LONDON, UK.- Londons garden squares are one of its most admired and distinctive elements. They are a crucially important part of what makes London unique as a world city. There are around 600 historic garden squares in London but too many of them are still in a state of neglect and disrepair. Over the years they have suffered from the loss of railings, changes to layout and surfaces, traffic disturbance, vandalism, an influx of ugly signs and inadequate maintenance triggering a downward spiral of decline. Now, in association with Camden Council, University of London and a number of other funders, as part of English Heritages London Garden Squares Campaign, three of Bloomsburys finest Georgian squares will be returned to their former glory.
Today (18 March 2005), as a direct result of a partnership set up by English Heritage with the University of London, a grant of almost £1 million for vital improvements to Gordon Square and Woburn Square, has been awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Under a joint programme with the Wolfson Foundation, English Heritage has secured a further £200,000 for Gordon Square and has contributed £50,000 from its own funds. Meanwhile this week Camden Councillors approved that improvements to Bedford Square in association with English Heritage, are to go ahead after consulting with local people on the designs for the area.
Since 2000 the highest priority for English Heritage has been the restoration of Gordon Square and Woburn Square, designed and built by Thomas Cubitt after the Napoleonic Wars and now owned by the University of London. The funding package announced today will allow the University of Londons restoration project to begin this year, opening up the squares for everyone to enjoy and making them cleaner, safer and greener places. When the project is complete at the beginning of 2006 both squares will be open seven days a week from dawn to dusk.
Work to regenerate these historic gardens will include improving paths, planting new trees, shrubs and herbaceous beds, replacing furniture and enclosing the gardens with railings based on the original 1830s design. A number of new elements will be introduced to encourage more people to use the square, including new play equipment in Woburn Square. The existing summerhouse in Woburn Square and gardeners building in Gordon Square will be refurbished, with the latter converted into a refreshments kiosk.
Bedford Square is the only architecturally intact Georgian Square in London. One of the great set-pieces of Georgian London, and close to the British Museum, the palace-fronted square, designed and built by Thomas Leverton between 1775 and 1783, represents the perfection of its type. However, build-outs paved with concrete slabs, now in poor condition, added to the square in the 1960s have severed the once carefully composed relationship between the garden and the surrounding buildings, giving it an air of neglect, which has encouraged wider social problems.
English Heritage has made a grant offer of £220,000 towards the enhancement of Bedford Square. This offer in turn has generated a further £300,000 from Camden Council, £70,000 from the Bedford Estate and £50,000 from the Crown Estate. The money will go towards the re-alignment of the road around the square to recreate footways and give more space to pedestrians, the repair of 37 listed lamp columns, removal of asphalt surfaces and the repaving of the sides of the square with York stone. For the first time since the 1960s Bedford Square will once again resemble its 18th century layout.
Philip Davies, Director of Planning and Development (South) at English Heritage, said: This is excellent news for Camden and for London as a whole. The completion of these schemes will transform three of Londons most important garden squares and improve the neglected heart of Bloomsbury, which is home to streets of international importance. Restoring a square leads to the regeneration of the area around and has huge social, environmental and economic benefits as well as the obvious visual ones. If London is to continue to thrive as a world city, it is vital that we invest more in the presentation and improvement of our great public spaces. This funding package is a direct result of partnerships set up by English Heritage and illustrates the important role we can play as a facilitator and advisor as well as a funder.
Cllr John Thane, Executive Member for the Environment at Camden Council, said: This is excellent news for the Bloomsbury area. Bedford Square is the last architecturally intact square we have left in London and it is important that we restore this wonderful square to its former glory. This work is one of many projects that will restore the character of Bloomsbury and re-establish its identity as a historically important and attractive area of London . It is also important that this work will encourage more local people to make use of the gardens and attract tourism to the borough.