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A guest post by London Historians members Neil Holman and Kerra Soker. This is quite a long article, a shorter version of which appeared in Members’ Newsletter for June 2020. 


Set at the northern edge of today’s West End, Fitzroy Square is a surprising architectural gem to be discovered by the unsuspecting pedestrian. On turning a corner one is immediately rewarded with a vision of Georgian London with emphasis on symmetry. The developer’s name was Charles Fitzroy, the first Baron Southampton and great great grandson of Charles II and Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland. Their royal love child, and Charles’s ancestor, Henry Fitzroy, first Duke of Grafton, collected an impressive array of titles and land, whose names regularly appear in local street names and other associations. The second duke laid out the New Road (Euston Road) in order to bypass Oxford Street when taking cattle to Smithfield Market and this encouraged in turn development beyond London’s northern rim by the local aristocratic landowners.

Charles’s enabling act was passed in 1768 at a time when his brother, the 3rd Duke was prime minister, no doubt facilitating its passage through Parliament. However, he only started laying out his square in 1790, almost at the end of his life. He enlisted the services of the great architect Robert Adam. As well as grand houses in the square, mews were laid out discreetly tucked out of sight and a market was set up a short distance away to supply the residents’ victuals. The square would be the crowning glory of the development, but the surrounding streets are far more modest affairs without any architectural aspirations. Charles Fitzroy was definitely not building a quarter for people of his rank.

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Map of the area from 1799, R. Horwood.

The leases were dated from 1792, so Robert Adam, who died that year may have had the satisfaction of seeing of some of his houses completed. Most of the leases were taken by his brothers, James – also an architect – and William, who oversaw the construction. James died in 1794 and sadly Charles himself just three years later, with only half of his dream realised. By the 1790s London’s sprawl had already surged past the partly built Fitzroy Square. It was left incongruously L-shaped for some 30 years before construction recommenced, at which point the northern and western ranges were finally put up. Charles’s death would have been one cause, but the Napoleonic Wars and a property slump would have been contributing factors to the delay.

Census returns are helpful in finding the composition of the households, which can be supplemented by Post Office Directories and Rates returns to cover the years in between. They reveal an area of refinement and aspiration which was only gradually lost. Military men appear periodically, and the occasional Member of Parliament, but surgeons and other medical professionals appear frequently, a profession which has been a continuing feature right up to the present day. As the 19th century progressed, artists were attracted in large numbers. Some fifty at least have been found living or working in the square at some stage during Queen Victoria’s reign as miniaturists, marine painters, portraitists and allegorical painters. Several even managed to win commissions from Royalty. It was the beginning of the Bohemian character of the district reaching its heyday in the period between the 1920s and 1950s, and would in time attract the media. The precise origins of the term “Fitzrovia” remain obscure. The roads around the square were listed with the name Fitzroy Square as a matter of routine in the 19th Century, but the term appears to have been coined in the mid- 20th Century. However, it would never quite acquire a distinctive identity itself such as Soho to the south or Bloomsbury to the east. Even so, the term “Fitzrovia” extends well beyond Charles Fitzroy’s estate and goes down to Oxford Street up to the Euston Road and stretching out to Gower Street in the east and Great Portland Street in the west.

The strong link of the area with the artist community appears very early on.  In 1793 Gainsborough Du Pont (baptised 1754 died 1797) is found at 17 Grafton Street, Fitzroy Square (now Grafton Way). He was the nephew and protégé of Thomas Gainsborough and worked closely with his famous uncle.

James Mathews Leigh (1808-1860) is an interesting figure. He is not directly connected with the square, but his school in Newman Street is likely to have attracted artists to the area. He is found living at 13 Fitzroy Street in 1844 where no less a person than Sir Charles Eastlake (1793-1865), was living in 1840 according to the Street Directory.  William Holman Hunt and local lad Dante Gabriel Rossetti (born at 38 Charlotte Street formerly 110 Hallam Street) were among his students. Several streets are associated with Rossetti’s early days: Holman Hunt’s studio in Cleveland Street and later sharing a studio with Ford Madox Brown in Newman Street. He went on to co-found the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 at Millais’s parents’ home in Gower Street, forming the highly influential English Arts group on the doorsteps of the square.

