Bloomsbury Visit

Saturday 28 September 2002

Visiting the former YMCA Central Club, now Jurys Hotel Great Russell Street, and then the former Theosophical Society, now the BMA, we found that Sir Edwin’s buildings can be re-used by different organisations and still be well maintained. Both buildings had had many changes of use for various rooms but Jurys remained within the same shell while the BMA had expanded three times over the site with two other architects.

In his original letters to Lady Emily Sir Edwin proposed that they only needed the smallest simplest house in London or even a flat close to the office until the could afford to build the little white house in the country that they really wanted. But they ended up buying a succession of quite large London houses, none of which were designed by Sir Edwin, first 29 Bloomsbury Square, then 31 Bedford Square and finally 13 Mansfield Street where Sir Edwin was to die in 1944. 29 Bloomsbury Square was pulled down in 1914 but the other two houses exist and were luckily empty for our tour. Both were built in the 1770s, Mansfield Street by Robert Adam and Bedford Square decorated by Adam’s former plasterers.

Although Sir Edwin had completely rebuilt the mews at Bedford Square and made considerable changes to the arrangements of Mansfield Street from 1920 to 1940, the reception rooms were very much in the original eighteenth-century style. Small decorative additions were made such as black and white marble floors in the entrance halls of both houses, three or four fireplaces to Bedford Square, Ionic columns to the entrance hall and a set of built-in bookcases in the
drawing-room in Mansfield Street, but the changes were very subtle, particularly compared to the original colour schemes in both houses, now swept away under ‘corporate’ cream; but we did find that all the original painted floor colours of deep greens and reels were still there under layers of carpet. Some of us stood in both drawing-rooms trying to imagine the black walls, white woodwork, canary yellow curtains and red floors. Although 31 Bedford Square remains empty, it as very nice to learn from the new owners that 13 Mansfield Street will be turned back into a family house.