Bedford Square is the finest surviving Georgian square in London, laid out between 1775 and 1780 as a show-piece for the next phase of the Bedford Estate. Despite the success of Bloomsbury Square, the Earls of Bedford had been slow to continue developing. The fourth duke eventually drew up the plans for Bedford Square, and after his death, his widow forged ahead with the building.
The square's architect, Thomas Leverton (1743-1824), lived at No. 13 from 1795 until his death. His design was notable for the ‘palace front’, used on each side to make the terraced houses look like a single country mansion, and was much copied.
No. 13 was also the birthplace of Sir Harry Ricardo (1885-1974), designer of advanced aircraft engines, who lived here until 1911. He had a workshop in the basement of the house where he built his first internal combustion engine at the age of 17.
Looking back to the corner of Gower Street, No. 11 was where natural philosopher Henry Cavendish (1731-1810) lived from 1786 until his death. He had a museum, a laboratory and a library of some 12,000 volumes in his house. He was so reclusive that he ordered his dinner by leaving a note on the hall table for his servants. His female staff were under threat of instant dismissal if ever he were to catch sight of them. He was also notoriously frugal; but, when he died, he left a fortune of almost one million pounds to his relatives.
No. 6 was home to the deeply unpopular Lord Eldon (1751-1838). He served as Lord Chancellor almost continuously from 1801 to 1827, and vigorously opposed all the great reforming causes of the day, such as the abolition of slavery and an end to using children as chimney sweeps. He also helped to pass the Corn Laws, which led to a huge rise in the price of bread, a staple item in the diet of the poor. In 1815 an enraged mob gathered outside his house and began to smash windows. Eldon met them on the doorstep, brandishing a shotgun, while Lady Eldon ran for help. Luckily for the rioters, Eldon was such a bad a shot that his brother Lord Stowell once declared that he had killed nothing but time.
At No. 1 lived Weedon Grossmith (1854-1919), who illustrated and, with his brother George, co-wrote the comic masterpiece The Diary of a Nobody, published in 1892. Their character, Charles Pooter, was ancestor to many of the comic characters we know today, such as Reggie Perrin, Basil Fawlty and David Brent.
Number 53 was home for nearly 20 years to Lewis Cubitt (1799-1883), brother of the master-builder Thomas Cubitt, and himself the original architect of King's Cross station. Lewis was in partnership with Thomas during the 1820s, and it is thought that a great many of the buildings in Bloomsbury and Belgravia were built to designs by Lewis.
At No. 52 the poet and future poet laureate Robert Bridges (1844-1930) lived with his mother while in his early thirties. He was then doctor at both the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children and Barts' casualty department, where he was expected to diagnose the ailments of more than 75 patients per hour. In 1881 he gave up medicine and left London for the country, to concentrate on writing poetry full-time.
No. 49 is where Ram Mohun Roy (1772-1833), a reformer and pioneer of Indian journalism, stayed in 1831 while in England to push for improvements to British rule in India. His involvement in the campaign against the practice of suttee, where widows were burnt on a pyre alongside the bodies of their dead husbands, led to the practice being outlawed in 1829.
Next door at No. 48, a Ladies' College was founded by Elisabeth Jesser Reid (1789-1866) in 1849. Just over 30 years later it became a School of the University of London, and in 1909 received a royal charter as Bedford College for Women. As well as being passionate about higher education for women, Reid was an ardent slavery abolitionist and in 1860 hosted Sarah Redmond, the first black woman to make a public lecture tour in Britain.
No. 44 was home to Lady Ottoline Morrell (1873-1938), famed for the many parties she held to court the leading artistic figures of the day. Henry James, Aldous Huxley, T.S. Eliot and D.H. Lawrence all came to her house, as well as members of the Bloomsbury Group. When she first met Eliot, she found him ‘dull, dull, dull’, but they became firm friends when they discovered a mutual love of music-halls, and visited many together. Ottoline was much ridiculed for her flamboyant style, with scarlet platform shoes, huge hats and elaborate costumes in highly coloured velvets and brocades.
At No. 42 architect William Butterfield (1814-1900) lived for the last years of his life. Butterfield was one of the leading lights of the Gothic Revival in Victorian architecture, and designed over 100 churches, as well as Keble College, Oxford. He was a ruthless perfectionist, who, when visiting stained glass workshops, would put his umbrella through any work he disliked.
Also at No. 42, critic and literary editor Cyril Connolly (1903-1974) lived in the top flat during the Second World War. He was famously greedy and lazy, preferring to spend the entire morning in bed and in his bath. He was also famously ugly, but apparently irresistible to women and he had many affairs. At the start of the London Blitz in 1940 he and some friends, who had arrived for tea, went up on the roof to watch an air raid, Connolly announcing: ‘It's a judgement on us. It's the end of capitalism.’
At number 41, novelist Anthony Hope Hawkins (1863-1933) lived from 1903 to 1917. He is better known as plain Anthony Hope, who moved here ten years after writing his swashbuckling thriller, The Prisoner of Zenda, in 1894.
Two well-known Victorian medical men lived at No. 35 at different times. Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866) was a doctor, reformer and philanthropist who identified the glandular disease which is named after him. He campaigned against oppression of indigenous peoples, and was one of the founders of the Aborigines' Protection Society in 1838. He also did a lot of work to help London's poor, in particular persecuted Jews, often treating his poorer patients free of charge.
Also resident here was Thomas Wakley (1795-1862), who as well as being a doctor was also an MP, coroner and reformer. He founded Britain's leading medical journal The Lancet in 1823, which promoted medical reform, and introduced legislation in 1860 which outlawed the adulteration of food and drink. As a coroner, Wakley insisted on establishing the cause of all sudden or suspicious deaths, particularly among the poor, and exposing employers' negligence or mistreatment of their workers.
At No. 31, Sir Edwin Lutyens lived from 1914 to 1919, after he left Bloomsbury Square. While here, he became architect to the Imperial War Graves Commission and designed the Cenotaph in Whitehall as a memorial to all those who died in the First World War.