London’s a city with a rich culture and heritage, and it’s made up of beautiful and historic areas such as Bloomsbury. Famous for its museums, charming tree-lined streets and squares, and a literary past, it’s one of the most desirable areas of London for residents and visitors alike. Here, we journey through Bloomsbury’s colourful past to prove why this area is one of the most popular and interesting in London.
A Doomsday reference
While most of the architecture here dates back to Georgian and Victorian eras, the earliest written record of the area actually dates back to 1086 in the Doomsday Book. The first record of the name wasn’t until 1201 when William de Blemond acquired the land, which was then sold to Thomas Wriothesley in the 16th century. Bloomsbury market was created in 1730 and, in 1800, Francis Russell built the famous Russell Square that remains to this day and is one of the highlights of the borough.
The Bloomsbury Set
Bloomsbury has had many notable residents over the years, and this is evidenced by the numerous blue plaques dotted around this literary square mile, highlighting figures throughout history who have made their mark here. In fact, it was home to The Bloomsbury Set – a group of writers, philosophers, artists and intellectuals who lived and worked here.
Fitzroy Square is the last remaining, complete Georgian Square in London but it was also home to writer Virginia Woolf from 1907-11, while Gordon Square Garden forms the centre of literary Bloomsbury. A little further on, there’s Marchmont Street which was home to Frankenstein author Mary Shelley. Other notable residents to Bloomsbury over the years include Charles Dickens, John Maynard Keynes and even Bob Marley.
Bloomsbury has countless iconic buildings, but many of these made the history books when they were built. In 1936, the Senate Building was the tallest secular building in London at the time, measuring 209 feet, while the BT tower, built in 1964, made history as the tallest building in London – a title it held until the 1980s. However, with countless developments since then, these structures have since been surpassed numerous times over and continue to be overshadowed. The British Library is also located here. Opened in 1997, it was the largest public building constructed in the UK during the 20th century.
While Bloomsbury is famed for its Georgian and Victorian architecture, it also suffered a lot of destruction throughout WW2, which led to much of its beautiful architecture being torn down due to irreparable damage. The legacy of Bloomsbury’s bomb damage can still be found today, from the modern buildings in the northeast where barely any of the area’s character remains.
The geographic area of Bloomsbury is actually protected by the Bloomsbury Conservation Area, which is a historic designation that was set up to limit new developments in this area and ensure that any changes made stay true to the character of this part of the city. Bloomsbury’s conservation area is one of the most prominent and oldest in the UK, having acquired designation back in 1968, less than a year after these types of areas were declared by the Civic Amenities Act 1967.
However, what makes Bloomsbury unique to other areas is that there’s a conservation area advisory committee here, which includes a team of planners, lawyers, architects and similar professionals who live and work in this area of London. It’s no wonder, given that Bloomsbury contains one of the largest proportions of listed buildings and historic monuments per square metre of any conservation area in the UK, as well as playing host to several of London’s most iconic and famous buildings.
Dedicated to the past
Bloomsbury is famed for being the home of the British Museum, which opened to the public in 1759 and sits at the centre of the area. But it’s not the only museum that Bloomsbury offers its visitors. The Foundling Museum, which is located close to Brunswick Square, informs us of the story of the Foundling Hospital, as well as the Dickens Museum, the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology and the Grant Museum of Zoology. For people who love to dive into history, Bloomsbury is one of the top locations in London for museums and learning.
Looking to the future
Today, Bloomsbury has a level of prestige and respectability, owing to its literary ties and intellectual residents over the years. In fact, with the founding of UCL in 1826, Bloomsbury took on the role of the intellectual quarter of the city – a title it retains to this day. Now, it’s primarily a residential area that’s studded with contemporary pubs, restaurants and shops that live in harmony with the old buildings of its past.
Given that many of its original buildings were removed during the post-war period, there’s now a demand for preserving what’s left of the aesthetic appeal of Bloomsbury, ensuring that shopfronts and public spaces are in keeping with the surrounding area. In fact, contrary to other parts of London, Bloomsbury doesn’t even permit excessive advertisements to retain that classic feel to the borough.
The character of Bloomsbury and its rich history of famous residents, iconic buildings and striking architecture has made it a popular location for centuries. As a busy and vibrant place to live, work and explore, Bloomsbury captivates its visitors day after day, and unsurprisingly, it remains one of the most desirable areas to buy or rent a property.