The five sided square, located just to the east of Smithfield, takes its name from a Carthusian monastery which was established in 1371 on what is now its north side. Prior to this, what is now the square had from 1348 served as a location for a plaque burial pit (a number of skeletons from the plaque pit have been unearthed as part of the Crossrail project – for our earlier story on this, follow this link).
The monastery was dissolved in 1537 after the monk’s refused to recognise King Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy (some were later executed at Tyburn) and it was subsequently transformed into a manor house with Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk, among its residents over the years (in fact he was imprisoned there around 1570 for allegedly plotting to marry Mary, Queen of Scots – he was later executed by Queen Elizabeth I for treason).
Under the will of Thomas Sutton, an almshouse and school was subsequently established on the site – the almshouse remains there while the school, whose students had included Methodism founder John Wesley and writer William Makepeace Thackeray, moved out to Godalming in Surrey in 1872. As well as the almshouse (which is open for guided tours, check this site for details), some of the buildings are now occupied by medical related institutions.
In the 1600s, the square was also home to numerous other large residences among them Rutland House, which had been the residence of the Venetian ambassador. It lost its aristocratic inhabitants in the ensuing centuries but remained mainly residential up until the late 19th century when it gradually became taken over by businesses and other organisations. Interesting to note is that the east side of the square is still home to the residential unit complex known as Florin Court, better known as Whitehaven Mansions, the home of Hercule Poirot in the TV series which bears his name.
The area of the garden square itself was variously referred to as the Charterhouse Churchyard, the Charterhouse Yard and Charterhouse Close over the years and has gone through numerous incarnations with efforts to improve and formalise its look dating back to at least the 16th century. It was at least partly enclosed by the late 1600s and the fences replaced several times, notably in 1742 when an Act of Parliament was passed allowing residents to fine those who entered without authorisation. The enclosing fences have since been modified several more times.
One of the major changes to the shape of the square occurred in 1860 when the Metropolitan Railway was extended between Farringdon and Moorgate. It was at this time that the road surface which surrounds the central garden, which has a Grade II heritage listing, was laid down.
Today the gardens in the centre of the square remain under the management of the Charterhouse (and hence aren’t open to the general public except on tours) but even without a tour it’s still a quiet place to walk around the outside of, evoking a strong sense of years gone past.
June 26, 2013
This rectangular-shaped square in Bloomsbury, known for its association with the medical profession, was first laid out in the early 1700s and was named for Queen Anne.
Originally known as Devonshire Square, the space was largely laid out between 1716 and 1725 on land owned by Sir Nathaniel Curzon of Kedlestone and, as with so many of London’s squares, attracted it’s fair share of the well-to-do. Among early residents were several bishops and members of the aristocracy.
One of the most interesting early associations with Queen Square is that of King George III and his consort Queen Charlotte. The king – better known to many as ‘Mad King George’ – was treated for mental illness in a house on the square and there’s a tradition that Queen Charlotte, stored some of the food to be consumed by the king during his treatment in the base of what is now the pub known as the Queen’s Larder (see our previous entry on the pub here).
There’s a statue of a queen in the central gardens which was thought to be of Queen Charlotte. Since it was erected in 1775, there has been some confusion over the statue’s identity – it has been thought at different stages to be of Queen Anne, Queen Mary (co-ruler with King William III), and Queen Caroline (consort of King George II) – a fact which has led to some confusion as to which queen the square was named after (although general consensus now seems to be that it was indeed Queen Anne whom the square was named after).
The houses in Queen Square – which was later associated with artists and literary types – were gradually replaced by institutional buildings relating to, among other things, education and the practice of medicine and today it remains a hub for the medical establishment – the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery and the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (formerly known as the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital) are both located on the east side of the square and there are several other medical-related buildings located around it including the former Italian Hospital (Ospedale Italiano) which was founded by Italian businessman Giovanni Battista Ortelli in 1884 for poor Italian immigrants and since about 1990 has been part of the Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Other prominent buildings located on the square include the Church of St George the Martyr Holborn (number 44) which, built in 1706, predates the square’s formation. The church is known as the ‘sweep’s church’ due to the practice of a parishioner who provided Christmas dinners for 100 chimney sweep apprentices each year.
