Queen Square: in sickness and in health

Queen Square, Bloomsbury

The history of Queen Square seems irrevocably linked to matters relating to health.  When it was first built, in the reign of Queen Anne, it was designed such that the wealthy properties could enjoy a view towards Hampstead Heath and, as such, the area developed a reputation for prosperity and wellbeing.

King George III stayed in the Square, while he was being treated by Dr Francis Willis for the mental illness, which affected much of the latter part of his reign and, during this time, Queen Charlotte rented a cellar within the Square in which to store some of the King’s favourite foods.  The pub, which still stands on the southwest corner of the Square is called The Queen’s Larder in recognition of this event.  Queen Charlotte herself is commemorated by a large lead sculpture, which stands at the northern end of the Square.

Statue of Queen Charlotte
Statue of Queen Charlotte

Hospitals began to replace some of the Square’s original residential buildings in the 19th century and, today, it is possible to find the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (formerly the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital); the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery; and the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience all within the Square; whilst the Children’s Hospital at Great Ormond Street is only a stone’s throw away.

Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, Queen Square
Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, Queen Square

Unlike many Bloomsbury squares, the grassy centre of Queen Square is entirely hidden from the street by a dense barrier of tall bushes and leafy trees.  Equally, once standing within, you find yourself entirely isolated from the houses and cars beyond.  This has the effect of making Queen Square seem more secluded and private than many Bloomsbury squares and, on a sunny May afternoon, as a dappled patchwork of light and shade plays across the formal rose beds and close-cut green lawns, it is possible to imagine yourself temporarily removed from the hustle and bustle of the city.

In the southwest corner of the Square, there is a small bronze statue of a black cat––Sam––leaping down from a brick wall.  The statue is in honour of former resident Patricia Penn, who was a nurse, activist and cat lover, and who was well respected by the local community.

Statue of Sam in Queen Square
Statue of Sam in Queen Square

As well as hospitals, the Square is also home to the Art Workers’ Guild, a society of artists, designers and craftsmen engaged in furthering the promotion of creative skills; and the Mary Ward Centre, which runs adult education classes, but which is equally popular for its cakes as it is for its courses.

Art Workers' Guild, Queen Square
Art Workers’ Guild, Queen Square

The publishers Faber and Faber moved to 3 Queen Square when they vacated their original premises in Russell Square, a building which is now owned by SOAS and houses IFCELS (International Foundation Courses and English Language Studies).  Faber poets Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes both contributed quatrains to a decorative floral urn, which can be found at the southern end of Queen Square, although neither of the verses compares with the poets’ best work.

In times when nothing stood
But worsened or grew strange
There was one constant good
She did not change.

Larkin wrote the words in 1977 in commemoration of Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee.  Criticised for being both sentimental and obliquely appearing to rue the fall of Empire; perhaps the verse would meet with a more favourable appraisal if it was simply considered as a description of the Square itself and the preservation of a pleasant green space in the heart of London?


Find out more



Share this post