Bainbridge Street, WC1A

Place Name

Despite its illustrious Georgian beginnings this street was once the heart of a notorious slum called the St Giles’s Rookery, which covered an area largely contained by Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury Street (then Charlotte Street), Broad Street and St Giles High Street. The street, is named after Henry Bainbridge, its 17thCentury landowner. It was described by Henry Mayhew as “some of the most intricate and dangerous places in this low locality.” Bainbridge is believed to have bought some, if not all of the land upon which he built his estate and had once formed the outskirts of the St Giles Leper hospital, from John Barbor alias Grigg around 1649. Before that it is thought to have been owned by Sir John Dudley who had been given it by Henry VIII in the 1530s after dissolving the monastery as part of his land grab against the church. By 1672 the street had been laid out, though within less than a hundred years the area was in rapid decline. Residents of the Rookery complained to The Times in 1849: “We live in muck and filth. We aint got no priviz, no dust bins, no drains, no water-splies, and no drain or suer in the hole place.” Peter Ackroyd writes: “The Rookeries embodied the worst living conditions in all of London’s history; this was the lowest point which human beings could reach.” From the 1830s to the 1870s plans were developed to demolish the slum as part of London wide clearances for improved transport routes, sanitation and the expansion of the railways. The coming of New Oxford Street in the 1840s saw many of the old streets swept away and those that remained largely had their names changed, though it wasn’t until the 20thCentury that the area was completely redeveloped. Local streets were also named after Bainbridge’s three granddaughters, Dame Mary Maynard, Sara Buckeridge and Jane Dyott (Maynard Street, Buckeridge Street and Dyott Street) of which only Dyott Street survives.

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