Bloomsbury is a district in the West End of London. It is considered a fashionable residential area, and is the location of numerous cultural, intellectual, and educational institutions. Neighbouring areas include Fitzrovia to the west, Covent Garden to the south, St. Pancras to the north, Holborn and Clerkenwell to the east.
Bloomsbury is home of the British Museum, the largest museum in the United Kingdom, and several educational institutions, including University College London and a number of other colleges and institutes of the University of London as well as its central headquarters, the New College of the Humanities, the University of Law, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Syracuse University Abroad, and many others. Bloomsbury is an intellectual and literary hub for London, as home of world-known Bloomsbury Publishing, publishers of the Harry Potter series, and namesake of the Bloomsbury Set, a group of British intellectuals which included author Virginia Woolf, biographer Lytton Strachey, and economist John Maynard Keynes.
Bloomsbury began to be developed in the 17th century under the Earls of Southampton, but it was primarily in the 19th century, under the Duke of Bedford, that the district was planned and built as an affluent Regency era residential area by famed developer James Burton. The district is known for its numerous garden squares, including Bloomsbury Square, Russell Square, and Tavistock Square, Mecklenburgh Square, among others.
Origins and etymology
The vicinity is first described in a charter of 959; the charter describes the bounds of a manor (estate) stretching from the River Tyburn to the Fleet, and referring to the "old wooden church of St Andrew", in Holborn, while a further charter of 1002 describes an extended manor which extended further north. The geographical description, the reference to St Andrews church, Holborn and other details suggest that the extended estate was the origin for the manors of Holborn and perhaps also Tottenham Court, both described in the Domesday Book in 1086.
The area appears to have been a part of the parish, and perhaps also the manor, of Holborn when St Giles hospital was established in the early 1100s.
The earliest record of the name, Bloomsbury, is as Blemondisberi in 1281. It is named after a member of the Blemund family who held the manor. There are older records relating to the family in London in 1201 and 1230. Their name, Blemund, derives from Blemont, a place in Vienne, in western France.
An 1878 publication, Old and New London: Volume 4, mentions the idea that the area was named after a village called "Lomesbury" which formerly stood where Bloomsbury Square is now, though this etymology is now discredited.
The area was part of the Ancient Parish of St Giles, served by the church of St Giles in the Fields. Some sources indicate that the parish was in place before 1222 while others suggest 1547. From 1597 onwards, English parishes were obliged to take on a civil as well as ecclesiastical role, starting with the relief of the poor.
In 1731 a small new independent parish of Bloomsbury was created, based on a small area round Bloomsbury Square. In 1774 these parishes recombined, for civil purposes, to form the parish of St Giles in the Fields and St George Bloomsbury – which had the same boundaries as the initial parish of St Giles.
The area of the combined civil parish was used for the St Giles District, established under the Metropolis Management Act 1855. This body managed certain infrastructure functions, while the civil parish continued with its responsibilities until the abolishment of the Poor Law in 1930, however it was not formally abolished until the creation of Greater London in 1965.
In 1900 the area of the St Giles District merged with Holborn District (excluding those parts of Finsbury Division which had been temporarily attached to Holborn) to form a new Metropolitan Borough of Holborn. The traditional boundaries of St Giles and Bloomsbury were used for wards in the new borough, though these were subject to minor rationalisations to reflect the modern street pattern rather than the historic basis of the older streets and pre-urban field boundaries. The combined civil parish continued to operate, in parallel, for a considerable time after.
The formal historic boundaries of the combined parish of St Giles and Bloomsbury (as adjusted in some places to reflect the modern street pattern) include Tottenham Court Road to the west, Torrington Place (formerly known, in part, as Francis Street) to the north, the borough boundary to the south and Kenton Street and both sides of Southampton Road to the west.
Bloomsbury no longer has official boundaries and is subject to varying informal definitions, based for convenience, on a quadrangle of streets. The western boundary of Tottenham Court Road is common to all and a northern limit of Euston Road is often understood, though Coram's Fields and the land to the north, consisting mainly of blocks of flats, built as both private and social housing, is often considered part of St Pancras (which includes King's Cross) rather than north-eastern Bloomsbury. The northern part of the informal quadrangular definitions are traditionally part of the parish and borough of St Pancras.
