Yolanda Shamash, who is on her summer job at Language in London, shares her experience of the buzzing hive of history and culture that is Bloomsbury, Holborn.
One of the best things about working at Language in London is that during my lunch break, I can go and eat my sandwiches in the very lovely Bedford Square, which is less than a minute’s walk from the school. Well yesterday, whilst pensively munching on my Sainsbury’s Best egg salad sandwich, I noticed loads of blue and green plaques on houses in the square, and I wanted to investigate a bit. So I did my research, and I thought I’d tell you all about the famous people who lived in those houses!
Ram Mohun Roy: 1772-1833
Ram Mohun Roy lived in Bedford Square in the 1830s. He was a Hindu man who wanted to incorporate Western ideas into his own Indian culture. Mostly, he is known for trying to abolish practices such as child marriage and sati, which is a Hindu funeral ceremony in which the widow sets herself on fire on her husband’s funeral pyre- to show her extreme grief.
The Bedford College for Women, University of London: 1849
Bedford College was founded in Bedford Square in the 1840s and was the first ever place in the UK which provided higher education for women. As a feminist, I find this plaque quite interesting, because it signals a point at which attitudes really began to change about the woman’s role in society.
The school was founded be Elizabeth Jesser Reid (born Elizabeth Jesser Sturch) who was an anti-slavery activist as well as an activist in advancing women’s rights. When she died in 1866, she left all of her money to the college in a trust fund.
William Butterfield (Billy Butterfield to his friends) was an architect who worked mostly with the construction and design of churches. He is well-known for his love of decorating his buildings with many colours- a concept known as polychrome- and as a Gothic revival architect, which means that his churches were quite grand and elaborate!
This is the house in which Anthony Hope, sometimes known as Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins lived from 1903 until 1917. Hope was an English novelist and playwright, who is best known for his book ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’ in 1894, and the book’s sequel ‘Rupert of Hentzau’ which were set in the made-up Eastern European country of Ruritania! Interestingly (yes, it is actually quite interesting), his books created a whole new genre- called Ruritanian romance.
This new genre typically features adventure, honor and romance in the upper classes- particularly aristrocacy and royalty- all set in the fictitous country of Ruritania. I’m actually quite fascinated by this, having researched it, and I might try and get hold of a copy of ‘Prisoner of Zenda’ on Amazon…
Harry Ricardo was born at house number 13 on Bedford Square, and grew up to become a very successful mechanical engineer. Young Ricardo first started using tools and building engines at the age of ten, and went on to become one of the world’s first engine designers- and helped develop the internal combustion engine which is now used in cars, aircraft and boats. He was also instrumental in creating and developing various other bits of mechanical tech that I really don’t understand- such as the sleeve valve engine design and the the precombustion chamber!
Thomas Wakley lived at 35 Bedford Square from 1828 to 1848 and was a man with quite an interesting life, really! Throughout his life, he had many, many professions (surgeon, magazine editor, a sportsmen and boxer as a young man, and was apprenticed to an apothecary at one point too!). He was also father to eleven children ( 8 boys and 3 girls), and started his own medical magazine, called ‘The Lancet’ which was extremely successful- after seven years of ‘The Lancet”s creation, it had a readership of over 4000 people!
After a relatively long and colourful life, Wakley died of a pulmonary haemorrhage- which, in simpler terms, means “bleeding of the lungs”- after a serious fall, abroad.
Thomas Hodgkin: 1798- 1866
There is another plaque on the wall of 35 Bedford Square, which commemorates the life of Thomas Hodgkin, who lived in the square from 1859 to 1866- a little later than Mr Thomas Wakley. Hodkin was a British physician who specialised in preventive medicine and pathology (diagnosing diseases).
He is most famous for his discovery of Hodgkin’s disease -now named after him- which is a type of cancer which originates from white blood cells known as lymphocytes. Our man Hodgkin, in 1932, became the first person to describe abnormalities in the lymph system, which is why the disease is named after him!
Lord Eldon: 1751- 1838
John Scott, 1st Earl of Eldon (clearly his full name was a bit long to be put on the plaque) was a British barrister and politician, who lived in the square for many years of his life. The actual house that he lived in is known to be the biggest out of all of the buildings in the square, and is a Grade 1 listed building- which means that it is a criminal offence to make changes to it without the permission of the local planning authorities, because the house is considered to be important, architecturally.
But back to Lord Eldon! Eldon served as Lord Chancellor twice, which means that he was in charge of making sure that the legal courts were working well.
I hope you found that interesting. I was so surprised when I started my research and realised that there’s so much culture and history in that one tiny square! It’s incredible, really. And knowing that I’m eating my sarnies outside the house where the inventor of the sleeve-valve engine lived, or the founder of the first ever women’s University- that just makes my lunch breaks that little bit more special.