Heat Map showing Age of Designation
1st December 1968
The Bloomsbury Conservation Area was designated on 1st December 1968, only a year after Conservation Areas were legislated in 1967, during the height of the great ‘terror’ of heritage destruction, the famous Euston Arch being demolished in 1961. It consisted of the main ‘bulk’ of Bloomsbury, along with two exclaves.
At the time of designation, Victorian and Edwardian buildings were out of fashion – but Georgian buildings were appreciated. The initial designation area only covered the well preserved Georgian areas of Bloomsbury. Unfortunately much of Georgian Bloomsbury had been lost in war damage and fervent post-war destruction. During the time of designation for example, works were underway to demolish an intact Georgian terrace on the western side of Brunswick Square and to build the Brunswick Centre, which was completed in 1972. Interestingly, the Brunswick Centre was initially intended to stretch all the way to Euston Road, but the Army Reserve Centre on Kenton Street refused to give up their building (which was added to the Conservation Area in 2011, ironically twelve years after the Brunswick Centre itself was added to the Conservation Area in 1999!). The Conservation Area’s initial boundary hugged the wall of this new development, but enveloped the rest of the square’s buildings, although they had already been replaced with new buildings. Euston Square was left out of the designation, its future uncertain, with the new Euston station being formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II less than two months earlier on 20th October 1968. The area around Argyle Square was interestingly included as an exclave of the Conservation Area, despite it at the time being the central quarters of the red light district of King’s Cross.
A significant exclave of the Conservation Area was Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Lincoln’s Inn. Despite it not being a part of Bloomsbury, the character was evidently judged to be adequately Bloomsburyish to not be its own Conservation Area. The CA stretched right down to the Royal Courts of Justice and to the east Chancery Lane, abutting the Cities of London and Westminster.
Most residential buildings from the Victorian age were not included in the Conservation Area and were at risk of demolition. For example high quality examples like Gordon Mansions and Ridgmount Gardens, now considered an essential part of Bloomsbury, were left out. Gordon Mansions was not included until 1984, and Ridgmount Gardens until 2011.
The pattern of designation affords an interesting insight into what was considered Bloomsbury at the time. Just as we now consider Bloomsbury to be mostly in character but with a few inappropriate ‘modern’ buildings, during the postwar era the Victorian buildings were perhaps viewed as infringements on Bloomsbury’s ‘true’ Georgian character.
1st June 1973
Four and a half years later, three new areas were appended to the original Conservation Area.
One was the western half of Great Russell Street, along with the area around Cambridge Circus and Grape Street. This area contained some Stuart buildings from around 1680, and a mixture of Victorian buildings. This perhaps reflected a broadening of the idea of what Bloomsbury was. Interestingly a modernist building of low quality was also included within the Conservation Area.
The two other areas represented the preserved areas of the Calthorpe Estate, a sort-of eastern ‘cousin’ of Bloomsbury, but which is actually one of the most well preserved Bloomsburyish areas, despite not being within the traditional eastern border of Bloomsbury,Gray’s Inn Road. This included the elegant terraces of Frederick Street, and its surrounding roads, and the extraordinarily well preserved terraces on Calthorpe Street.
1st July 1974
Just over a year later, two new areas were added.
The main extension included Queen Square and its environs, which inexplicably had been left out of the initial designation six years earlier. Perhaps this had something to do with the eastern half being dominated by the former Royal Homeopathic Hospital, which was perhaps too red and Victorian to be a part of Bloomsbury. However there seems to be really little justification considering Brunswick Square had been designated despite having no original buildings in 1968. Queen Square was also the centre of much of Bloomsbury’s Victorian intellectual revolution, being home to the Mary Ward centre and hosting a Women’s Working College, decorated by Morris & Co, and in fact being home to William Morris himself at one time. The square itself also contained a significant statue and water pump which had both been listed 23 years earlier in 1951. Perhaps the whole square had too much of the Victorian about it as a whole to be originally designated.
