Survey of London: Volume 5, St Giles-in-The-Fields, Pt II. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1914.
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LVIII.—BEDFORD SQUARE (GENERAL).
During the period including the latter half of the 17th and the early years of the 19th century, several large estates were laid out in the western district of London. The planning of these generally included several squares, each provided with a central garden for the use only of the residents living in the surrounding houses.
When the 112 acres composing the Duke of Bedford's Bloomsbury estate were developed, over 20 acres were laid out as gardens for the use of the occupiers of the houses overlooking them. (fn. 1) This estate, with its wide streets and spacious squares, is an excellent example of early town planning, and affords an illustration of the advantages gained by the community when a large area such as this is dealt with on generous lines by the owner.
The general architectural scheme of the square is interesting. Each side is separately treated as an entire block of buildings, having a central feature and wings. The central feature of each side is carried out in stucco, having pilasters and pediments in the Ionic order, those to the north and south having five pilasters (Plate 97), and those to the east and west, four (Plate 89). The western house being smaller, however, has not the additional walling extending beyond the pilasters.
The round-headed entrance doorways, other than those to the central houses, are rusticated in Coade's artificial stone, (fn. 2) and enclose a variety of fanlights, of which a typical example is shown in No. 15 (Plate 80).
No drawing has been found showing the design for the laying out of Bedford Square, which was carried out between the years 1775 and 1780. The plots were leased by the Duke to various building owners. One plot was taken by Thomas Leverton, architect, and 24 by Robert Crews and William Scott, builders. (fn. 1)
These builders acquired many more plots on the estate, and it may be supposed that, as they at times worked in partnership, the whole of the buildings in the square and the houses in several of the adjoining streets were erected by them, partly as a speculation and partly as builders for other lessees.
There is much to support the view that Thomas Leverton was the author of the general scheme and the designer of the houses. He took up a building lease of No. 13 in 1775, practically at the beginning of building operations He was a well-known architect, who adopted the style of the period as represented by Henry Holland and the Brothers Adam. (fn. 3) His work shows well-balanced composition and refinement of detail. He employed, moreover, many of the designers who worked for the Brothers Adam, such as Bonomi, the clever draughtsman and architect, Angelica Kauffmann and Antonio Zucchi, the Italian artist. It is also said that he employed Flaxman to execute carving, and skilled Italian workmen to carry out his beautiful designs for plaster work on ceilings, several of which are illustrated in this volume.
An example of his work has already been described in the previous volume dealing with this parish, (fn. 4) namely at No. 65, Lincoln's Inn Fields, erected in 1772. It will be seen, by examining plates Nos. 86 and 97 in that volume, that these designs show a similar architectural expression to the houses of this square, and the internal decoration (especially of his own house, and of No. 44) follows the general character of that in Lincoln's Inn Fields.
With regard to the suggestion (fn. 5) that the Brothers Adam were the designers of Bedford Square, it may be said that the only drawings found appertaining to the square by these celebrated architects are preserved in the Soane Museum, and represent two ceilings designed for Stainsforth, Esq., dated 1779. Geo. Stainsforth took up his residence at No. 8, Bedford Square in that year, (fn. 6), but the house had already been in existence for some time, as it is referred to as the northern boundary of No. 7, on 20th November, 1777. (fn. 7) There is no evidence that designs for the ceilings referred to were actually carried out, as the present ceilings of the house are plain.
In the Council's collection are:—
General view looking north-east (photograph).
(fn. 8) General view looking south-east (photograph).
General view of north side (photograph).