Top to right: British Museum; Bedford Square, Cartwright Gardens; Sicilian Avenue; Gordon Square
Location within Greater London
|Population||10,892 (2011 Census. Ward)|
|OS grid reference||TQ299818|
|Ceremonial county||Greater London|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Postcode district||WC1, NW1|
Bloomsbury is home of the British Museum, the largest museum in the United Kingdom, and several educational institutions, including University College London and a number of other colleges and institutes of the University of London as well as its central headquarters, the New College of the Humanities, the University of Law, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, the British Medical Association and many others. Bloomsbury is an intellectual and literary hub for London, as home of world-known Bloomsbury Publishing, publishers of the Harry Potter series, and namesake of the Bloomsbury Set, a group of British intellectuals which included author Virginia Woolf, biographer Lytton Strachey, and economist John Maynard Keynes.
Bloomsbury began to be developed in the 17th century under the Earls of Southampton, but it was primarily in the 19th century, under the Duke of Bedford, that the district was planned and built as an affluent Regency era residential area by famed developer James Burton. The district is known for its numerous garden squares, including Bloomsbury Square, Russell Square and Bedford Square.
Bloomsbury's built heritage is currently protected by the designation of a conservation area and a locally based conservation committee. Despite this, there is increasing concern about a trend towards larger and less sensitive development, and the associated demolition of Victorian and Georgian buildings.
Origins and etymology
The earliest record of the name, Bloomsbury, is as Blemondisberi in 1281. It is named after a member of the Blemund family who held the manor. There are older records relating to the family in London in 1201 and 1230. Their name, Blemund, derives from Blemont, a place in Vienne, in western France. At the end of the 14th century, Edward III acquired Blemond's manor, and passed it on to the Carthusian monks of the London Charterhouse. The area remained rural at this time.
The area was part of the Ancient Parish of St Giles, served by the church of St Giles in the Fields. Some sources indicate that the parish was in place before 1222 while others suggest 1547. From 1597 onwards, English parishes were obliged to take on a civil as well as ecclesiastical role, starting with the relief of the poor.
In 1731 a small new independent parish of Bloomsbury was created, based on a small area round Bloomsbury Square. In 1774 these parishes recombined, for civil purposes, to form the parish of St Giles in the Fields and St George Bloomsbury – which had the same boundaries as the initial parish of St Giles.
The area of the combined civil parish was used for the St Giles District (Metropolis), established under the Metropolis Management Act 1855. This body managed certain infrastructure functions, while the civil parish continued with its responsibilities until the abolishment of the Poor Law in 1930, however it was not formally abolished until the creation of Greater London in 1965.
The combined parishes of St Giles in the Fields and St George Bloomsbury (west) joined with most of Holborn District to form the Met. Borough of Holborn, in 1900
In 1900 the area of the St Giles District (Metropolis) merged with Holborn District (Metropolis) (excluding those parts of Finsbury Division which had been temporarily attached to Holborn) to form a new Metropolitan Borough of Holborn. The traditional boundaries of St Giles and Bloomsbury were used for wards in the new borough, though these were subject to minor rationalisations to reflect the modern street pattern rather than the historic basis of the older streets and pre-urban field boundaries. The combined civil parish continued to operate, in parallel, for a considerable time after.
The formal historic boundaries of the combined parish of St Giles in the Fields and St George Bloomsbury (as adjusted in some places to reflect the modern street pattern) include Tottenham Court Road to the west, Torrington Place (formerly known, in part, as Francis Street) to the north, the borough boundary to the south and Marchmont Street and Southampton Row to the east.
Wards of the Metropolitan Borough of Holborn, 1952. Bloomsbury and St Giles (including most of Lincoln's Inn) were sub-divided but retained their identity
Bloomsbury no longer has official boundaries and is subject to varying informal definitions, based for convenience, on a quadrangle of streets. The western boundary of Tottenham Court Road is common to all and a northern limit of Euston Road is often understood, though Coram's Fields and the land to the north, consisting mainly of blocks of flats, built as both private and social housing was traditionally associated as being north Bloomsbury with Judd Street and its surrounding squares being part of St Pancras, King's Cross.
