This year’s contestants on the BBC television show The Apprentice had an added incentive for surviving the weekly competition. They were lodging in a town house on what many now consider to be London’s finest Georgian square – Bedford Square in Bloomsbury.
In its heyday, Bloomsbury was a cluster of elegant Georgian streets and leafy garden squares. Its literary and intellectual credentials are well known: the Bloomsbury Group, a clique of writers and intellectuals borrowed their name from the area. History has been kinder to the group’s reputation than that of the neighbourhood. Bomb damage, institutional neglect and the conversion of much of the housing stock to commercial use left the area in decline. The rundown nature of King’s Cross on its northern boundary didn’t help. Shabby chic had become simply shabby.
This, however, appears to be changing. “For years the pressure in Bloomsbury was to push out residents in favour of turning buildings to office use. Recently that has changed as more landlords are converting back to residential, usually favouring the top end of the market,” says Frank Dobson, MP for Holborn and St Pancras since 1979.
Bedford Estates, Bloomsbury’s largest private landowner, has witnessed that trend. The current Duke of Bedford, the 15th, continues the family’s involvement in the area having succeeded to the title in 2004. The Bloomsbury Estate was acquired in 1669 when the fifth earl of Bedford married Lady Rachel Vaughan. Death duties and land sales have diluted the original portfolio, but many leases created shortly after the war are now reverting back to the estate, allowing renovations and conversion from office back to residential.
Bedford Estates and Camden Council have also been busy replanting garden squares. “Our gardeners have reported a significant drop in the number of drug needles being collected in the squares,” says Mark de Rivaz of Bedford Estates, who also lives in the area.
The renewal of St Pancras station, with its high-speed Eurostar connections to the continent, kick-started the smartening up of the neighbourhood’s northern fringes and increased its attraction to international property buyers, such as the European purchaser of the penthouse flat in the converted former office building which was headquarters to Faber and Faber.
The renowned independent publishing house continues its association with the area and has moved to new offices on Great Russell Street, allowing developer Dalton Rey to create seven luxury apartments with commercial office space below. All have been sold despite the crunch.
“The prime locations in Bloomsbury include the area around Lamb’s Conduit Street, the elegant terraced streets like Great James Street, John Street and Doughty Street, as well as the garden squares like Queen Square and Bedford Square,” says Laurence Glynne of local estate agents, LDG. “Modernised period property in these locations can fetch up to £1,200 per square foot.”
In Doughty Street, one house is on the market for £2.3m through agents Morgan Lambert and partners. Part residential, part commercial, it provides an opportunity to recreate an elegant townhouse and buy into an earlier piece of Bloomsbury’s heritage. It is a few doors away from the house where Charles Dickens wrote Nicholas Nickleby. That residence, and its neighbour, now house the Charles Dickens Museum. More artistic heritage is for sale in neighbouring Fitzrovia, (officially inside Camden Borough’s ward of Bloomsbury). Number 33 Fitzroy Square is a Grade l-listed Robert Adam-designed house in which Roger Fry started the Omega Workshops in 1913.
After the demise of this Bloomsbury Group design enterprise, the terraced property, with its colonnaded Portland stone facade, had a less romantic period as the London Foot Hospital. The current owners, Peter Sheppard and partner Keith Day, have just completed its comprehensive restoration and are selling though James Taylor Property at £10.75m. Another Fitzroy Square property is on the market through The Cloister Property Consultants for £7m.
In 2006, the £22m renovation of the Brunswick, a 1960s Grade ll-listed tower block, was completed. As well as apartments, it provides Bloomsbury with a shopping centre and art house cinema. Nearby Marchmont Street provides a mix of independent retailers as does Lamb’s Conduit Street where the People’s Supermarket offers locals cut price groceries if they take a turn at shelf-stacking – useful for the student population of 40,000.
Further improvements are in the pipeline after a report by Farrells, Sir Terry Farrell’s firm of architects and urban designers, commissioned by Camden Council, University College London and the London Development Agency. “The area’s landscape and public realm has deteriorated and much of Bloomsbury is dominated by heavy traffic flows,” writes Sir Terry.
The report suggests better integration with the West End and neighbouring Covent Garden, taming the traffic, and the creation of a University High Street to improve the relationship between the campus, hospital and museum quarters.
● Easy access to the West End
● Good and improving transport links
● A healthy mix of residents
● Big transport routes on its borders
● Some residential concern about bars and clubs opening along the southern boundary
● The institutional grip on the area is strong
What you can buy for …
£100,000 will buy half of one of the cheapest ex-local authority studio flats £ 1,000,000 will buy half of a 3-bed, 2-bath period mews property.