West Square

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Coordinates: 51°29′43″N 0°6′20″W / 51.49528°N 0.10556°W / 51.49528; -0.10556

The house in which the chemist J. A. R. Newlands was born and raised, in West Square
The blue plaque on the house in which Newlands was born and raised, in West Square, was installed by the Royal Society of Chemistry
The Imperial War Museum, next to West Square

West Square is a historic square in south London, England, just south from St George's Road. The square is within the London Borough of Southwark, but as it is located in postcode SE11, it is commonly said to be in Lambeth.


Immediately to the west is the Imperial War Museum (formerly the Bethlem Royal Hospital). To the south is the Imperial War Museum Annex (which used to be an orphans' home) in Austral Street.

The terraced houses in the square surround a communal garden that is open to the public during the day but locked at night. The square forms part of a larger conservation area.


West Square has the following entry in Volume XXV of the Survey of London, published in 1955 by the then London County Council.[citation needed]

“The largest of the several plots of ground in St George's Fields which belonged in the mid-18th century to Henry Bartelote and then to the West family was the close lying south of St George's Road, between Moulton's Close (the Imperial War Museum) and the ground belonging to Hayle's estate.— Colonel Temple West died in 1784, leaving his freehold estate in St George's Fields to his wife Jane during her life, and after her death, to his eldest son, Temple, in tail male. They were empowered to make leases of up to 99 years, and in 1791 they granted building leases of the side of West Square to Thomas Kendall and James Hedger [see below]. Most of the houses on the north, east and west sides of the square were completed and occupied by 1794, and the majority still remain; they are nearly all three-storied. Nos, 25-28 on the south side, built a few years later, are a storey higher. These have rectangular patterned door fanlights. The houses on the west side of the square are grouped formally; the two centre houses, which are surmounted by a pediment, and those adjoining them on either side, are set forward slightly as are the two houses at each end of the terrace. The open space in the centre of the square is now maintained by Southwark Borough Council.

The Telegraph Tower, in 1810

In 1812, the Admiralty erected a tower on No. 36, on the east side of the square, for the shutter telegraph apparatus used to convey messages between Whitehall and New Cross, and thence to and from Chatham and Sheerness. [The accompanying print suggests that this was a wooden, four-storey structure and — incidentally — that Nos. 36 and 37 were originally surmounted by a pediment matching that on the west side of the square.] Robert Barker (1739–1806), who painted panoramas and exhibited them in Leicester Square, erected a round wooden building for his work in West Square. He lived at No. 14 from 1799 to 1806, and his widow continued to occupy the house after his death. His son Henry, who assisted him in painting the panoramas, lived at No. 13 from 1802, when he married the daughter of William Bligh, commander of the Bounty, until 1824 [Bligh himself lived for a period along Lambeth Road]. No. 15 was occupied in 1804–09 by Henry Perkins (1778–1855), book collector and a partner in the firm of Barclay, Perkins, brewers.

James Hedger (see above) occupied a house in South (now Austral) Street. He had a garden on the west side extending along the back of West Square, and mews and stables on the opposite side of the street. His son James lived in the square at No. 45 from 1808 until his death in 1812, when he was succeeded by his brother Robert. Another brother, William, occupied No. 31 from 1807 until 1819."

In the 1800s, the square was used to house some staff at the Bethlehem Royal Hospital (now the Imperial War Museum). In addition, there were Steward's Quarters in the north-east corner of the Hospital grounds. King Edward's Schools (closed and demolished in the 1930s) occupied the eastern side, together with an area of drying posts. The whole eastern side of the old Hospital grounds is now given over to sports facilities.

J. A. R. Newlands (1837–1898), the Victorian chemist who discovered the Periodic Law for the chemical elements, was born and raised in No. 19. A blue plaque, installed by the Royal Society of Chemistry, commemorates Newlands on the front of the house.

In 1884–5, the Charlotte Sharman School was built on the north-west side, named after its founder, a Christian philanthropist. Construction of the school — which is still located there — required the demolition of some thirty houses.[1] Part of the site is now occupied by the Siobhan Davies Dance Centre.

As a young child, Charlie Chaplin (1889–1977) lived at 39 West Square for a short period. He later recalled:[2]

West Square! At the back of the Bedlam Lunatic Asylum. This is as far back as I can remember as a child. It was there, somewhere around the age of three, we lived in a large house.

At the end of the 19th century, the garden in the square was threatened with building development, but there was a campaign to keep it. In 1909, the freehold was bought for some £4,000 by the London County Council and the Metropolitan Borough of Southwark. They enlarged and restored the garden, which was then opened for public use in 1910. The Metropolitan Public Gardens Association's landscape gardener Madeline Agar laid out the gardens and restored the earlier 1813 cruciform layout.[3] The square was scheduled to protect it under the London Squares Preservation Act 1931. However, after the Second World War, it was proposed that the buildings should be demolished and the area added to Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park. This was blocked by the Civic Amenities Act 1967 and instead the square became a conservation area.

The terrace of five houses in the north-west corner of the square were demolished c1970, and replaced by modern town houses designed to blend in with the original Georgian architecture (the corner house had at one point been converted into a pub, The City Arms). The west side of the square was also much-altered, with pairs of houses being run together to create four lateral flats in each property. In 1997–8, and with the exception of numbers 10 and 11, the terrace was reconverted to single houses. Overall, the square remains largely intact and of historic interest, a fact reflected in the 1972 Grade II listing of the east, south and wide sides.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Charlotte Sharman Primary School, UK.
  2. ^ Charlie Chaplin, Vauxhall and Kennington, UK.
  3. ^ "London Gardens Trust: West Square Gardens". Retrieved 20 January 2021.

External links[edit]