10 Historic London Garden Squares…8. Russell Square
June 19, 2013
The largest garden square in Bloomsbury (and one of the largest in London), Russell Square was first laid out by Humphry Repton in 1806 and was located on what were the gardens of the home of the Dukes of Bedford, Bedford House.
Its name is that family name of the 5th Duke of Bedford, Francis Russell, who initially ordered the creation of the square and owned the land upon which it stands. The Russell family still hold the title today – the current duke, the 15th, is Andrew Russell – and still run the Bedford Estates upon which the square still stands.
The square was originally lined with grand terraced homes aimed at the upper middle class – the survivors, which can be found largely on the southern and western side of the square, are these days occupied by offices and the University of London. The eastern side of the square is these days dominated by the French Gothic Hotel Russell – designed by Charles Fitzroy Doll, it was built in 1898.
Famous residents and inhabitants have included TS Eliot, who worked at a building in the square’s north-west corner when he was poetry editor at Faber & Faber, 19th century painter Sir Thomas Lawrence who had a studio at number 67, poet William Cowper, who lived at number 62 in the 1830s as a schoolboy, and George Williams, founder of the YMCA, who lived at number 13 in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It also appears in William Thackeray’s novel, Vanity Fair, and Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day.
The gardens were overhauled in 2002 in view of Repton’s original design and a new ornamental fountain installed in the middle. A cafe was also added.
Russell Square still houses one of London’s 13 extant Cabmen’s Shelters while monuments within the gardens include a small memorial to the 7th July, 2005, bombings – two of which occurred nearby – and a statue of the 5th Duke of Bedford, another which is the work of Sir Richard Westmacott and which was erected in 1807-08 (pictured).