Regent Square Gardens (Camden)
Regent Square Gardens were originally laid out for the private use of residents of the surrounding houses built from 1829, of which only the terrace on the south side of the square remains. Maintained by a Committee of residents, the garden was an enclosed rectangle with exits on each side linked by a curving perimeter path and bisected by another path along its short axis, with perimeter trees and a few trees in the centre. The garden was later opened to the public. By the 1950s the layout comprised a straight perimeter path and central oval path, and further changes took place in the 1970s. The current layout of 1995 as part of King's Cross area improvements is closer to the original. Planting consists of shrubs and herbaceous perennial plants, the central area mainly laid to lawn crossed by a serpentine path, and the garden has a number of the original London plane trees.
- Site location:
- Regent Square
- WC1H 8HZ
- Type of site:
- Garden Square; Public Gardens
- Listed structures:
- LBII: Nos 1-17 Regent Square; K2 Telephone Kiosk
- Site ownership:
- LB Camden
- Site management:
- Parks & Open Spaces
- Open to public?
- Opening times:
- locked at dusk
- Special conditions:
- For news and events see Association of Bloomsbury Squares and Gardens website: www.bloomsburysquares.org.uk
- Public transport:
- Rail: King's Cross. Tube: King's Cross (Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, Piccadilly, Circle, Victoria, Northern). Bus: 46, 10, 30, 73, 91, 214.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/08/2013
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.camden.gov.uk
- Grid ref:
- TQ304825 (530395,182553)
- Size in hectares:
- On EH National Register :
- EH grade:
- 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
The site that was to become Regent Square was part of the Harrison estate, originally a field of 18 acres. As early as 1623 it was the scene of the brickmaking industry but it is recorded in the C18th as belonging to the Harrison family, brick-makers, who ultimately developed it as a building estate. Shown as open fields on Horwood’s map of 1792-9, in 1802 the development of the nearby Foundling Hospital Estate caused Harrison to consider whether his property was not more valuable as building land than for brickmaking. At that time nothing had been built on the property except a row of houses fronting Gray's Inn Road, called Sidmouth Place, in one of which Harrison was living. John Tompson’s map of c.1803 shows the area that was to become Regent Square in Gravel Pit Field at that time and an engraving of 1808 shows Harrison's Brickyard. In 1809 Harrison applied for an Act of Parliament for developing his estate and this was passed later that year. Horwood’s map of 1813 shows Sidmouth Street laid out to the south with the site of Regent Square (not named) divided into four plots but with no buildings as yet. It is likely that the square was laid out in the Regency period as it was named after the Prince Regent, and may have reflected the aspirations of its builder, with houses designed for the relatively well-off middle class. Rate books show occupation of the houses began in 1829 and it is possible that the garden was created around this time.
Two churches, St. Peter's Church (CoE) and the Presbyterian Church were built before the houses were fully occupied, and Greenwood’s map of 1830 shows little detail apart from ‘Regent Square’ and labels the two churches. St Peter's was built in 1822-26, the site purchased by the vestry of St Pancras and paid for out of the parochial rates. The architects were William Inwood and his son, Henry William. The Presbyterian Church was built in 1824-27 on the south side of the square to the design of William Tite. Revd. Edward Irving (later to found the Irvingites) had resolved to build a church worthy to be the ‘cathedral’ of the Scottish Church in London and purchased the freehold site in Regent Square for £1,500. When Irving was removed from the church by the trustees on 3 May 1832, owing to the unorthodox character of his ‘apostolic’ mission, some 800 communicants left with him. St Peter's Church was badly damaged in WWII when the nave was partly demolished; the tower and portico remained but were later demolished as dangerous structures in 1967. The Presbyterian Church suffered severe damage in February 1945 when a V2 rocket devastated much of Regent Square area; it was demolished in 1964 having become derelict.
Harrison Street bounds the north side and Sidmouth Street the south side. There is no detail of Regent Square on Britton’s map of 1834 but Stanford’s map of 1862 shows a green space with closely spaced perimeter trees and two central trees; again Weller’s map of 1868 shows Regent Square but no internal design detail. The 1874 Town Plan OS map and the 1877 OS map show the garden with four exits, one on each side located midway, perimeter trees, and inside the garden a serpentine perimeter path, linking the exits. Another north-south path curves down the centre dividing the garden into two halves. Mature trees are shown in the central area. The 1896 and 1916 maps show little more detail than the 1877 map, except that they show the perimeter path has two small circular areas (which may be paved or grass areas or flower beds) adjoining the inside of the path. The gardens were maintained by a Committee of inhabitants of Regent Square, with rates levied by St Pancras Borough Council on occupiers of houses around the square. In 1928 the Royal Commission on London Squares described the garden as 'a rectangular area maintained as a lawn with some fine trees'. A photograph from 1936 shows part of the garden enclosed by iron railings. Inside is a perimeter shrubbery, perimeter path, seven mature trees and a shed in the north-east corner surrounded by a low shrub hedge. At least one of the mature trees stands in a circle of paving with a timber seat at its base.
