Centuries of London Squares: A Timeline

1665

The Earl of Southampton completes Southampton Square - London’s first residential square. (It’s now known as Bloomsbury Square.) An innovation, the square generates considerable excitement among the city’s chattering classes.

1665

Driven beyond the city’s walls by the Great Plague, and then the Great Fire in 1666, wealthy Londoners flock to the idyllic pastures of rural Westminster, where they begin to build homes.


1726

Parliament introduces the groundbreaking St. James’s Square Act, empowering trustees to tax the square’s residents. The square had, according to the act, “for some years past lain rude, waste, uncleanly, and in great disorder.”

1780

The city’s squares, unlit and unfenced, are a focal point of the wildly destructive anti-Catholic Gordon Riots. Soon after, iron railings are widely installed; by 1800, Lincoln’s Inn Fields is the only significant square still open to the public.


1820

A building boom kicks off, with a steady stream of squares, including Russell, Canonbury, Knightsbridge, Clerkenwell and Ladbroke arriving to Victorian London. “Squares,” writes Charles Knight, in his 1844 book, London, “are now springing up like mushrooms.”

1931

The Royal Commissionon London Squares protects 461 of the city’s 500-plus residential squares and gardens, concluding that the spaces are fundamental to Londoners’ quality of life, and their loss would be “deplorable.”


1941

In the war effort, many squares lose their historic iron railings, which are taken to be melted down for armaments. Meanwhile, a barrage balloon is moored at Cleveland Square and Hereford Square is converted into a baseball field for American GIs.

1996

English Heritage initiates A Campaign for London squares, advocating the preservation and restoration of the city’s squares. “As the advantages of inner-city living become more apparent,” says the campaign, “London squares…form the focus of sustainable neighbourhoods.”