The eastern boundary is sometimes taken to be in the region of Southampton Road or further east on Grays Inn Road. The southern extent is taken to approximates to High Holborn or the thoroughfare formed by New Oxford Street, Bloomsbury Way and Theobalds Road.
On the west side, the traditional and various informal definitions of the area are all based on the ancient Tottenham Court Road. The differences between the formal and more recent understandings of the area seem to derive from Bloomsbury having been commonly misconceived as being coterminous with the Bedford Estate.
In the early 1660s, the Earl of Southampton, who held the manors of St Giles and Bloomsbury, constructed what eventually became Bloomsbury Square. The Yorkshire Grey public house on the corner of Gray's Inn Road and Theobald's Road dates from 1676. The estate passed to the Russell family following the marriage of William Russell, Lord Russell (1639–1683) (third son of William Russell, 1st Duke of Bedford) to Rachel Wriothesley, heiress of Bloomsbury, younger of the two daughters and co-heiresses of Thomas Wriothesley, 4th Earl of Southampton (1607-1667). Rachel's son and heir was Wriothesley Russell, 2nd Duke of Bedford (1680–1711), of Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, whose family also owned Covent Garden, south of Bloomsbury, acquired by them at the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The area was laid out mainly in the 18th century, largely by Wriothesley Russell, 3rd Duke of Bedford, who built Bloomsbury Market, which opened in 1730. The major development of the squares that we see today started in about 1800 when Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford demolished Bedford House and developed the land to the north with Russell Square as its centrepiece. Much is still owned today by the Bedford Estate in trust for the Russell family.
The area is bisected north to south by the main road Southampton Row/Woburn Place, which has several large tourist hotels and links Tavistock Square and Russell Square – the district's focal points. The road runs from Euston Road in the north to High Holborn in the south.
The area west of Southampton Row/Woburn Place is notable for its concentration of academic establishments, museums, and formal squares. Here are the British Museum and the central departments and colleges of the University of London, including Birkbeck College, University College London, the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the University of London's School of Advanced Study. The main north–south road in west Bloomsbury is Gower Street which is a one-way street running south from Euston Road towards Shaftesbury Avenue in Covent Garden, becoming Bloomsbury Street when it passes to the west of the British Museum. East of Southampton Row/Woburn Place (an area not always described as part of Bloomsbury) are the Grade II listed Brunswick Centre, a residential and shopping centre, and Coram's Fields children's recreation area. The area to the south is generally less residential, containing several hospitals, including Great Ormond Street, and gradually becomes more commercial in character as it approaches Holborn at Theobald's Road. For street name etymologies see Street names of Bloomsbury.
Historically, Bloomsbury is associated with the arts, education, and medicine. The area gives its name to the Bloomsbury Group of artists, among whom was Virginia Woolf, who met in private homes in the area in the early 1900s, and to the lesser known Bloomsbury Gang of Whigs formed in 1765 by John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford. The publisher Faber & Faber used to be located in Queen Square, though at the time T. S. Eliot was editor the offices were in Tavistock Square. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in John Millais's parents' house on Gower Street in 1848.
The Bloomsbury Festival was launched in 2006 when local resident Roma Backhouse was commissioned to mark the re-opening of the Brunswick Centre, a residential and shopping area. The free festival is a celebration of the local area, partnering with galleries, libraries and museums, and achieved charitable status at the end of 2012. As of 2013, the Duchess of Bedford is a festival patron and Cathy Mager is the Festival Director.
Bloomsbury is home to Senate House and the main library of the University of London, Birkbeck College, Institute of Education, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, School of Pharmacy, School of Oriental and African Studies, and the Royal Veterinary College and University College London (with the Slade School of Fine Art), a branch of the University of Law, London Contemporary Dance School, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and Goodenough College. Other colleges include the University of London's School of Advanced Study, the Architectural Association School of Architecture in Bedford Square, and the London campuses of several American colleges including Arcadia University, the University of California, University of Delaware, Florida State University, Syracuse University, New York University, and the Hult International Business School.
Also different kinds of tutoring institutions like Bloomsbury International for English Language, Bloomsbury Law Tutors for law education, Skygate Tutors and Topmark Tutors Centre contributing to grow the private tutoring sector in Bloomsbury.
