10 Historic London Garden Squares…9. Queen Square…


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.

Queen-SquareOne 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.

SamOther 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)!

Treasures of London – Tower Bridge

Often confused with London Bridge, Tower Bridge stands as a testament to Victorian engineering ingenuity.

The bridge – a major restoration of which was completed in March this year – was officially opened on 30th June, 1894, by the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) eight years after work on a new Thames crossing commenced, driven by the need for a bridge which was more accessible to people living in East London (at the time pedestrians and vehicles were facing considerable congestions, with some being forced to wait hours before crossing the Thames).

At the time of its completion, Tower Bridge (although not universally acclaimed at the time) was the most sophisticated and largest bascule bridge ever built – the word bascule comes from the French for ‘see-saw’ and refers to the action of the bridge when it swings open. The bascules, which took only a minute to open, were initially operated by a steam-powered hydraulic system although since 1976, they have been driven by oil and electricity.

The 293 feet tall structure was built from steel and clad in Portland stone and Cornish granite to ensure it blended with the nearby tower of London. It was built with two walkways joining to two great towers at a height of 110 feet. Initially open to the elements, these were conceived as a way for people to cross the bridge while the bascules were raised open but due to a lack of use, they were closed in 1910 (they were reopened in 1982 when the first permanent exhibition took up residence at the bridge).

These days as well as providing a thoroughfare across the river for pedestrians and vehicles (and still opening for larger boats and ships from time to time although 24 hours notice is required), the bridge – which, along with four other London bridges, is maintained by the Bridge House Estates trust, a charity whose roots go back to the 11th century – houses an exhibition which tells the story of its construction. The walkways provide wonderful views down the river.

Interestingly, the iconic colors of Tower Bridge only date from 1976 when the structure was painted red, white and blue for the Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee. Before that, the bridge was painted a chocolate brown though it was originally a greenish blue color.

One of the most interesting stories associated with Tower Bridge is that of a bus driven by Albert Gunton. On the bridge when it started opening in December 1952, he had to make the bus jump the gap – at three foot wide – to avoid the bus toppling into the river below. Passengers only suffered minor injuries and Gunton was later awarded a bravery award for his actions.

A list of times when the bridge will be lifted (this happens around 1,000 times a year) is kept on the Tower Bridge website.

WHERE: The exhibition entrance is located at the north west tower of the bridge (nearest Tube stations are Tower Hill or London Bridge); WHEN: 10am to 6.30pm (last admission 5.30pm) daily until end of September, then 9.30am to 6pm (last admission 5pm) until March; COST: £6 an adult/£4.20 concessions/£2.50 children aged 5 to 15 (under fives are free)/£12.50 for a family; WEBSITE: www.towerbridge.org.uk