The other extension was a small corner of the Lincoln’s Inn area which included The Knight’s Templar, which had strangely been omitted in 1968.
1st March 1982
A small extension was made to the south-western extremity of the Conservation Area, bordering Tottenham Court Road and New Oxford Street, to include a complex of theatres and some terraces a part of the original Bedford Estate, all of which were listed in years to come.
1st March 1984
Two years later the Conservation Area saw 8 extensions which included many areas which had been strangely omitted from the initial designation. This included individual buildings, such as the former Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine on Hunter Street, and well-preserved but small terraces such as those of the western side of Marchmont Street, or the Grade IV cottages on Thanet Street, the only surviving examples of their kind in Bloomsbury.
The Conservation Area at this point had been extended to include any sort of building which contributed to Bloomsbury’s Georgian character, and institutional character, even if that meant including Victorian buildings. This was an improvement upon the initial designation which had only included the most significant unbroken areas of Georgian Bloomsbury, such as Bedford Square, and Gower Street.
Interestingly, it appears that all of the remainder of UCL’s buildings throughout Bloomsbury were included in this designation, including the former Royal Free Hospital on Gray’s Inn Road, the aforementioned School of Medicine, along with their Department of Economics.
Euston Square finally entered the fold, along with some Edwardian buildings to its east, and the Welcome Collection and Friends’ House to the south.
A small extension to the Calthorpe Estate was made in including Pakenham Street and a small part of Cubitt Street.
Still, essentially none but the highest quality of Bloomsbury’s Victorian housing blocks were included in the Conservation Area. Gordon Mansions were added, but Ridgmount Gardens was still excluded. All the housing blocks to the north were still excluded.
1st June 1991
1991 saw a new sprinkling of appendages to the Conservation Area, with 6 new areas being introduced. These were mostly small extensions such as an extension to the eastern end of Swinton Street, which had strangely fallen short of its last few buildings in the Frederick Street designation of 1973, a southern extension to Gray’s Inn area to include Brownlow Street, and three new areas along New Oxford Street to mostly complete its designation. There was also an infill around the Great Ormond Street Hospital area, including two Victorian hospital buildings, but also many more contemporary buildings of relatively low quality.
1st June 1992
1992 saw the inclusion of Red Lion Square and its environs which had strangely been left out of the Conservation Area until this point. This was perhaps due to the few remaining historic buildings on the square itself and their relatively poor quality, coupled with the small size of the square and the unsympathetic buildings across the western side.
6th June 1999
1999 saw the inclusion of the Brunswick Centre in the Conservation Area, just over a year before it was officially listed on 14th September 2000. This was only 27 years after its completion.
The inclusion of the Brunswick Centre in the Conservation Area is certainly interesting considering that many Victorian buildings in Bloomsbury of architectural and historic interest were still another twelve years from entering the fold. It affords an interesting insight into the way that conservation seems to have taken a greater interest in Modern buildings rather than genuinely historic buildings, flying in the face of public opinion. It certainly cannot be argued that the Brunswick Centre contributes anything to Bloomsbury’s special architectural and historic interest, being a fairly typical but particularly large monolith which sits upon the grave of genuine Bloomsbury Georgian terraces. It is unfortunately indicative of how conservation seems to have turned backwards in recent years, with even Historic England tending to lean more towards the fashion of listing post-war buildings rather than historic buildings at genuine risk of demolition. In a post-truth age, Modern buildings are more historic than Victorian ones.
A small extension to the eastern part of Bloomsbury was added to include King’s Mews and North Mews, along with some frontages onto Gray’s Inn Road.
18th April 2011
2011 saw the largest number of extensions to the Conservation Area to date, with 17 new areas being added, to bring the Conservation Area to what it is today, and to cover all of what most people would call ‘Bloomsbury’. This included many infills, so that Victorian residential buildings were included such as Ridgmount Gardens and Queen Alexandra Mansions, along with more peculiar additions such as The Calthorpe Project and Euston Square station.