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After the Great Fire of London in 1666, landowners were fearful of rebuilding the city as the overcrowded space it once was. As a result, larger open spaces were created in the West of London, creating the city’s first suburbs. Originally known as Southampton Square; Bloomsbury Square as we know it today was developed by the 4th Earl of Southampton in the late 17th Century, making it one of London’s earliest Squares. Sadly none of these original houses survive today. It is thought that the origin of the name ‘Bloomsbury’ goes back even further in London’s history to 1201, deriving from the name Blemondisberi, after the Norman land owner William de Blemond.
Southampton Square. Courtesy of the Camden.gov archives.
The offices at 21 Bloomsbury Square lie on the site of Southampton House, the house built by the Earl of Southampton, which spanned the entire Northern side of the square, extending to where the outer buildings of the British Museum lie today. The current office space is located in what were once the large gardens in front of the house. There were also extensive ponds and farmland to the north of the residence, which can be seen on maps of the time.
Bloomsbury Square Garden. Courtesy of the Camden.gov archives.
The property then passed into the hands of the Russel family, the Dukes of Bedford, who renamed it, Bedford House. The estate continued to develop the area surrounding the property, turning the address into a desirable upper-middle class suburb, admired for its clean air, refined architecture and central garden for private residents.
Bloomsbury Square. Courtesy of the British History archives.
The London Garden Trust explains how squares like Bloomsbury square were London’s first suburbs. These suburbs became popular amongst the wealthy who feared the cramped conditions of inner London. This fear was largely due to the devastating effects of the Great Plague and the Great Fire, which made more spacious areas more attractive to live in in the aftermath. Visit the London Garden Trust for an audio walk through of Bloomsbury Square.
Bloomsbury Square. Courtesy of London Garden Trust
The popularity of the Square among the upper classes lessened and Bedford House was demolished around the turn of the 19th Century. The site was rapidly redeveloped and replaced by two separate terrace blocks of five houses, making way for Bedford Place between them, where 21 Bloomsbury Square lies today. Its proximity to the Inns of Court and the city’s major hospital meant that it soon attracted middle-class professionals, including future Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.
The residents of Bloomsbury Square changed again in the mid-19th Century as the buildings began to house firms, foundations and institutions. By this time, most of the original Bedford Estate had disappeared to make way for these new office spaces. The first of its kind was the neighbouring number 17, which became home to the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, established in 1841. In 1875, number 23 became the location of the Metropolitan and National Nursing Association. Later, next door at number 20, Gertrude Stein made her home briefly in 1902.
Gertrude Stein. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
The new reputation of the square as a creative centre was cemented in the early 20th Century by the Bloomsbury Group. This group of writers, intellectuals and artists, included Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster who met in their private homes in the Bloomsbury area. Nearby in Gower Street also, the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood was established in John Millais’s family home.
The Bloomsbury Group. Courtesy of the Tate archives.
During the Second World War, the railings to the private gardens were removed to be melted down and make armaments enabling the gardens to become a public space. Today, Bloomsbury Square remains a focal point for London’s medical and artistic history.
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 Bloomsbury Square at number 21 that’s ready for you to enjoy.