The eastern boundary is sometimes taken to be in the region of Southampton Row or further east on Grays Inn Road. The southern extent is taken to approximates to High Holborn or the thoroughfare formed by New Oxford Street, Bloomsbury Way and Theobalds Road.
On the west side, the traditional and various informal definitions of the area are all based on the ancient Tottenham Court Road. The differences between the formal and more recent understandings of the area (to the north and south), seem to derive from Bloomsbury having been commonly misconceived as being coterminous with the Bedford Estate.
In the early 1660s, the Earl of Southampton, who held the manors of St Giles and Bloomsbury, constructed what eventually became Bloomsbury Square. The Yorkshire Grey public house on the corner of Gray's Inn Road and Theobald's Road dates from 1676. The estate passed to the Russell family following the marriage of William Russell, Lord Russell (1639–1683) (third son of William Russell, 1st Duke of Bedford) to Rachel Wriothesley, heiress of Bloomsbury, younger of the two daughters and co-heiresses of Thomas Wriothesley, 4th Earl of Southampton (1607–1667). Rachel's son and heir was Wriothesley Russell, 2nd Duke of Bedford (1680–1711), of Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, whose family also owned Covent Garden, south of Bloomsbury, acquired by them at the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The area was laid out mainly in the 18th century, largely by Wriothesley Russell, 3rd Duke of Bedford, who built Bloomsbury Market, which opened in 1730. His younger brother, John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford, would have built a circus here but he died in 1771, leaving his wife to continue development of the area. She commissioned the construction of Bedford Square and of Gower Street. The major development of the squares that we see today started in about 1800 when Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford, demolished Bedford House and developed the land to the north with Russell Square as its centrepiece. Much is still owned today by the Bedford Estate in trust for the Russell family.
John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford, extended development on the north and east side of the estate, this area would then be frequented by writers, painters and musicians as well as lawyers due to the nearby Inns of Court. The area was enclosed by gates until these were abolished under a 1893 Act of Parliament. In the 19th century, the Bloomsbury area became less fashionable, now dominated by the University of London and the British Museum as well as numerous new hospitals. Modern development has destroyed several Georgian-era buildings, but some remain.
London Beer Flood
The London Beer Flood (also known as the Great Beer Flood) was a disaster that occurred in October 1814, when a large vat of porter at the Horse Shoe Brewery, just west of Dyott Street, burst open, releasing a 15-foot wave of beer onto the surrounding streets, killing eight people.
Pied Bull Yard, in the Bloomsbury Conservation Area
All of the geographic area of Bloomsbury is covered by the Bloomsbury Conservation Area, an historic designation designed to limit new development, and ensure that changes to the built environment preserve and enhance its special character. This conservation area is one of the oldest and most significant in the UK, having been designated in 1968, less than a year after conservation areas were promulgated in the Civic Amenities Act 1967.
The Bloomsbury Conservation Area is almost unique in the UK in that it also has a conservation area advisory committee, an expert committee of architects, planners, lawyers, and other community members that also live and work in Bloomsbury. This group was founded in 1968 by the local authority and continues to serve Bloomsbury and the surrounding area. It is generally thought that the Bloomsbury Conservation Area Advisory Committee (BCAAC) has the most detailed knowledge of Bloomsbury's built heritage and social history due to its members having lived in the area for many decades. It is accordingly consulted with on all major and minor development proposals in the area, including traffic circulation changes, and its objections carry formal planning weight through the local authority's constitution.
Bloomsbury contains one of the highest proportions of listed buildings and monuments per square metre of any conservation area, including many of the UK's most iconic buildings, such as the British Museum. However its strategic location in the centre of London and associated high development pressures has seen a rise in the demolition of historic fabric, and the construction of tall and harmful development. Between 2015 and 2020 the local authority recommended approval for a total of five major developments judged to be harmful by the BCAAC, with the Greater London Authority approving one. The BCAAC were only successful in defeating one of those developments.