The gardens themselves are protected by an Act of Parliament passed in the 1830s and the gardens are to this day maintained by trustees appointed under that act. Aside from the statue of the queen, monuments in the gardens include a small plaque commemorating the bomb which landed in the square during a Zeppelin raid in World War I (no one was killed), benches commemorating 16 doctors from the homeopathic hospital who died in the Trident air disaster of 1972, and some lines of poetry on a flower bowl and surrounds by Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes in honor of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee of 1977. Statues include a 2001 bronze of Mother and Child and, (this one we love), a sculpture of Sam the cat, apparently a local resident (pictured)!
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).
June 12, 2013
Initially known as Southampton Square, Bloomsbury Square – located just to the east of the British Museum – was first developed in the mid-1660s, making it London’s oldest formal square.
It was the fourth Earl of Southampton, Thomas Wriothesley, who developed the square – his rather grand house, Southampton House, was located on the northern side of the square which initially featured gardens at the centre laid out in a cruciform pattern.
In 1723 – via the marriage of Southampton’s daughter, Lady Rachel Vaughan, to the ill-fated William, son of the 5th Earl of Bedford (he was implicated in the Rye House Plot and beheaded) – it passed to the Dukes of Bedford, becoming part of the Bedford Estates (and with it the earl’s house, later renamed Bedford House). The square took on its new name of Bloomsbury Square around this time.
Initially popular among the well-to-do, it had fallen somewhat from favour by the 19th century and with the 5th Duke preferring to live in the West End, in 1800 Bedford House was auctioned off and demolished. Terraced houses were later built along the now vacant north side of the square.
About 1806, the 5th Duke commissioned Humphry Repton to redesign the square and by the 1820s a garden including trees in the centre and a perimeter shrubbery. The gardens have gone through several makeovers since, including in the 1960s when an underground carpark was built underneath.
Most recently refurbished in 2006-2007 so they once again reflect Repton’s design, the gardens – which have been open to the public since 1950 – also contain a bronze statue of Whig politician (and friend of the Dukes of Bedford) Charles James Fox, which was designed by Sir Richard Westmacott and erected in 1816 (pictured, it was restored in 2006 to mark the bicentenary of Fox’s death).
It remained popular among middle class professionals, however, and among its most notable residents were the writer Isaac D’Israeli, father of the future Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who lived at number six in the early 19th century (his son with him) while architect Sir Edwin Lutyens lived and worked at number 29 for more than 15 years after his marriage in 1897. Literary and artistic figures like Leonard and Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey, who became part of what was known as the ‘Bloomsbury Group’, were also famously known to have lived in the area around the square.
Most of the houses in the square are now used as offices but among the notable buildings there are the former home of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (based in a building partly credited to architect John Nash) and, dating from 1930, Victoria House.
One of the more famous events to have taken place in the square occurred in 1780 during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots when rioters burned down the house of the Lord Chief Justice. Almost 100 years earlier, in 1694, the square was site of a deadly fencing duel between Scottish financier John Law and Edward Wilson. Law killed Wilson, was subsequently convicted of his murder and sentenced to death but escaped by fleeing to the continent. He later become the founder of the Mississippi Company.
The largest square in Mayfair, Grosvenor Square was laid out in the 1720s on the orders of Sir Richard Grosvenor of Cheshire.
Sir Richard owned the Grosvenor Estate, a considerable tract of land in London’s west which includes in its northern part the land upon which the square was created (the estate is now owned by Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, the 6th Duke of Westminster).
It’s proximity to Hyde Park and Whitehall quickly made it, like many other historic squares, a fashionable place for politicians to live – among those who lived here in the late 18th century were three prime ministers.
The oval-shaped gardens in the middle of the square – which was only opened to the public in 1948 – were once home to a statue of King George I but this was removed at some point. Originally thought to have been laid out by gardener John Alston, they took on their current form in 1948 when they were redesigned by architect BWL Gallannaugh (interestingly, Grosvenor Square is also said to have been the last part of London to exchange gas lighting for electric lighting).
There’s almost no residential buildings on the square these days but among the most prominent buildings (in fact it dominates the west end of the square) is the US Embassy. Designed by Eero Saarinen, the building was completed in 1960 with US President John F Kennedy one of the first visitors.
