London Parks & Gardens Trust

A Walk through Bloomsbury

Tavistock Square

Tavistock Square

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Directions

At the junction with of Tavistock Place Woburn Place, cross at the traffic lights and continue on, turning right into Tavistock Square Garden. This entrance has steps: to avoid these, use one of the three entrances on the other sides of the garden, which are sloped.

Walk towards the statue of Gandhi at the centre.

Leave the square via the gate on the west side, behind the statue of Gandhi.

Description

Also part of the Bedford Estate, Tavistock Square was established by the fifth Duke of Bedford in 1800, at the same time as Russell Square, although the garden was not laid out until 1825. The houses were built first by James Burton and completed from the 1820s by Thomas Cubitt. The present layout of the garden dates from the late 1800s.

Thomas Cubitt (1788-1855) was the leading developer of the early 19th century. He was the first large-scale commercial builder, employing his own workforce, including dozens of brick-makers, masons, plasterers and painters. He also had a professional staff of architects and surveyors, as well as his own legal and letting departments. From 1821 he completed Burton's work in Bloomsbury.

Looking to the south you will see the Tavistock Hotel, which stands on the site of number 52, where Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived from 1924 to 1939. Virginia wrote many of her best-known novels here, including To the Lighthouse and The Waves, and the house was also the first home of the Hogarth Press, run by Leonard Woolf.

Also in the square is a bronze bust of Louisa Aldrich-Blake (1865-1925), who was the first woman in Britain to become a Master of Surgery and went on to become Dean of the London School of Medicine for Women. She was also renowned for her skill at cricket and boxing!

The statue of Mohandas Gandhi, by Polish sculptor Fredda Brilliant, was unveiled in 1968. Gandhi (1869-1948) was the founding father of independent India, having trained as a barrister at the Inner Temple in London. After the First World War, he became the main Indian nationalist leader, directing the struggle against the British authorities, using non-violent tactics of ‘passive resistance’. He became universally known as ‘Mahatma’, meaning ‘great soul’, and eventually saw India gain independence in 1947.

A beech tree was planted in the square in his memory by Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), a close associate of Gandhi's in the nationalist struggle, and the first Prime Minister of independent India from 1947 to 1964. Looking to the north eastern corner of the square, the British Medical Association headquarters now occupies the site of Tavistock House, an 18-room mansion, where Charles Dickens lived from 1851 until 1860. While here, he wrote Bleak House, Hard Times, Little Dorrit and A Tale of Two Cities. He also entertained other literary friends, such as Wilkie Collins (author of The Woman in White and The Moonstone) and Hans Christian Anderson. It was here that his marriage became increasingly strained. In 1857 Dickens fell in love with an 18-year-old actress, and the following year he and his wife parted. Two years later Dickens sold up and left London for good.

On the wall opposite the west gate at No. 33, is a plaque to barrister Mohammed Ali Abbas, one of the founders of Pakistan.