As a result, Victorian buildings and even some of Bloomsbury's famous Georgian terraces have been demolished in recent years. This has led to sharp criticism of the local authority's approach to the conservation and preservation of Bloomsbury, with national heritage groups such as the Victorian Society and Georgian Group voicing concerns along with local groups. A local campaign associated with the BCAAC, Save Bloomsbury, has written and campaigned extensively to protect Bloomsbury's heritage. As of 2021 Camden Council has not adopted any strategy to ensure Bloomsbury's conservation, and harmful development proposals continue to come forward.
Bloomsbury's topography is largely flat, being situated in the Thames basin, with a gradual decline in elevation eastwards towards Gray's Inn Road and King's Cross Road, where the culverted River Fleet runs.
The area is surrounded by four major roads, its historic boundaries, with Euston Road in the north, Gray's Inn Road to the east, High Holborn/New Oxford Street to the south, and Tottenham Court Road to the west. These major and busy thoroughfares give a well-defined boundary to Bloomsbury's geographic area, with a perceptible change in character across these boundaries. Bloomsbury is also bisected north to south by the main road Southampton Row/Woburn Place, which has several large tourist hotels and links Tavistock Square and Russell Square. The road runs from Euston Road in the north to High Holborn in the south.
The area west of Southampton Row/Woburn Place is notable for its concentration of academic establishments, museums, and formal squares. The area comprises the British Museum and the central departments and colleges of the University of London, including Birkbeck College, University College London, the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the University of London's School of Advanced Study. Within this area runs Gower Street which is a two-way (since Sunday 28 February 2021) street running south from Euston Road towards Shaftesbury Avenue in Covent Garden, becoming Bloomsbury Street when it passes to the south of Great Russell Street.
East of Southampton Row/Woburn Place are Brunswick Square, Mecklenburgh Square, Cartwright Gardens, Argyle Square St George's Gardens, and Queen Square making this area far greener than its western counterpart. By far the largest building in this area is the Brutalist Brunswick Centre a residential building with a shopping centre at ground floor. The area to the south is notable for containing several hospitals clustered around Queen Square and Great Ormond Street.
For street name etymologies see Street names of Bloomsbury.
Historically, Bloomsbury is associated with the arts, education, and medicine. The area gives its name to the Bloomsbury Group of artists, among whom was Virginia Woolf, who met in private homes in the area in the early 1900s, and to the lesser known Bloomsbury Gang of Whigs formed in 1765 by John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford. The publisher Faber & Faber used to be located in Queen Square, though at the time T. S. Eliot was editor the offices were in Tavistock Square. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in John Millais's parents' house on Gower Street in 1848.
The Bloomsbury Festival was launched in 2006 when local resident Roma Backhouse was commissioned to mark the re-opening of the Brunswick Centre, a residential and shopping area. The free festival is a celebration of the local area, partnering with galleries, libraries and museums, and achieved charitable status at the end of 2012. As of 2013, the Duchess of Bedford is a festival patron and Festival Directors have included Cathy Maher (2013), Kate Anderson (2015-2019) and Rosemary Richards (2020-present).
Bloomsbury is home to the federal University of London's central administrative centre and library, Senate House, as well as many of its independent members institutions including Birkbeck College, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, School of Oriental and African Studies, School of Advanced Study, Royal Veterinary College, and University College London (which has now absorbed the formerly separate School of Eastern European and Slavonic Studies, School of Pharmacy, and Institute of Education academic institutions). Bloomsbury is also home to London Contemporary Dance School, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, a branch of University of Law, Architectural Association School of Architecture, and the London campuses of several American colleges including Arcadia University, University of California, University of Delaware, Florida State University, Syracuse University, New York University, and Hult International Business School.