Photographs and maps from the 1950s depict a new layout in the garden. The perimeter iron railings were probably removed for the war effort, replaced by a c.2m high chain-link perimeter fence. The 1954 map shows a complete change of layout in the garden although the entrances remain as the 1877 OS map. The curving perimeter path has been replaced by a straight one and the north-south path by a central oval path, presumably surrounding a grassed area, which has connecting paths to the exits and to the perimeter path. Some of the trees depicted are in a similar position and number to those of the 1877 map. A photograph of 1955 shows small square or trapezoid beds cut into the lawn. A mature London plane can be seen in a circle (possibly paved or gravel) with timber benches around the tree on the paved/gravel area. By c.1966 a flower bed has been cut into the grass between the fence and the perimeter path. Photographs dated to 1950 and 1965 showing the garden’s north and south side appear to show iron railings so the garden may still have been partially railed at this time. These photographs also show a perimeter hedge of shrubs, path with ropework edging, timber shed, mature London planes, grass area with small flower beds cut in, one square and one circular.
Further changes to the garden layout can be seen in photographs dated c.1970, which appear to show the central oval grassed area as on the 1954 map but with the addition of at least three circles of what appears to be gravel paths cut into the grass. Each circle contains a central planter, a low saucer-shaped concrete planter, or a central London plane with a timber bench beside it. The central oval area of grass contains a mature London plane. Photographs of c.1978 shows daffodils were planted, perimeter shrub beds and chain-link fence as well as mature London plane trees.
Another new layout in the garden was introduced in 1995 as part of LB Camden's King's Cross area improvements to the surrounding housing estate, which was run-down and deemed unsafe. Regent Square was provided with new lawns, spring bulb planting and bound gravel paths. The mature trees were retained and chain link fencing was replaced by traditional-style reproduction railings. Grids were introduced ‘to prevent stray dogs entering’ and entrances were gated to allow for closing at night time. Lamp posts and new seating were also part of the improvements. The housing estate improvements included a number of public art projects. In Regent Square Gardens artist Anya Gallaccio created a number of circular beds set into the lawn and planted with camomile and a series of bulbs planned to come out sequentially from the spring, all with white blooms, but sadly these appear to have disappeared. In 1997 the dog grids were reported as a danger for wheelchair users and dogs were getting stuck, and were later removed in 2010.
Today (2011) the rectangular garden is enclosed by spear-top iron railings and has four double-gate entrances, one at each corner in the position of the entrances shown on the 1954 map. Perimeter beds are situated between each gate running the length or width of the garden. They are enclosed on the perimeter path side by low hawthorn hedges c.0.5m high. The beds contain the mature London plane trees and several shrubs including small rhododendrons, hazel, elder and buddleia and perennial plants including Geranium sp, Euphorbia sp, aquilegias, periwinkles, hellebores and spring bulbs. Inside the garden and the perimeter beds is a slightly curving gravel perimeter path that connects to the entrances, the path in a similar position to that seen on the 1877 map. A serpentine gravel path on a south-east/north-west axis joins the north-west gate to the south-east gate. The central area is grass with its six mature London plane trees but there are no other central features except for a granite bollard, the origin or purpose of which is unknown. Other amenities include several metal benches along the paths and a few lampposts of modern design. In one of the London plane trees is an art project by local children, 'Tree of Birds'.
The garden is owned and managed by LB Camden and the Regent Square Residents Association support the Council in managing the square. The garden is overlooked by low-rise modern council blocks to the north, east and west, the original C19th terraces surviving only on the south side, a terrace of 17 houses c.1829. On the south-west side is a telephone kiosk, type K2 of 1927 designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. Famous former residents of the square include William Hartnell (the first Dr Who) and the artist Sir William Coldstream. Just off the north-east side of Regent Square, the Regent Square Factory was established by the Perkins family on 6 Francis Street (now Seaford Street) in c.1827. Here, headed by Angier Perkins (1799-1881), research and development was carried out on central heating where hot water was circulated in iron tubes at high pressure. The heating system was installed in many public buildings and churches including the Guildhall, Old Bailey, British Museum and the Elephant House at Regent's Park Zoo; the first customer was the Governor of the Bank of England for his hothouse in Fulham. Angier moved to a superior house at No.18 Regent Square in 1843 and later to No.5. From 1860 until WWI Nos. 3-6 were used as a home for unmarried mothers.
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.
Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin, 1998); E Beresford Chancellor 'The History of the Squares of London: Topographical and Historical', London 1907; W H Godfrey and W McB Marcham (eds) ‘The parish of St Pancras’, Survey of London vol 24, 1952, pp pp70-79; Report of the Royal Commission on London Squares, 1928; D A Hayes, ‘Perkins and Co: four generations of steam and heat engineers in Camden’, Camden History Review 32, 2008, pp19-21 and ‘Homes of Hope in Regent Square’, Camden History Review 34, 2010, pp18-24.
LPGT Volunteer Research by Carrie Cowan, 2011.
Regent Square Gardens, looking south with C19th terrace behind, June 2008. Photo: S Williams
Click photo to enlarge.