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A Short History of London's Garden Squares

1800 to 1850

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Following war and economic recession, another building boom began in the 1820s. Most of London's squares were built during this time. The leading developer of the Regency and early Victorian era was Thomas Cubitt. In 1820 he began work on the Duke of Grosvenor's estate, the marshy waste of Belgravia and Pimlico, using spoil from the excavation of St Katharine's Dock to raise the land.

Between 1820 and 1835, Cubitt built the houses and designed and planted the gardens of many squares, establishing his own nursery specifically for the purpose. In some cases, the gardens were planted several years before the surrounding houses were built.

The main area for the development of squares until now had been to the west of the city. With the building of Southwark, Vauxhall and Waterloo Bridges, speculative development in Lambeth and Southwark took off too.

In Islington, Canonbury Square in 1800 was the first of many. In the 1840s work started on the Southampton Estate in Camden, and new squares were created on the eastern and southern fringes of London, such as De Beauvoir Square in Hackney and Addington Square in Camberwell.

Privacy was very important to the Victorians, and squares at this time became increasingly secluded by planting. Most had an outer belt of mainly evergreen trees and shrubs, with grass at the centre divided by winding paths and set with flower beds, ornamental trees and shrubs.

The eminent Victorian garden writer and horticulturalist, John Claudius Loudon, recommended many plants which could tolerate London's heavy air pollution, such as planes, almonds and sycamore. He drew up a plan for estate development in which 'town' and 'country' zones alternated with one another, an idea which was put into practice by Thomas Allason in his 1823 design for the Ladbroke Estate in Notting Hill.

The Ladbroke Estate, built in the 1840s, showed a new type of garden layout. Houses faced on to the street, opening at the back directly on to communal gardens.

When is a square not a square?

Most squares are surrounded on four sides by a square or rectangle of roads lined with buildings, but the gardens are rarely square. Circles, ovals, octagons, crescents and semi-circles are common. Grosvenor Square is oval, Bedford Square is circular and Charterhouse Square is pentagonal.

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