustrated and, with his brother George, co-wrote the comic masterpiece The Diary of a Nobody, published in 1892. Their character, Charles Pooter, was ancestor to many of the comic characters we know today, such as Reggie Perrin, Basil Fawlty and David Brent.
Number 53 was home for nearly 20 years to Lewis Cubitt (1799-1883), brother of the master-builder Thomas Cubitt, and himself the original architect of King's Cross station. Lewis was in partnership with Thomas during the 1820s, and it is thought that a great many of the buildings in Bloomsbury and Belgravia were built to designs by Lewis.
At No. 52 the poet and future poet laureate Robert Bridges (1844-1930) lived with his mother while in his early thirties. He was then doctor at both the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children and Barts' casualty department, where he was expected to diagnose the ailments of more than 75 patients per hour. In 1881 he gave up medicine and left London for the country, to concentrate on writing poetry full-time.
No. 49 is where Ram Mohun Roy (1772-1833), a reformer and pioneer of Indian journalism, stayed in 1831 while in England to push for improvements to British rule in India. His involvement in the campaign against the practice of suttee, where widows were burnt on a pyre alongside the bodies of their dead husbands, led to the practice being outlawed in 1829.
Next door at No. 48, a Ladies' College was founded by Elisabeth Jesser Reid (1789-1866) in 1849. Just over 30 years later it became a School of the University of London, and in 1909 received a royal charter as Bedford College for Women. As well as being passionate about higher education for women, Reid was an ardent slavery abolitionist and in 1860 hosted Sarah Redmond, the first black woman to make a public lecture tour in Britain.
No. 44 was home to Lady Ottoline Morrell (1873-1938), famed for the many parties she held to court the leading artistic figures of the day. Henry James, Aldous Huxley, T.S. Eliot and D.H. Lawrence all came to her house, as well as members of the Bloomsbury Group. When she first met Eliot, she found him ‘dull, dull, dull’, but they became firm friends when they discovered a mutual love of music-halls, and visited many together. Ottoline was much ridiculed for her flamboyant style, with scarlet platform shoes, huge hats and elaborate costumes in highly coloured velvets and brocades.
At No. 42 architect William Butterfield (1814-1900) lived for the last years of his life. Butterfield was one of the leading lights of the Gothic Revival in Victorian architecture, and designed over 100 churches, as well as Keble College, Oxford. He was a ruthless perfectionist, who, when visiting stained glass workshops, would put his umbrella through any work he disliked.
Also at No. 42, critic and literary editor Cyril Connolly (1903-1974) lived in the top flat during the Second World War. He was famously greedy and lazy, preferring to spend the entire morning in bed and in his bath. He was also famously ugly, but apparently irresistible to women and he had many affairs. At the start of the London Blitz in 1940 he and some friends, who had arrived for tea, went up on the roof to watch an air raid, Connolly announcing: ‘It's a judgement on us. It's the end of capitalism.’
At number 41, novelist Anthony Hope Hawkins (1863-1933) lived from 1903 to 1917. He is better known as plain Anthony Hope, who moved here ten years after writing his swashbuckling thriller, The Prisoner of Zenda, in 1894.
Two well-known Victorian medical men lived at No. 35 at different times. Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866) was a doctor, reformer and philanthropist who identified the glandular disease which is named after him. He campaigned against oppression of indigenous peoples, and was one of the founders of the Aborigines' Protection Society in 1838. He also did a lot of work to help London's poor, in particular persecuted Jews, often treating his poorer patients free of charge.
Also resident here was Thomas Wakley (1795-1862), who as well as being a doctor was also an MP, coroner and reformer. He founded Britain's leading medical journal The Lancet in 1823, which promoted medical reform, and introduced legislation in 1860 which outlawed the adulteration of food and drink. As a coroner, Wakley insisted on establishing the cause of all sudden or suspicious deaths, particularly among the poor, and exposing employers' negligence or mistreatment of their workers.
At No. 31, Sir Edwin Lutyens lived from 1914 to 1919, after he left Bloomsbury Square. While here, he became architect to the Imperial War Graves Commission and designed the Cenotaph in Whitehall as a memorial to all those who died in the First World War.
This walk was produced by the London Parks & Gardens Trust, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage.
With thanks to the Blue Plaques team at English Heritage.
Care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of information on this page, which is offered in good faith. No responsibility can be accepted for changes that may have occurred since going to press.
|Work||Author / publisher|
|Blue Plaques team||English Heritage|
|The Register of Parks and Gardens||English Heritage|
|London Inventory of Historic Green Spaces||London Parks & Gardens Trust|
|The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography|
|Open Garden Squares Weekend event guide||London Parks & Gardens Trust|
|A short history of London's Garden Squares||London Parks & Gardens Trust|
|London 2000 years of a city and its people||Barker and Jackson (1994)|
|Secret London||Andrew Duncan (1998)|
|Walking London||Andrew Duncan (1991)|
|Who's Who in British History||Juliet Gardiner (ed) (2000)|
|The London Compendium||Ed Glinert (2003)|
|A Literary Guide to London||Ed Glinert (2000)|
|Walking Haunted London||Richard Jones (1999)|
|London A Social History||Roy Porter (1994)|
|The London Blue Plaque Guide||Nick Rennison (1999)|
|Track the Plaque||Derek Sumeray (2003)|
|Walking Literary London||Roger Tagholm (2001)|
|Bloomsbury Past||Richard Tames (1993)|