This is one of London’s larger pocket parks, and also one of its oldest, at around 360 years old — but it was only opened to the public in the 1950s.

The garden square was originally laid out as a plaza style space, probably unadorned in 1665 by the 4th Earl of Southampton who was building a decent sized mansion house to the north, on what was at the time the very edge of London.

The house, designed by Inigo Jones was built on a significant location though, being likely the site of one of the demolished forts that were erected to protect London from the King during the English Civil War. As he was a strong supporter of the monarchy, it probably amused him greatly to put his new mansion house on the site of the Parliamentary fort.

The large open space in front of his new mansion house was lined with decent houses for the gentry, and it’s likely that the square was loosely fenced off within the next 40 years.

His daughter, Rachel married Lord Russell, and their son inherited the title of Duke of Bedford – hence the Bedford Estate which still owns a lot of the land around this part of London, including Bloomsbury Square.

By the early 19th century, as London expanded, the area lost its upper-class airs so in 1800, the Duke of Bedford moved out and sold off his house for development into the rows of houses that exist to this day.

It was also at this time that the layout of Bloomsbury Square as we know it today emerged, as a fenced-off park for the local residents only. Probably completed in 1814, it also included the park’s only statue, of the politician Charles James Fox, in bronze by Sir Richard Westmacott.

The laying out of the garden also required an Act of Parliament – to ban Hackney Cabs from lining the roads around it waiting for customers.

He is shown in a Roman consular robe, as was commonplace at the time, and is holding the Magna Charta. He is shown, unusually, sitting, as he was known for being rather, rotund, and his friends worried that if seen standing, he would look less noble than corpulent.

The park remained fenced off for local residents until the fences were removed during WW2 to be melted down for the war effort. The public now able to enter the park, did so with gusto, and in 1950 it was formally opened to the public.

The park got a major shake up in 1971-3 when a large car park was built underneath, and the park was, of necessity revamped afterwards. The current layout of the park is more modern, having been completed about 20 years ago.

Today the park is fairly basic, being mainly a lot of open grass crisscrossed by walkways, and the old trees around the edges.

It’s designed thus to accept that during the summer months, the grass is full of office people having lunch, and filling the space with planting would be of no use whatsoever.

Bloomsbury Square is still owned by the Bedford Estates, although it’s now maintained by Camden Council.

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4 comments
  1. Using the car park beneath the square on a visit to London, I was intrigued to discover that it takes the form of double helix, akin to a DNA molecule. Upon entering one descends on the clockwise nucleotide strand. For each full turn of the spiral there is a cross-passage akin to a base pair binding, and passing through one of these, one then ascends on the anti-clockwise strand.

    It’s an ingenious approach to fitting a lot of cars into a comparatively small space, and I like to think of it as an unusual application of a scientific discovery that was only about twenty years old at the time the place was built.

    • Just to correct myself concerning the nature of a double helix: both strands wind the same way, intertwined; what I should have said is that the strands of the car park wind clockwise as they go down, so when on the ascending strand, one travels anticlockwise.

  2. Melvyn says:

    I notice on the map The Kings Way runs east to west where Theobalds Road is today instead of north to south from Theobalds Road !

  3. William Rees says:

    I went to Central School of Art nearby and in one project re designed this Square! The car park was a fabulous space…

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