The hulking embassy is only one of the many American connections to the square, connections which at one point led to it being known as “Little America”. Dwight Eisenhower, commander of the US armed forces in World War II, based his headquarters at number 20 in 1944, while number nine – one of the few residences to survive – was home to John Adams, first American ambassador to the Court of St James and later the country’s second president.
The American theme, which has meant the square has been the focus of demonstrations such as those protesting the Vietnam War as well as outpourings of support such as in the wake of the September 11 attacks, is also evident in the statutory in the square’s gardens with grand, full size statues of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (a bronze by William Reid Dick unveiled by Eleanor Roosevelt on the third anniversary of the president’s death – 12th April, 1948 – it is pictured above), President Eisenhower (a bronze by Robert Dean dating from 1989), and President Ronald Reagan (unveiled on 4th July, 2011, pictured right).
On the eastern side of the garden square is the September 11 Memorial Garden opened in 2003 while on the south side is the Monument to the Eagle Squadrons, the three RAF squadrons in World War II mostly composed of American volunteers before the US entered the war. There’s also a set of memorial “Diplomatic Gates”, installed in 1984 to commemorate the bicentennial of the Treaty of Paris and honour US and UK politician who have worked in the service of peace.
Other notable buildings include number one, the Canadian High Commission (previously the US embassy); and number four, one of square’s oldest houses. Now demolished, number 44 was the home of the Earl of Harrowby and where the British Cabinet were dining when word arrived of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo.
Located in the south-west of Mayfair in London’s West End, Berkeley Square was originally laid out by architect William Kent in the mid 1700s.
It takes its name from the Berkeley family of Gloucestershire (the first Lord Berkeley of Stratton was a Royalist commander in the Civil War) whose London residence, Berkeley House, stood on what is now the south side of the square until it was destroyed in a fire in 1733 (Devonshire House, whose residents included the 5th Earl of Devonshire and his somewhat notorious wife Georgiana, was subsequently built on the site and remained there until it was demolished in the 1920s).
The gardens, which feature some of the city’s oldest London Plane trees (dating from 1789), have a pump house at the centre which was built in 1800 and is now Grade II listed (it stands on the site of an earlier equestrian statue of King George III). Other features including the statue Lady of Sumaria (Water Carrier) – pictured above – which was made by Pre-Raphaelite sculptor Alexander Munro in 1858 and stands at the garden’s southern end.
Among notable buildings which face onto the square are Lansdowne House – located on the south-west corner of the square, it was designed by Robert Adam and now home of the Lansdowne Club – and number 50 Berkeley Square, home of short-lived early 19th century PM George Canning (and said to be the most haunted house in London). The square was also the home of society favorite, Gunter’s Tea Shop, which dated from the mid-1700s.
Famous residents have included wartime PM Sir Winston Church (he lived at number 48 as a child); Horace Walpole, some of the first Prime Minister Robert Walpole (he lived at number 11 during the 1700s), Robert Clive (more famously known as Clive of India, he committed suicide in number 45 in 1774), and the fictional Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves (creations of author PG Wodehouse). The square also featured in the famous wartime song, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.
The square is open from 8am daily with closing times varying based on the season.
A quiet square at the heart of the area known as St James, the square’s origins go back to the 1660s when King Charles II granted what was initially a lease (and later the freehold) over a section of St James’s Field to Henry Jermyn, a favourite of King Charles I’s queen Henrietta Maria who was created the 1st Earl of St Alban.
The earl began developing the residential square (the original design had houses on the south-side fronting onto Pall Mall) and, thanks to its proximity to Whitehall and St James’s Palace, quickly attracted some of the who’s who of London to live there.
Indeed it’s said that by the 1720s, seven dukes and seven earls were in residence in the square – other residents included PMs William Pitt the Elder and William Gladstone (both lived in Chatham House, at numbers 9 and 10, albeit at different times) as well as two of James II’s mistresses, Arabella Churchill and Catherine Sedley, who apparently lived at number 21 in the late 1600s.
Among the architects who designed houses around the square were Robert Adam, Sir John Soane, and, in more recent times, Edwin Lutyens.
