Inventory Site Record

Woburn Square Garden (Camden)

Brief Description

Woburn Square is a rectangular enclosure laid out by the Duke of Bedford c.1830, overlooked by C19th terraces of 1829-33. It was for the private use of householders and OS maps of 1881, 1894 and 1913 show the layout of paths and planting changing over the years. By 1928 London University had acquired part of the site, but as late as 1950 it was described as the most perfect of the smaller Bloomsbury squares. Encroachment began in 1958 when the Warburg Institute was built in the north-west corner; in 1972 part of the north and south sides were demolished for the Institute of Education and School of Oriental and African Studies. Today it is an elongated rectangular garden, shaded by mature trees, with perimeter walk, a children's playground in the south, and small shelter to the north. In 2007 the gardens were re-opened following a 7-year restoration project.

Practical Information
Site location:
Tavistock Place
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Garden Square, Public Gardens
Open to public?
Opening times:
Daily, 8am to 8pm or dusk, except Christmas Day Has taken part in Open Garden Squares Weekend in the past.
Special conditions:
No dogs except guide dogs, cycling, ball games/frisbees, fires or barbecues
Children's play area
For news and events see Association of Bloomsbury Squares and Gardens website: www.bloomsburysquares.org.uk
Public transport:
Tube: Russell Square (Piccadilly); Euston Square (Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, Circle); Goodge Street (Northern). Bus: 59, 68, 91, 168, 7, 10, 18, 24, 29, 30, 73, 134, 188
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.london.ac.uk

Full Site Description

Shown as open fields on Cary's Plan of London of 1787, by 1794/9 plans for roads are shown, and the road structure was in place by 1819, although no buildings or gardens were yet laid out. Woburn Square is a rectangular enclosure laid out by the Duke of Bedford in c.1830, and overlooked by C19th terraces begun in 1829 by James Sim, continued after his death in 1833 by his sons James and Robert. Part of the terrace is now the Institute of Education. The square is named after Woburn Abbey, the Duke of Bedford's seat. Christ Church (now demolished) was built 1831-33 by Lewis Vulliamy and it served a new ecclesiastical district as part of the parish of St George. By 1881 OS Map shows the gardens laid out with grass, rows of trees around the perimeter path within fencing, a tree within an oval of path in the centre of the northern section, and an oval shrubbery with trees surrounded by the path across the centre which linked two entrance gates on the east and west sides. A small building was at the northern end within a deep shrubbery, and a small area of shrubbery was at the southern end inside the path. By 1894 the garden is shown on the OS map with trees around its circumference and two perimeter walks forming a figure-of-eight, and by 1913 the number of trees are reduced. The gardens were maintained by a Committee of Inhabitants of the square through contributions from occupants.

By 1928 London University had acquired part of the site and encroachment of the garden began in 1958 when Charles Holden's Warburg Institute was built in the north-west corner, premises shared with the Courtauld Institute until it transferred to Somerset House. As late as 1950 it was described as the most perfect of the smaller Bloomsbury Squares. In 1972 the eastern part of the north side of Woburn Square and two-thirds of the south side were demolished by the University of London for Sir Denys Lasdun's Institute of Education and the School of Oriental and African Studies, when the latter was extended Christ Church and other houses were demolished.

Today it is an elongated rectangular garden, shaded by many mature trees, with perimeter walk and a children's playground in the south, a small shelter to the north. Just outside the south end is a sculpture donated in 1996 to the adjacent School of Oriental and African Studies of a seated figure of Tamil philosopher, Tiruvalluver. In the border by the play area is a sculpture, 'The Green Man' by Lydia Kapinska, 1999, on loan to the University; a plaque is inscribed with an extract from Virginia Woolf's 'The Waves'.

In 2007 the gardens were formally re-opened by HRH the Princess Royal following a 7-year restoration project of both Woburn and Gordon Squares funded by University of London, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Wolfson Foundation and English Heritage. (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.)

Work was undertaken by Land Use Consultants and improvements in Woburn Square included new railings, play equipment for children, refurbishment of the summerhouse, planting of trees, shrubs and roses, and also removal of some of the surrounding parking bays.

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.

Sources consulted:

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; Survey of London; Report of the Royal Commission for London Squares, 1928; F Peter Woodford ed., 'Streets of Bloomsbury & Fitzrovia' (Camden History Society, 1997).

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ298821 (529853,182148)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
University of London
Site management:
University of London
Listed structures:
LBII: Nos.10-18 (Consecutive) Woburn Square and attached railings and lamp-holder, Nos.24-28 (Consecutive) and attached railings.
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

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

Woburn Square Garden

Woburn Square towards Summerhouse, June 2008. Photo: S Williams

Woburn Square towards Playground, University buildings behind, June 2008. Photo: S Williams
Woburn Square, Summerhouse and C19th Terraces, June 2008. Photo: S Williams

Click a photo to enlarge.

More photos

Please note the Inventory and its content are provided for your general information only and are subject to change. It is your responsibility to check the accuracy.