History of 20 Bedford Square

Originally designed to be called ‘Bedford Circus,’ to mirror the King’s Circus in Bath; the site of Bedford Square was acquired by Thomas Wriothesley after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1545. As with Bloomsbury Square; the land gradually passed into the Southampton family and finally onto the Duke of Bedford. Bedford Square is one of the several large estates developed in the late 17th Century, designed to include a private central garden for residents.

bedford square 1913

Bedford Square, 1913. Courtesy of the London Metropolitan Archives via Yalebooks.

The building of the square began in 1775; the site had remained as marsh land shortly before this. Bedford Square is the only remaining complete Georgian Square in London and is considered a jewel in London’s domestic architectural history. Each side was designed and built as a single block of buildings which includes a central feature with stucco and pilasters. The exteriors maintain a look of uniformity as each block has a white-fronted building in the middle to create the impression of a palace along the entire side of the square.

bedford square white central buildings

Central square building. Courtesy of BDonline.

The symmetry of the design was highly praised at the time of its completion in 1783, as were the central gardens, which were planted with pine trees offering a picturesque effect. Today buildings 1-54 are Grade I listed.

The square was designed as a haven for the wealthy upper middle classes. In 1805 the rent was just £13,800 but within a year this quickly rose to £17,242 due to the popularity of the newly developed surrounding Squares. The square was gated until 1893 and goods had to be hand-delivered. A prospective tenant was required to have their lease signed by two duchesses and residents were forbidden to behave in any manner which might upset or offend the duchesses; the later rule is still enforced to this day.

Diana Russel duchess of bedford

Diana Russell, Duchess of Bedford. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The square has become a hub for science, education and humanities. Social reformer and anti-slavery activist Elizabeth Jesser Reid leased the house at number 47 to provide liberal and non-sectarian education for women. The address became home to the first higher education college for women in 1849. The college moved premises after merging with Royal Holloway College. Today, next door to number 20 Bedford Square is the New College of the Humanities, a private college established in 2010.

Elizabeth Jesser Reid bedford square college

Bedford College For Women University of London. Courtesy of Plaques of London.

Bedford Square has also attracted the scientific community. Henry Cavendish, known for his discovery of hydrogen, lived at number 11. Another famous resident at number 35 was the English physician Thomas Hodgkin, best known for being first to record the lymphoma and blood disease named after him.

Thomas Hodgkin bedford square

Thomas Hodgkin. Courtesy of the BBC.

Today Bedford Square houses several publishing companies. Among them is Bloomsbury Publishing, most famous for publishing the Harry Potter series, residing in houses 49-51. Yale University Press also has an office nearby at number 47, whose aim is to contribute to a global understanding of human affairs through their works.

Each area of London has its unique history that’s waiting to be discovered and it’s always something we look out for when choosing an office location. We currently have an office on Bedford Square at number 20 that’s ready for you to enjoy.

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