The square – which reached its final layout, designed by John Nash, around 1854 – remained a desirable place to live even as in the 19th century, some of the houses gave way to financial institutions, private clubs, offices and even lodging houses. These days it’s dominated by business and other institutional organisations.
Organisations located in the square today include the Naval and Military Club (number four – former home of Nancy Astor), the East India Club (number 16) and the London Library (located at number 14, it was founded by Thomas Carlyle in 1841) as well as the international headquarters of BP.
The gardens feature an equestrian statue of King William III at their centre (the work of John Bacon Sr and Jr, it was installed in 1808 and is pictured above). Other monuments include The Stag (located in the south-west corner, it is the work of Marcus Cornish and was installed in 2001) and, just outside the garden railings in the north-east corner, a memorial to WPC Yvonne Fletcher who was killed when a gun was fired from the Libyan Embassy (known as the Libyan People’s Bureau, it was located at number 5) during a demonstration on 17th April, 1984. The pavilion on the south side was designed by John Nash.
The gardens are private – managed by the St James’s Square Trust – but open to the public on weekdays from 10am to 4.30pm.
Originally named King’s Square in honour of King Charles II, Soho Square was laid out on what had been known as Soho Fields as a residential square with a garden at its centre in the late 1670s – part of the general demand for homes that came about after the Great Fire of London in 1666.
A fashionable place to live when built, among the early mansions was Monmouth House, a grand mansion originally built for James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth (and illegitimate son of King Charles II who lost his head after leading a rebellion against King James II) and later used by the French ambassador before it was demolished in the 1770s. Two of the square’s original homes are located at numbers 10 and 15.
A number of trees and shrubs were recorded as being planted here including cherry, peach and almond trees as well as lilacs, jessamine and honeysuckle – it’s suggested these may have been chosen by botanist Sir Joseph Banks who lived at number 32 from 1777 until his death in 1820.
The square, which was opened to the public in 1954, is today at the heart of the West-End district of Soho, once synonymous with late night entertainment including the sex industry but also home to a growing number of film and media-related organisations (for a look at the derivation of the name Soho, see our earlier post).
Indeed, a number of media companies are based in the square itself – British Movietone, which was produced the Movietone news, was located here at number 22 for years while current inhabitants include Twentieth Century Fox (located in a building at number 31-32 where the botanically minded Linnean Society once met).
Other buildings of note in the square include the French Protestant Church, built in 1891-93 and located at numbers eight and nine and St Patrick’s Church, located at on the corner of Soho Square and Sutton Row. While a chapel was first consecrated here in 1792, the current building dates from the 1890s (reopened in 2011 after a £3.5 million restoration) and has catacombs which spread a considerable distance under the square. In a nod to less savoury aspects of the square’s past, the White House Brothel was also located here – at number 21 – in the late 18th century (the building is now known as Manor House).
The oldest statue in the square is that of Caius Gabriel Cibber’s King Charles II which dates from 1681 (pictured right) – a reminder of the square’s past name. Originally part of a larger monument containing a fountain, it was removed in 1875 to make way for the distinctive half-timbered Tudor-style hut (pictured above) used by gardeners which, having been rebuilt in the 1930s, currently sits at the square’s centre and only returned to the gardens in 1938. There’s also a bench in the square which commemorates the late singer Kirsty MacColl, writer of the song Soho Square.
Located in one of the most prominent sites in London, Parliament Square is these days perhaps best known as a protest site for those wanting to attract Parliament’s eye. And while, unlike say, Trafalgar Square, many visitors to London may not know its name, its proximity to the Houses of Parliament, Whitehall, Westminster Bridge and Westminster Abbey means it’s rarely off anyone’s tourist agenda.
The history of the square goes back to 1868 when architect Sir Charles Barry (responsible for the design of the Houses of Parliament) designed a square to improve traffic flow in the area (and demolished many buildings – apparently the area was a slum – in the process).
The roads around the square featured London’s first traffic signals (it used semaphore arms rather than lights and was installed at the meeting of Great George and Bridge Streets) and in addition the square was originally the location for the Buxton Memorial Fountain which moved to its present position in Victoria Tower Gardens in 1940 (see our earlier post on the fountain here). In 1950, the entire square was redesigned by architect George Grey Wornum.
