London Parks & Gardens Trust

A Walk through Bloomsbury

Gordon Square

Gordon Square

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Directions

Turn right and leave Tavistock Square by turning left into Endsleigh Place. Continue on into Gordon Square. Turn left and walk down the road to No. 46.

Turn around and retrace your steps, entering the square by the gate opposite No. 45. The square garden has recently been restored.

Description

Like Tavistock Square, Gordon Square was established as part of the Bedford Estate in 1800, but Cubitt did not begin building until the 1820s. The square was named after Lady Georgiana Gordon, second wife of the sixth Duke of Bedford, and the garden was designed by the Duke himself with a complex layout of curving paths and shrubberies.

No. 46 was home from 1904 to 1907 to Virginia Stephen and her sister Vanessa, after the death of their father, Sir Leslie Stephen. The house was the early focus of what became known as the Bloomsbury Group, a network of artists, writers and critics, who delighted in ‘the pleasures of human intercourse and the enjoyment of beautiful things’.

Vanessa (1879-1961), who was one of the first abstract painters in Britain, married art critic and writer Clive Bell in 1907 and they continued to live in the house until 1916, while Virginia moved to Fitzroy Square and then Brunswick Square with her brother Adrian.

The ‘Bloomsberries’, as they were known, were notorious for their sexual entanglements, and have been referred to as ‘couples who live in squares and have triangular relationships’. The painter Duncan Grant had affairs with Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes and Virginia and Vanessa's brother Adrian before settling into a long liaison with Vanessa herself. From 1915 they lived virtually as man and wife, co-existing quite happily with her husband Clive Bell, who had many love affairs of his own.

Economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) moved into No. 46 with the Bells, and took over the lease in 1918, staying there for the rest of his life. He astonished his Bloomsbury friends by falling in love with, and marrying, Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova in 1925. This was despite his apparently low first opinion of her, commenting to a friend: "She's a rotten dancer - she has such a stiff bottom." They settled down together at No. 46 and she continued to live there for two more years after his death.

Another member of the group was Lytton Strachey (1880-1932), who lived at Nos 41 and 51. Strachey was a well-known historical biographer, who wrote Emminent Victorians and Elizabeth and Essex. So many members of the group were living in the square, that Lytton observed to Virginia Woolf:

"Very soon I foresee that the whole square will become a sort of college, and the rencontres in the garden I should shudder to think of."

In the 1960s, Strachey's biographer, Michael Holroyd, found an unpublished work of Strachey's on Warren Hastings in the cellar of the house. It then got thrown out by accident, leading to a tussle in the street between Holroyd and the dustmen.

In a memoir of old Bloomsbury, Virginia Woolf wrote of Gordon Square:

‘It was astonishing to stand at the drawing room window and look into all those trees; the tree which shoots its branches up into the air and lets them fall in a shower; the tree which glistens after the rain like the body of a seal.’

Across the square is Dr Williams' Library, built in Tudor Revival style in 1848. There is a blue plaque to Robert Travers Herford (1860-1950) on the wall, who lived and worked here from 1914 to 1925. A Unitarian minister, Herford was a pioneering scholar of Judaism and confronted some of the most deeply-rooted assumptions of anti-Semitism at a time when, in the build up to the Second World War, such matters were of much more than academic significance.

Christ Church, which adjoins the Library, contains an altarpiece by Sir Edward Burne-Jones in memory of Christina Rossetti, poet and sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.