Bloomsbury is named after ‘Blemondisberi’ or the manor of William Blemond, who acquired the land in the early-13th century. The area remained rural until 1661, when the 4th Earl of Southampton built Southampton (now Bloomsbury) Square around his house.
More grand squares followed including Bedford Square, laid out in 1775 – 80 and the vast Russell Square, added in 1800. By the mid-19th century the district had become mostly residential but it was never a very fashionable area. This explains why large institutions, such as the British Museum and the University of London, were able to acquire large chunks of the district.
Many of the Georgian buildings in Bloomsbury’s splendid squares have also been taken over by the University, including the ‘Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology’ and the ‘Percival David Foundation for Chinese Art’. The University of London’s monolithic Senate House was added in the 1930s.
In the early-20th century the area was best known for its association with the ‘Bloomsbury Group’ of writers and artists. Active from the early-1900s until 1930s, many members of the group lived in the area, including artists Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Dora Carrington, biographer Lytton Strachey and novelist Virginia Wolf. Individual “Blue Plaques” commemorating the members of the Bloomsbury Group can be seen throughout the area. Bloomsbury is still home to writers and artists and is a traditional centre of the book trade. Although most of the publishers that once thronged Bedford Square have now moved out to less expensive locations, Bloomsbury is still known for its bookshops.
Tottenham Court Road in the Fitzrovia area was still a rural lane lined by cow sheds at the end of the 19th century, but today is full of shops. ‘Fitzrovia’ refers to the area around Fitzroy Square and neighbouring Charlotte Street.
The name Fitzrovia was coined by the artists and writers, such as Dylan Thomas and George Orwell, who frequented the Fitzroy Tavern in Charlotte Street between World War I and II. The dignified Fitzroy Square was named after Henry Fitzroy, the son of Charles II, and later Earl of Euston.
Blue plaques record the homes of many writers, artists and statesmen who have lived here.
Fitzrovia’s most outstanding landmark is the BT Tower but this has been closed to the public since a bomb attack in 1971.
Today, Fitzrovia has a certain neglected charm. Although there has long been a booming restaurant scene, tourists seldom wander north of Oxford Street, and Fitzrovia remains a quiet backwate