The British Museum, which first opened to the public in 1759 in Montagu House, is at the heart of Bloomsbury. At the centre of the museum the space around the former British Library Reading Room, which was filled with the concrete storage bunkers of the British Library, is today the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court, an indoor square with a glass roof designed by British architect Norman Foster. It houses displays, a cinema, a shop, a cafe and a restaurant. Since 1998, the British Library has been located in a purpose-built building just outside the northern edge of Bloomsbury, in Euston Road.
Also in Bloomsbury is the Foundling Museum, close to Brunswick Square, which tells the story of the Foundling Hospital opened by Thomas Coram for unwanted children in Georgian London. The hospital, now demolished except for the Georgian colonnade, is today a playground and outdoor sports field for children, called Coram's Fields. It is also home to a small number of sheep. The nearby Lamb's Conduit Street is a pleasant thoroughfare with shops, cafes and restaurants.
The Postal Museum is on 15-20 Phoenix Place.
Bloomsbury contains several notable churches:
- St. George's Church, Bloomsbury, located on Bloomsbury Way. This is Bloomsbury's own parish church, and was built by Nicholas Hawksmoor between 1716 and 1731. It has a deep Roman porch with six huge Corinthian columns, and is notable for its steeple based on the Tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus and for the statue of King George I on the top.
- St Giles in the Fields, also known as the Poet's Church. The current church building was built in the Palladian style in 1733.
- The Early English Neo-Gothic Church of Christ the King on Gordon Square. It was designed for the Irvingites by Raphael Brandon in 1853. Since 10 June 1954 it has been a Grade I listed building.
- St Pancras New Church, near Euston station. This church was completed in 1822, and is notable for the caryatids on north and south which are based on the "porch of the maidens" from the Temple of the Erechtheum.
- The church of St George the Martyr Holborn, in Queen Square was built 1703–06, and was where Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath married on Bloomsday in 1956.
- Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in Shaftesbury Avenue, is the central church of the Baptist denomination. It was opened in 1848, having been built by Sir Samuel Moreton Peto MP, one of the great railway contractors of the age.
Parks and squares
Bloomsbury contains some of London's finest parks and buildings, and is particularly known for its formal squares. These include:
- Russell Square, a large and orderly square; its gardens were originally designed by Humphry Repton. Russell Square Underground station is a short distance away.
- Bedford Square, built between 1775 and 1783, is still surrounded by Georgian town houses.
- Bloomsbury Square has a small circular garden surrounded by Georgian buildings.
- Queen Square, home to the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.
- Gordon Square, surrounded by the history and archaeology departments of University College London, as well as the former home of John Maynard Keynes, the economist. This is where the Bloomsbury Group lived and met.
- Woburn Square, home to other parts of University College London. Named after Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, the main seat of the Dukes of Bedford.
- Torrington Square, home to other parts of University College London. Named after Hon. Georgiana Byng, daughter of George Byng, 4th Viscount Torrington, and wife of John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford (1766-1839).
- Tavistock Square, home to the British Medical Association; its eastern edge was the site of one of the 7 July 2005 London bombings. Named after Tavistock Abbey in Devon, granted to the Russell family at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and after which they took the title Marquess of Tavistock, since held as a courtesy title by the eldest son and heir apparent of the Duke of Bedford.
- Mecklenburgh Square, east of Coram's Fields, one of the few squares which remains locked for the use of local residents. Named after the mother of King George IV.
- Coram's Fields, a large recreational space on the eastern edge of the area, formerly home to the Foundling Hospital. It is only open to children and to adults accompanying children.
- Brunswick Square, now occupied by the School of Pharmacy and the Foundling Museum. Named after the wife of King George IV.
Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (formerly the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital) are both located on Great Ormond Street, off Queen Square, which itself is home to the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (formerly the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases). Bloomsbury is also the location of University College Hospital, which re-opened in 2005 in new buildings on Euston Road, built under the government's private finance initiative (PFI). The Eastman Dental Hospital is located on Gray's Inn Road close to the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital administered by the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust.
Administration and representation
In February 2010, businesses were balloted on an expansion of the InHolborn Business Improvement District (BID) to include the southern part of Bloomsbury. Only businesses with a rateable value in excess of £60,000 could vote as only these would pay the BID levy. This expansion of the BID into Bloomsbury was supported by Camden Council. The proposal was passed and part of Bloomsbury was brought within the InHolborn BID.
