The History of the Bloomsbury Area

The earliest written record of the area of London that was to become Bloomsbury as it is known today, was in 1086 in the Doomsday Book, which recorded it was an area of vineyards and  "wood for 100 pigs". In 1201 the area was given the name Bloomsbury when William De Blemond, a Norman landowner acquired the land.

By the 16th century the land had been granted to Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton. His great grandson, the 4th Earl of Southampton began the development of the Bloomsbury area, including the building of Southampton House, later Bedford House, on what now is Bedford Square. By 1667, his daughter Lady Rachel Vaughan inherited the Estate and in 1669 Lady Rachel married William, Lord Russell, son and heir to the 5th Duke of Bedford bringing the Bloomsbury Estate into the Russell family.

Much of the Bloomsbury area since 1669 has been managed and developed by the Russell Family and is today managed by the Bedford Estate office in London. Please see our timeline below for further information of some of the key periods of time and some of the people that have helped shape the area of Bloomsbury that we know today.

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Portrait of Henry VIII

1545

Manor of Bloomsbury granted to Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, Chancellor of England by Henry VIII.

Pictured: Portrait of Henry VIII

Print of Bedford House, Bloomsbury Square

1657

4th Earl of Southampton began building Southampton – later Bedford House - on what is now Bloomsbury Square.

Pictured: Print of Bedford House, Bloomsbury Square

Portrait of Thomas Wriothesley, 4th Earl of Southampton by Samuel Cooper (1661)

1665

Bloomsbury Square (originally Southampton Square) was the first garden square of its type in London. It was developed by the 4th Earl of Southampton as a piazza to his mansion.

Pictured: Portrait of Thomas Wriothesley, 4th Earl of Southampton by Samuel Cooper (1661)

Portrait of Rachel Wriothesley, later Rachel Vaughan

1667

Upon the death of the 4th Earl of Southampton his daughter, Lady Rachel Vaughan, inherits the Bloomsbury Estate.

Pictured: Portrait of Rachel Wriothesley, later Rachel Vaughan

Map of Bloomsbury Square showing Bedford House and Gardens

1669

Lady Rachel marries William, Lord Russell, son and heir to 5th Earl of Bedford bringing the Bloomsbury Estate as part of her dowry.

Pictured: Map of Bloomsbury Square showing Bedford House and Gardens

Map showing the ‘sold’ plot next to Bedford House

1673

Lady Rachel’s sister marries Ralph, Earl of Montagu, and builds Montagu House next door to Bedford House, burnt down and rebuilt in 1685. Purchased by the nation in 1753 and became The British Museum.

Pictured: Map showing the ‘sold’ plot next to Bedford House

Bedford House Plan Pre 1800

1683

William, Lord Russell beheaded for treason and Lady Rachel administers the Bloomsbury Estate until her death in 1723. It is then absorbed and administered from The Bedford Estate Office in London.

Pictured: Bedford House Plan Pre 1800

Signature of Hans Sloane

1753

Founding of The British Museum, based on the collections of Sir Hans Sloane who lived for many years in Bloomsbury Place (an Estate property).

Pictured: Signature of Hans Sloane

Survey of Bedford Square from 1795

1776

Building of Bedford Square begins by William Scott and Robert Grews. Marks the transformation of the pastures of northern Bloomsbury into a restricted upper-middle-class suburb.

Pictured: Survey of Bedford Square from 1795

Plan of Russell Square, 1866

1800

Bedford House, Bloomsbury, demolished to make way for housing and the formation of Russell Square mainly under the auspices of builder, James Burton. Russell Square Garden designed by Humphry Repton.

Pictured: Plan of Russell Square, 1866

Blue plaque on Tavistock House in Tavistock Square

1851

Charles Dickens leases Tavistock House, Tavistock Square. During this period he wrote Bleak House, Hard Times, Little Dorrit and A Tale of Two Cities.

Pictured: Blue plaque on Tavistock House in Tavistock Square

Decorative elements used within St Pancras Station

1868

St Pancras Station opened. A Grade I listed building designed by the architect, William Henry Barlow.

Pictured: Decorative elements used within St Pancras Station

1-8 Russell Square

1888

Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and family moved to Russell Square to one of the houses which is now the site of the Hotel Russell.

Pictured: 1-8 Russell Square

Copy draft conveyance between the 11th Duke of Bedford to the Trustees of The British Museum

1895

Estate sells 64 buildings to The British Museum for its expansion.

Pictured: Copy draft conveyance between the 11th Duke of Bedford to the Trustees of The British Museum

Institute Of Medical Psychology Damaged,1941

1920

The 11th Duke of Bedford donated No. 51 Tavistock Square to a group which planned to conduct rehabilitation programmes for shell shocked soldiers from WWI. The group took the name of The Tavistock Institute.

Pictured: Institute Of Medical Psychology Damaged,1941

Connaught Hall, located in Tavistock Square

1927

The Estate sells large area to the north of The British Museum for the development of the University of London.

Pictured: Connaught Hall, located in Tavistock Square

Senate House Tower construction (University of London archive, reference UoL/CT3/4/2)

1936

Opening of Senate House, the tallest secular building in London at 209 feet.

Pictured: Senate House Tower construction (University of London archive, reference UoL/CT3/4/2)

Damage to 51 & 52 Tavistock Square during World War II

1940

In 1940/41, the Blitz caused much damage to buildings across London and The Estate.

Pictured: Damage to 51 & 52 Tavistock Square during World War II

The Festival Pleasure Grounds

1951

The Festival of Britain was a national exhibition held throughout the UK in the summer of 1951. It was organised by the Government to give Britons a feeling of recovery in the aftermath of war.

Pictured: The Festival Pleasure Grounds

View of the BT Tower today

1964

BT Tower opened. It was the tallest building in London in the 1960s, standing at 581 feet.

Pictured: View of the BT Tower today

Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984)

1967

St Pancras Chambers saved from demolition following campaign led by the poet, Sir John Betjeman.

Pictured: Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984)

The British Library today

1997

Opening of The British Library, the largest public building constructed in the UK in the 20th century. The basements extend to a depth of 24.5 metres.

Pictured: The British Library today

The 15th Duke of Bedford

2003

The present Duke, Andrew Ian Henry Russell, (the 15th Duke of Bedford) succeeds to the title.

Pictured: The 15th Duke of Bedford

Eurostar Train at St Pancras International Station

2009

Eurostar opens a new terminal at St Pancras International Station providing direct services to Paris and Brussels.

Pictured: Eurostar Train at St Pancras International Station

2018

Crossrail – due to open.

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