Russell Square is one of London’s largest and best-known squares in the heart of Bloomsbury. Following our successful £1.4m bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund on behalf of Camden Council, LUC was appointed to restore the severely neglected square. Our scheme sought to conserve the Humphry Repton’s design for the Square whilst introducing facilities for the C21st user. Repton was the leading landscape designer of the late C18th and this is one of only three sites he designed in the Capital.
LUC's restoration proposals sought to actively conserve and enhance the Square’s finest features. This included sensitive arboricultural surgery to extend the lifespan of the magnificent set of mature Plane trees, as well as conserving the ornate bronze statue (1806) of Sir Francis Russell, the Square’s key focal point. Using prime source material (Repton’s original setting-out plans), missing historic elements of the design were re-introduced. For example, using archive plans and archaeological trial pits, the original intricate path layout was reinstated, allowing the original trees to once again line the edge of each path, rather than be positioned in large expanses of tarmac.
Using archive photographs, the original railing, finial and gate designs were faithfully recreated, and remnant sections of the perimeter stone plinth provided the template for new moulds to be made. Repton’s herbaceous plant beds were reinstated according to Regency horticultural principles, with plant species and varieties selected to conform as closely as possible to the original. Where it was inappropriate to restore the original C19th design such as Repton’s central timber ‘reposoir’ (or garden shed), new contemporary features such as a central plaza fountain have been introduced.
Carrying out a period research, LUC traced the evolution of the Square’s history by sifting through estate plans and written archives, culminating in the exciting discovery of the original watercolour design plans (in the Bedford Estate office in Woburn), which enabled us to confidently restore and conserve the gardens according to Repton’s original intentions.
The design brief was a challenge — achieving the right balance between conserving an important Grade II London Square, and ensuring the open space was pertinent and relevant to the C21st needs of the local community.
The completed scheme has helped to re-establish Russell Square as the heart of Bloomsbury, acting as a catalyst for further regeneration within the area, with a number of adjoining Squares having been refurbished and streetscape improvements made since LUC’s restoration opened in 2001.
The Square has become an extremely popular destination for visitors and residents alike, providing an important refuge and green oasis within this dense urban setting. The rebuilt café, and the inclusion of a contemporary water jet fountain and events space, have been key to this success.
The scheme has won several awards: Civic Trust Award (2004), Camden Design Award (2004), Georgian Group Winner (2004), BALI (2002) and was also named a CabeSpace ‘Exemplar Project’. The scheme followed LUC’s production of the London Squares Campaign Document for English Heritage. The square also won Green Flag Awards in 2007, 2008 and 2009.