The square is home to a plethora of statues including former PMs Sir Winston Churchill, a relatively recent statue of David Lloyd George (pictured), Sir Robert Peel (also the founder of the Metropolitan Police Force – see our earlier post here), Benjamin Disraeli, the Earl of Derby and Lord Palmerston as well as South African PM Jan Christian Smuts and, (if you count the space in front of Middlesex Guildhall), US President Abraham Lincoln (a replica of a statue in Lincoln Park, Chicago) and former Foreign Secretary and PM George Canning. Among the last statues added was a nine foot high bronze figure of Nelson Mandela which was placed in the square in 2007 after an unsuccessful push to have it located in Trafalgar Square.
Among the most high profile of protests to have been held there is that of the late peace campaigner Brian Haw who camped on the square for 10 years until 2010. Among the most recent protests this year has been a colourful demonstration by beekeepers, calling for a ban on pesticides.
For more on London’s statues, see Peter Matthews’ London’s Statues and Monuments.
April 24, 2013
In the first of a new Wednesday series looking at historic London garden squares, we take a look at what next to Trafalgar Square, is the most famous square in the entire city – Leicester Square.
Located in the heart of the West End, Leicester Square’s history finds its origins back in the 17th history when Robert Sidney, the 2nd Earl of Leicester acquired property on the site where the square now stands. Then known as St Martin’s Field and located within the parish of St Martin’s, Sidney purchased four acres in 1630 and constructed Leicester House on land now located at the square’s northern end.
The people appealed to King Charles I who appointed three members of the Privy Council to look at the issue. Their decision? That the earl keep a section of his land open for the use of the parishioners of St Martin’s.
First known as Leicester Field, it was this land which later became known as Leicester Square. Fine homes were built around the square (its proximity to the Royal Court and centre of government made it a desirable place to live for the well-to-do and those seeking influence) with the centre enclosed with rails (it’s pictured here in 1750).
The square’s reputation also had a royal boost when, in 1717/1718, Leicester House became home to Prince George (later King George II) and his wife Princess Caroline along with their court after the prince fell out with his father King George I and was banished from St James’ Palace (this story is recounted in marvellous detail in Lucy Worsley’s terrific book, Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court).
The prince remained at the house for 10 years and was proclaimed King George II after his father’s death at its gate. Interestingly, King George II’s eldest son, Prince Frederick, also lived here for a time after he too fell out with his father (King George II). Apparently their relationship was even worse than the previous generation’s had been.
Despite its royal attractions, even at this stage the square apparently had it’s darker side with some less than savoury characters attending the hotels and livery stables that were built there. But things were to get worse as the wealthy moved out – a situation not helped when Leicester House was demolished in the 1790s.
Leicester Square became known as an entertainment venue in the 19th century (among attractions was the short-lived Royal Panopticon of Science and Art which showcased the best in science and art and Wyld’s Great Globe which contained a gigantic model of the earth) and received a new injection of life when theatres and music halls moved in, bringing the crowds back with them.
Meanwhile, the status of the square – and whether it could be built upon – remained a matter of debate well into the 19th century. That ended in 1874 when businessman Albert Grant bought the freehold of the land, had the garden created upon it and then donated it to the Metropolitan Board of Works as a gift to the city.
Responsibility for the management of the square now rests with the City of Westminster. The square area – which is now known for hosting film premieres as well as the tourists who inevitably gather there – was pedestrianised in the 1980s and has just undergone a redevelopment and modernisation which was unveiled last year.
Meanwhile, work to restore the 19th century Shakespeare statue and fountain in the square’s centre is about to be completed (pictured). The square also contains a statue of actor Charlie Chaplin in the square as well as busts of scientist Sir Isaac Newton, painter and first president of the royal Academy Sir Joshua Reynolds, 18th century pioneer surgeon John Hunter, and painter William Hogarth.
The tradition of the entertainment continues in the modern era through the cinemas which now stand in the square and regularly host film premieres (an interesting, if oft-repeated, film-related anecdote connected to the square is that it was in a phone booth located at the square that during the 1960s a young actor Maurice Micklewhite saw a poster for The Caine Mutiny and decided to change his name to Michael Caine).
PICTURES (top) Wikipedia and (below) City of Westminster.