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A Short History of London's Garden Squares

1850 to 1900

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The increasing demand for privacy meant that after 1850 the garden square in its old form declined. As in Notting Hill, the houses of the new Gunter and Hyde Park Estates opened directly on to communal gardens.

As London expanded, the preservation of green space became more important, but many of the older squares were deteriorating. Much public money was spent on saving squares from property developers, such as Albert, Ford and Sidney Squares in Stepney. 

The Gardens in Towns Protection Act of 1863 allowed local authorities to take over maintenance of neglected squares, and several were rescued and opened to the public under the Act.

The Metropolitan Public Gardens Association (MPGA), founded in 1882 to preserve small areas of urban open land, rescued many of the older squares, improving them and opening them up to the public. 

The first square to be leased to the MPGA was Ebury Square in Pimlico, which opened in 1884. Many others followed, including Canonbury Square, Wilmington and Northampton Squares in Clerkenwell, and Trafalgar Gardens, De Beauvoir Square and Albion Square in the East End.

The Architecture of Squares

Covent Garden, designed by Inigo Jones in the new Italian classical manner, made a distinct break with Tudor and Stuart architecture and set the style for the architecture of squares for the next 200 years. In Bloomsbury and Islington, the tradition of building terraces of medium-sized, classically detailed houses carried on until the mid-19th century.

At Bedford Square (right), designed by Thomas Leverton in 1775, the houses were united behind a continuous 'palace front', making the terrace look like a large country house. Thomas Cubitt used this style extensively in Belgravia, with rows of huge houses in the classical 'palace front' tradition. Red brick and stucco were the main materials used in Georgian squares, although the stucco was not painted as it is now. 

In Victorian times, a more relaxed style developed, with detached or paired villas in classical style arranged around a central space, as in St Peter's Square (right).

The Victorians also used a wider range of architectural styles, including Jacobean, Queen Anne and Tudor Gothic, such as the houses at Lonsdale Square in Islington (right).

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