The growing private tutoring sector in Bloomsbury includes various tutoring businesses such as Bloomsbury International (for English language), Bloomsbury Law Tutors (for law education), Skygate Tutors, and Topmark Tutors Centre.
The British Museum, which first opened to the public in 1759 in Montagu House, is at the heart of Bloomsbury. At the centre of the museum the space around the former British Library Reading Room, which was filled with the concrete storage bunkers of the British Library, is today the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court, an indoor square with a glass roof designed by British architect Norman Foster. It houses displays, a cinema, a shop, a cafe and a restaurant. Since 1998, the British Library has been located in a purpose-built building just outside the northern edge of Bloomsbury, in Euston Road.
Also in Bloomsbury is the Foundling Museum, close to Brunswick Square, which tells the story of the Foundling Hospital opened by Thomas Coram for unwanted children in Georgian London. The hospital, now demolished except for the Georgian colonnade, is today a playground and outdoor sports field for children, called Coram's Fields. It is also home to a small number of sheep. The nearby Lamb's Conduit Street is a pleasant thoroughfare with shops, cafes and restaurants.
The Postal Museum is on 15-20 Phoenix Place.
St George, Bloomsbury. Bloomsbury's parish church
Bloomsbury contains several notable churches:
Parks and squares
Bloomsbury contains some of London's finest parks and buildings, and is particularly known for its formal squares. These include:
Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (formerly the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital) are both located on Great Ormond Street, off Queen Square, which itself is home to the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (formerly the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases). Bloomsbury is also the location of University College Hospital, which re-opened in 2005 in new buildings on Euston Road, built under the government's private finance initiative (PFI). The Eastman Dental Hospital is located on Gray's Inn Road close to the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital administered by the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust.
Administration and representation
In February 2010, businesses were balloted on an expansion of the InHolborn Business Improvement District (BID) to include the southern part of Bloomsbury. Only businesses with a rateable value in excess of £60,000 could vote as only these would pay the BID levy. This expansion of the BID into Bloomsbury was supported by Camden Council. The proposal was passed and part of Bloomsbury was brought within the InHolborn BID.
Controversy was raised during this BID renewal when InHolborn proposed collecting Bloomsbury, St Giles and Holborn under the name of "Midtown", since it was seen as "too American". Businesses were informed about the BID proposals, but there was little consultation with residents or voluntary organisations. InHolborn produced a comprehensive business plan aimed at large businesses. Bloomsbury is now part of InMidtown BID with its 2010 to 2015 business plan and a stated aim to make the area "a quality environment in which to work and live, a vibrant area to visit, and a profitable place in which to do business".
Several London railway stations serve Bloomsbury. There are three London Underground stations in Bloomsbury:
King's Cross St. Pancras station offers step-free access to all lines, whilst Euston Square offers step-free access to the westbound platform. Other stations nearby include: Euston, Warren Street, Goodge Street, Tottenham Court Road, Holborn and Chancery Lane. There is a disused station in Bloomsbury on the Piccadilly line at the British Museum.
There are also three National Rail stations to the north of Bloomsbury:
Several bus stops can be found in Bloomsbury. All buses passing through Bloomsbury call at bus stops on Russell Square, Gower Street or Tottenham Court Road. Several key London destinations can be reached from Bloomsbury directly, including: Camden Town, Greenwich, Hampstead Heath, Piccadilly Circus, Victoria, and Waterloo. Euston bus station is to the north of Bloomsbury.
Bloomsbury's road network links the district to several destinations across London. Key routes nearby include:
The London Borough of Camden measures roadside air quality in Bloomsbury. In 2017, average Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels recorded in Bloomsbury significantly exceeded the UK National Objective for cleaner air, set at 40μg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre).
Several cycle routes cross Bloomsbury, with cycling infrastructure provided and maintained by both the London Borough of Camden and Transport for London (TfL). Many routes across Bloomsbury feature segregated cycle tracks or bus lanes for use by cyclists. Additionally, Bloomsbury is connected to the wider London cycle network via several routes, including:
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bloomsbury.