Bedford Square is named after the Dukes of Bedford, who were the main landowners in Bloomsbury and developed the area from the 1660s to the 1850s. It is one of the best-preserved squares, designed as a whole and surrounded by its original Georgian terraces (although the buildings now mainly contain offices rather than family homes). The Square was the first garden square with an imposed architectural uniformity and it set the style for garden squares in London through the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It became the focal point of a new grid of streets to the west, north and south, although this plan took eighty years to complete. The whole Bloomsbury Estate was formerly enclosed with a system of gates, which were erected in the early to mid 19th century to guarantee the residents’ protection and privacy. The gates and lodges were removed between 1891 and 1893; those protecting Bedford Square in 1893. [English Heritage record]
Bedford Square was built between 1776 and 1780 and was probably the work of Thomas Leverton, as well as the builder/contractors William Scott and Robert Grews. Each side of the Square was treated as a single unit. The houses were plain brick with wrought-iron balconies to the first-floor windows and the doors were decorated with Coade stone. The central house on each side was stuccoed, pedimented and had a pilastered five-bay centre. Houses 1-54 are listed as Grade I on the English Heritage Register.
The layout of the gardens in the C19 consisted of a perimeter shrubbery and path, with serpentine paths leading from the west, north, east and south to a central feature (planting in the early C19 and an hexagonal pavilion by 1870). In the late C19 the design was changed to the present one, which involved moving the pavilion to the west of the garden and removing the paths that crossed the centre. These changes required little alteration to the planting. The gardens have a Grade II* listing on the English Heritage Register . [English Heritage record]
Bedford Square residents have included: Lord Eldon, the Lord Chancellor (whose daughter eloped with G S Repton, son of Humphry Repton who designed the neighbouring Bloomsbury and Russell Squares); Thomas Leverton, the architect of the square; the second Duke of Devonshire; William Butterfield, architect; and H H Asquith, Prime Minister.
Bedford Square is not normally open to the public, but like all the Bloomsbury Squares can be visited during Open Garden Squares Weekend, which is celebrated on the second weekend of June every year. See www.opensquares.org