Inventory Site Record

Bloomsbury Square Gardens * (Camden)

Brief Description

* on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens

Bloomsbury Square was laid out in the early 1660s on land then owned by the Earl of Southampton, but from 1723 became part of the Bedford Estate. The central garden originally had a cruciform layout. From 1800 the 5th Duke of Bedford began developing his estate, demolishing Bedford House to the north of Bloomsbury Square. He commissioned Humphry Repton to redesign Bloomsbury Square in c1806 and by the 1820s there was a large lawn with oval line of trees in the centre, perimeter shrubbery and walk, and an oval shrubbery in each corner. The layout changed at various times throughout the C20th but refurbishment carried out in 2006/7 reflected elements of Repton’s layout, and restored views and links to Russell Square.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Southampton Square
Site location:
Bloomsbury Square
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Garden Square, Public Gardens
Open to public?
Opening times:
7.30am - dusk
Has taken part in Open Garden Squares Weekend 8 times, most recently in 2011.
Special conditions:
Children's playground
Participates in OGSW. For news and events see Association of Bloomsbury Squares and Gardens website: www.bloomsburysquares.org.uk
Public transport:
Tube: Holborn (Piccadilly, Central). Bus: 1, 7, 8, 19, 25, 38, 55, 59, 68, 91, 98, 168, 188, 242
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.camden.gov.uk; www.friendsofbloomsburysquare.org

Full Site Description

Site on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens, for Register Entry see https://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list

The name Bloomsbury may derive from 'Blemondisberi', the manor or bury belonging to William de Blemond, a Norman who is recorded as acquiring the land in 1201. Alternatively it may be a corruption of 'Lomesbury', an old hamlet that was once here. By the late C14th the Blemond estate was owned by Edward III who passed it to Carthusian monks of the London Charterhouse, but it reverted to the Crown at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and was then granted to Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton. Bloomsbury Square was part of the early development of Bloomsbury, which began in the 1660s and continued into the 1850s. None of the original C17th buildings remain today although there are fine examples dating from the C18th and early C19th. It was initially named Southampton Square after Thomas Wriothesley, 4th Earl of Southampton and the Lord Treasurer, for whom it was laid out to the south of his grand town residence, Southampton House. He had been granted a Royal Licence to develop the land here in the 1640s.

Although Covent Garden Piazza and Lincoln's Inn Field pre-date it, this was the first London square to be so-named and was also the first residential development undertaken with speculative builders. The diarist John Evelyn noted on 9 February 1665: 'Dined at my Lord Treasurer's, the Earle of Southampton, in Blomesbury, where he was building a noble square or piazza, a little towne; his own house stands too low, some noble roomes, a pretty cedar chappell, a naked garden to the north, but good aire.' In 1669 the Earl's daughter Rachel married into the Russell family, the Dukes of Bedford, and the square was renamed Bloomsbury Square; when Lady Russell died in 1723 it became part of the Bedford Estate, Southampton House also renamed Bedford House.

The early layout of the garden was cruciform with four railed and grassed areas divided by paths; by the 1740s new paths divided the square into eight. In 1800 the 5th Duke of Bedford was, by Act of Parliament, able to develop his estate here. By now the area was deemed unfashionable by the aristocracy and the Duke moved out of Bedford House, which was then demolished in 1802. He built the north side of Bloomsbury Square and began developing Bedford Place between Bloomsbury Square and the new Russell Square (q.v.) across the former garden of Bedford House.

The area was increasingly attracting middle class professionals, and occupants of Bloomsbury Square included the writer D'Israeli whose son Benjamin Disraeli also lived here for a time. Later, early C20th residents in the square and neighbourhood included members of the literary and artistic 'Bloomsbury group', such as Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey and Dora Carrington.

