Bedford Place, WC1A


The dukes of Bedford owned Bloomsbury, including a town house called Bedford House, from around 1669. The estate had previously belonged to Thomas Wriothesley, later the Earl of Southampton, who acquired it from Henry VIII at the dissolution of the monasteries in 1545. It was Wriothesley’s descendants that started developing the area, laying out Bloomsbury Square and Bloomsbury Place. The Southampton title became extinct and the estate passed to the Russells, the family name of the dukes of Bedford, through the marriage of Rachel (née Wriothesley), daughter of the 4th Earl of Southampton, to William, Lord Russell, the heir of the first Duke of Bedford. Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford (July 23, 1765 – March 2, 1802), is the most likely contender for this street name, as it was he and his grandmother, the widow of the 4th Duke, Gertrude Leveson-Gower that were the main instigators of this development. The Duke, having had Bedford House demolished, commissioned the prolific Regency/Georgian builder James Burton, to lay out this street on its site as part of a wider redevelopment project, in 1801. Camden History Society says that much of this development was in the form of “wide streets and grand squares fit for gentry”. Donald Olsen in 1984 described it as “the systematic transformation of the pastures of northern Bloomsbury into a restricted upper-middle class suburb”. The estate also did much for the betterment of the area. Olsen goes on: “In 1854 the Duke had made at his own expense sewers in Tavistock Mews, Great Russell Street, Little Russell Street, Gilbert Street, and Rose Street. The Bedfords were also engaged in a programme of installing water closets in the houses on its property, and connecting them with the new sewers, as required by law… In a letter to the Lancet that year the physician to the Bloomsbury Dispensary praised the Duke’s sanitary projects, and attributed to them the mildness of the recent cholera epidemic on his estate.” In 1895, the Duke installed a lawn tennis court on waste ground north of Tavistock Place North for some of the local tenants. A lesson in good estate management, in 1880 the estate took down blocks of houses it didn’t believe suitable for dwelling houses, and widened streets to make way for institutions or factories. In 1898 and 1899 the stables in Southampton and Montague Mews were demolished and the site landscaped. According to Olsen, the Duke had “similar plans for Tavistock and Woburn Mews (east of Woburn Place) before he decided to sell the property to the London County Council for a housing scheme.” Given the size and stock of the housing in the Bloomsbury estate, unlike the neighbouring areas west and south of the estate, the former St Giles’s leper hospital, it didn’t have any slums. As the area became more popular however, the Bedford estate fought to preserve its genteel residential character, which according to Olsen found itself “with the task of preventing, or at least discouraging, the conversion of dwelling houses into private hotels, boarding houses, institutions, offices, and shops”. It didn’t have much success though. By the mid-19thCentury, many of the huge houses had been converted to private hotels, and by 1890 earlier measures the estate had taken up to separate it from traffic and pedestrians such as lodges, gates and residents’ tickets of entry were removed by an Act of Parliament.

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