Open Garden Squares Weekend: a rare chance to visit Bedford Square

Bedford Square

Open Garden Squares Weekend is an annual celebration of some of London’s lesser-known green spaces.  This year’s event will be held on 17-18 June, and is an opportunity to visit some of the 230 participating gardens all across the capital.

One of the gardens involved in the event is Bedford Square, close to the SOAS campus.

Bedford Square remains one of the best preserved Georgian squares in London and, as such, is regularly seen lined by white vans containing film crews and all their equipment, while it provides the backdrop for yet another period TV drama.  Recent movies filmed in Bedford Square include Belle; Their Finest; and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, starring Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr.

Georgian terraces in Bedford Square
Georgian terraces

Bedford Square is also the venue for the annual The Chap Olympiad, described as “a celebration of British sporting ineptitude”, and where more points are awarded for natty attire than for being first over the finishing line.

This year’s event will be held on Saturday 15th July, so there is still time to start growing your handlebar moustache and dusting off your picnic hamper of Pimm’s.

Formerly known as Southampton Square, Bedford Square was renamed in the late 18th century, in honour of the Dukes of Bedford, who were the principal landowners in Bloomsbury.

The Square is Blue Plaque Central: everyone from Thomas Wakley, founder of The Lancet and Lord Eldon; to celebrated mechanical engineer Sir Harry Ricardo and Thomas Hodgkin; to Indian scholar Ram Mohun Roy and William Butterfield have either lived or worked in the square at some point, and all are commemorated by a blue plaque.

Bedford College was founded in the Square in 1849 by Elizabeth Jesser Reid.  Bedford College was the first higher education college in the UK with the purpose of improving the education of women, and it became a constituent school of the University of London in 1900.

The central lawn and garden space of Bedford Square is reserved for key-holders only and, as such, is something of a tranquil oasis, largely shielded from the noise of Gower Street by dense shrubs and tall plane trees.

Bedford Square
Peaceful gardens in Bedford Square

Visitors on Open Garden Squares Weekend can visit the restored summerhouse and the Victorian stumpery.  Stumperies became popular during the Romantic period, and are a garden feature traditionally consisting of dead and upended tree stumps turned upside down in the earth to reveal the roots, and which are then allowed to become overgrown by mosses and lichens.


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