The central garden was laid out with lawns, flower beds and privet hedge by 1806 when an Act of the same year enabled the Duke Bedford to erect 'any statue, column or ornamental erection but no other building in the square', its maintenance paid for out of rates levied on the occupiers of Bloomsbury Square. Humphry Repton was commissioned to redesign the square c.1806/7, providing walks, including a formal lime walk, and shrubberies. In the north of the square set back in the shrubbery a bronze statue of Charles James Fox by Sir Richard Westmacott was erected in 1816. Fox, leading radical and member of the Whig party, and an associate of the Bedford family, had died in 1806. His supporters raised the money to commission Westmacott for a memorial in Westminster Abbey and this statue on a site chosen by the 6th Duke of Bedford in Bloomsbury Square. The statue was restored in 2006 to commemorate the bicentenary of Fox's death and unveiled by the Rt Hon Michael Foot.

By the 1820s the garden layout consisted of a large lawn with an oval line of trees in the centre, perimeter shrubbery and walk and an oval shrubbery in each corner. By the early C20th the layout had somewhat altered with scattered trees on the lawn, oval shrubberies at each corner and a central shrubbery with curving path from north-west to south-east. The northern end remained much the same but the southern end was redesigned in mid C20th to a geometrical pattern. Further alterations in the south area took place in 1971-3 when a car park was built underneath and the gardens were redesigned by David Lee, with extensive paving, three slightly raised islands of grass with trees, flowering shrubs and some perennial bedding. The garden had York paved paths and trees and shrubs around the perimeter, quite wooded in parts. However by the end of the C20th the gardens had become neglected; a Friends Group was set up and a refurbishment project was undertaken to restore the garden. Work was carried out by Land Use Consultants and the landscaping reflects elements of Humphrey Repton’s 1806 layout, restores views and links to Russell Square, and has provided new paths, new railings and a hornbeam hedge as well as park furniture and landscape improvements. The restored gardens were re-opened in 2003 by the Duke of Bedford.

The Association of Bloomsbury Squares and Gardens was set up in 2012 as a forum for the local gardens, with a website www.bloomsburysquares.org.uk, which acts as a point of access for sharing activities, events and concerns. The gardens within the Association are: Argyle, Bedford, Bloomsbury, Brunswick, Fitzroy, Gordon, Mecklenburgh, Regent, Russell, Tavistock, Torrington and Woburn Squares (q.q.v.), and Marchmont Community Garden.

The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England was established in 1984 and was commonly called English Heritage. In April 2015 it split into 2 separate entities, Historic England (HE), which continues to champion and protect the historic environment, and the English Heritage Trust, whose role is to look after the 400+ historic sites and monuments owned by the state. HE manages the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) that includes over 400,000 items ranging from prehistoric monuments to office blocks, battlefields and parks, which benefit from legal protection.

Sources consulted:

NHLE Register: H Overton, Britannia Illustrata', c.1724; E B Chancellor, 'The History of the Squares of London', 1907; J Evelyn 'Diary' ed. W Bray, 1945; N Pevsner 'London except . . . Westminster', 1952; G Carter, P Goode, K Laurie 'Humphry Repton', 1982; D J Olsen, 'Town Planning in London', 1984 ed. See www.friendsofbloomsburysquare.org

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ303816 (530338,181671)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
Bedford Estates, leased to LB Camden (Bedford Estate, Commissioners of Bloomsbury Square)
Site management:
Parks & Open Spaces; Friends of Bloomsbury Square
c1665; early C19th; C20th (mid & 1970s)
early C19th: Humphry Repton
Listed structures:
LBII*: Nos. 5, 5A 6 Bloomsbury Square. LBII: Nos. 1, 2, 3; 9-13, 14, 17, 18-22; 23-27; 43, 44, 45, 46, 47 Bloomsbury Square; Statue of Charles James Fox
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

NHLE grade:
Grade II
Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Conservation Area name:
Tree Preservation Order:
Not known
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Area of Special Character: Central London Area
Other LA designation:
Public Open Space (Small Local). London Squares Preservation Act of 1931

Bloomsbury Square Gardens *

Bloomsbury Square Gardens, July 2002. Photo: S Williams.

Statue of Charles James Fox, Bloomsbury Square, June 2009. Photo: S Williams

Click a photo to enlarge.

More photos

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