Bloomsbury Square is one of the oldest squares in London, dating from around 1660. It was originally sided by the Earl of Southampton’s mansion, Southampton House, which gave the area its ancient name – Southampton Square.
Following his death in 1670, the Earl’s heiress married Lord Russell, the Earl of Bedford’s son, who had recently built the houses around Covent Garden. They renamed the mansion Bedford House and the gardens became Bloomsbury Square.
The pretty Georgian houses surrounding the sides were laid out by Humphrey Repton in 1800, but all evidence of the original mansion has disappeared.
The vast series of buildings that that now house the British Museum actually started life in Bloomsbury Square.
Sir Hans Sloane had acquired a huge collection of minerals, insects, shells and bird eggs from his long career as a botanist and physician, and put them on display at his house at No. 3 Bloomsbury Square. It eventually became too cramped for him to live in, so he bought the house next door as well.
After his death he bequeathed the entire amalgamation to the nation, and exhibits poured in from all over. King George II chipped in with 17,000 manuscripts from the Old Royal Library, and George IV donated his father’s collection.
A new building was opened in 1759 and continued to grow in size. In the 1880s the decision was taken to split the goods in two, and the flora and fauna was moved to the Natural History Museum.
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