Bloomsbury is a pretty part of London filled with black-brick Georgian and Victorian houses. There are also a number of lovely public squares.
The area was purchased by the Lord Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley in 1545 at a time when it still sat to the west of the city walls. His descendant, the Earl of Southampton, rebuilt the manor house in the mid 17th-century and laid out some of the streets – but the area didn’t gain in popularity until a host of famous names moved in a hundred years later
Some of the blue plaques that you can still see on the walls include John Constable, Charles Dickens, William Yeats and George Bernard Shaw.
The early 18th-century saw further work by the Russell family, who owned some land around Covent Garden.
In 1759 the British Museum opened its doors in its original premises – Montagu House – shortly followed by the University College in 1827.
Bloomsbury Square was originally sided by the Earl of Southampton’s mansion, Southampton House. But following his death in 1670 the Earl’s heiress married Lord Russell, the Earl of Bedford’s son. They renamed the mansion Bedford House and the gardens became Bloomsbury Square.
Bedford Square was named after Bedford House, the ancestral home of the 5th Duke of Bedford. This was knocked down in 1800 and replaced with Georgian housing designed by James Burton. It used to be the home of numerous publishing houses, including Virginia Woolf’s Bodley House, but they all moved out in the nineties.
Russell Square is the largest residential square in London, laid out by Humphrey Repton in 1800. James Burton designed many of the original houses around the edge, but those on the north and south have been heavily amended – the ones on the east were demolished altogether to make way for the Russell Hotel.
The ‘Bloomsbury Group’ refers to the novelist Virginia Woolf and her famous friends – E M Forster, Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant and John Maynard Keynes.
They formed a bohemian group of authors, artists and poets living around Virginia’s family home at 46 Gordon Square. They soon earned a reputation as much for their lifestyle as their undoubted genius.
Their founding principle was described by G E Moore:
By far the most valuable things… are the pleasures of human intercourse and the enjoyment of beautiful objects. It is they that form the rational ultimate end of social progress.