Controversy was raised during this BID renewal when InHolborn proposed collecting Bloomsbury, St Giles and Holborn under the name of "Midtown", since it was seen as "too American". Businesses were informed about the BID proposals, but there was little consultation with residents or voluntary organisations. InHolborn produced a comprehensive business plan aimed at large businesses. Bloomsbury is now part of InMidtown BID with its 2010 to 2015 business plan and a stated aim to make the area "a quality environment In which to work and live, a vibrant area to visit, and a profitable place in which to do business".
Several London railway stations serve Bloomsbury. There are three London Underground stations in Bloomsbury:
King's Cross St. Pancras station offers step-free access to all lines, whilst Euston Square offers step-free access to the westbound platform. Other stations nearby include: Euston, Warren Street, Goodge Street, Tottenham Court Road, Holborn and Chancery Lane. There is a disused station in Bloomsbury on the Piccadilly line at the British Museum.
There are also three National Rail stations to the north of Bloomsbury:
Several bus stops can be found in Bloomsbury. All buses passing through Bloomsbury call at bus stops on Russell Square, Gower Street or Tottenham Court Road. Several key London destinations can be reached from Bloomsbury directly, including: Camden Town, Greenwich, Hampstead Heath, Piccadilly Circus, Victoria, and Waterloo. Euston bus station is to the north of Bloomsbury.
Bloomsbury's road network links the district to several destinations across London. Key routes nearby include:
- the A40 (Bloomsbury Way/High Holborn) - eastbound to Clerkenwell (via A401), Holborn Circus and Bank; westbound to Oxford Circus and Marble Arch
- the A400 (Gower St./Bloomsbury St.) - northbound to Camden Town, Holloway (via A503) and Archway; southbound to Trafalgar Square
- the A4200 (Southampton Row/Woburn Pl.) - northbound to Euston and Camden Town; southbound to Aldwych
- the A501 Inner Ring Road (Euston Rd.) - eastbound towards King's Cross and Angel; westbound to Regent's Park and Marylebone
The London Borough of Camden measures roadside air quality in Bloomsbury. In 2017, average Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels recorded in Bloomsbury significantly exceeded the UK National Objective for cleaner air, set at 40μg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre).
|Location||NO2 concentration (μg/m3)|
|Euston Road (Automatic)||83|
Several cycle routes cross Bloomsbury, with cycling infrastructure provided and maintained by both the London Borough of Camden and Transport for London (TfL). Many routes across Bloomsbury feature segregated cycle tracks or bus lanes for use by cyclists. Additionally, Bloomsbury is connected to the wider London cycle network via several routes, including:
- Quietway 1 (Q1) - Running on segregated cycle track or residential streets, Q1 carries cyclists on an unbroken, signposted cycle route from Covent Garden, via Bloomsbury, to King's Cross and Kentish Town. The route is carried south–north through Bloomsbury on Bury Place, Montague Street, Montague Place, Malet Street, Tavistock Place, and Judd Street.
- Quietway 2 (Q2) - Running on segregated cycle track or residential streets, Q2 carries cyclists on an unbroken, signposted cycle route from Bloomsbury to Walthamstow. In Bloomsbury, the route begins to the east of Russell Square, leaving the area eastbound on Guildford Street. En route to Walthamstow, Q2 passes through Angel, Islington, London Fields and Hackney Central. TfL proposes that Q2 will head west from Bloomsbury in the future, towards East Acton.
- Cycle Superhighway 6 (CS6) - CS6 passes to the east of Bloomsbury, via Judd Street, Tavistock Place and Regent's Square. To the north, CS6 terminates at King's Cross. To the south, CS6 passes through Farringdon, Ludgate Circus and Blackfriars en route to Elephant and Castle.
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- Mary Anne Everett Green (1818–1895), Calenderer of State Papers, author of Lives of the Princesses of England, mother of Evelyn Everett-Green, a prolific 19th-century novelist.
- Philip Hardwick (1792–1870) and Philip Charles Hardwick (1822–1892), father and son, architects, lived at 60 Russell Square for over ten years.
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