As to Sir Charles Lock Eastlake, a leading figure in London’s art world, he moved from Fitzroy Street to the more luxurious square itself, perhaps attracted by the Adam’s architecture. He was President of the Royal Academy, the first Director of the National Gallery and a friend of J M W Turner. Like Leigh, mentioned above, he would have been a natural draw for other artists. They tended to congregate in the properties around the home of the Eastlakes at number 7.

Lady Elizabeth Eastlake was a remarkable woman for her time, being an art historian, a translator of books from the German and a journalist. The Eastlakes married in 1849 and in the following year he would receive his knighthood. Their only child was stillborn, but the couple seem to have been made for each other. They would tour the Continent looking for paintings for the newly formed National Gallery. Their combined period of residency in the square covers almost the entire reign of Queen Victoria. Elizabeth seems to have been a redoubtable figure with very strong views. She thought women should have the vote, but there were limits to her liberalism. Women had to meet the property requirements just like men. She hated Rossetti’s paintings, and John Ruskin the man, siding with Effie Ruskin. The couple were right at the very centre of artistic world and enjoyed a very energetic social life. Eastlake was not the only artist of in the square to be knighted and appointed President of the Royal Academy. Sir Francis Bernard Dicksee was the other. He was a member of the Dicksee family which occupied numbers 2 and 6, but their stay was much later in the century.

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Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, circa 1847.

Margaret Gillies (1803-1887) at one point lived just off the square at 6 Conway Street, which gains its name from the marriage of Charles Fitzroy’s aunt to a Seymour-Conway.  Gillies was an advocate of female suffrage. Her partner was Dr Thomas Southwood Smith, a physician and sanitary reformer. She illustrated his exposé on a desperate plight of women and children. She also knew Charles Dickens well. The recent emergence of her miniature of this famous author has brought her out of obscurity and was painted in 1843 when Dickens was writing “A Christmas Carol”. The miniature was first shown at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition in 1844, and then completely disappeared without trace shortly afterwards until recently re-discovered in a very distressed condition in a garage in South Africa. Once it was thoroughly cleaned up, the Charles Dickens Museum in Doughty Street was able to acquire it and the miniature is now on display there.

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Henry Mayhew

One family of note in the square were the Mayhews at Number 16. The family patriarch was Joshua, a leading figure in the legal profession,  who was determined his many sons would follow him in his footsteps.  Unfortunately for his dynastic aspirations, all but one of them rebelled. Henry Mayhew (1812-1887) and a younger brother who would have left the family home before the first Census of 1841, embarked on a rather chaotic but largely successful career in journalism. Henry was one of the founders of “Punch” (now sadly defunct) and its first co-editor, but he has a particular claim to fame in the London context for his journalistic investigations into the massive underclass of the Victorian city.  He took the bold and innovative step of actually talking to thieves, beggars, lowly paid workers and destitute people recording their points of view for his own contemporaries and posterity, which emerged in the publication London Labour and London Poor (1851). Curiously, he is a rather elusive character as far as the censuses are concerned.

The grandest occupant of the square would have been Lord Robert Cecil (1830-1903), a direct descendant of William and Robert Cecil, the great ministers of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. Academic by nature, he had no desire to follow in his father’s footsteps as a soldier and he only came to the square because of a fractious relationship with his father, choosing to marry the woman he loved in defiance of his father’s wishes, when in consequence his allowance was severely cut. Cash-strapped, he chose journalism as a means with which to supplement his income.

The Census of 1861 shows his children, Maud Cecil aged two and Gwendolen aged eight months, and three servants one of whom was French, but both their parents were, tellingly, at Burghley House on Census Day rather than at Hatfield House, Cecil’s father’s home.

Cecil’s stay in the square was very brief as he is found in the directories for 1860 through to 1862 and allowing for time lags for compiling the directories his occupation at number 21 would have lasted from around 1859 to possibly 1862. Once he had been reconciled with his father, he quickly moved to the aristocratic areas nearer Hyde Park. He took the title of 3rd Marquis of Salisbury on the death of his father. A rather reactionary figure, he became thrice Prime Minister.

On the opposite side of the square was Sir Charles Eastlake, who died in 1865. His wife, Lady Eastlake doggedly stayed on at number 7 during the decades of her widowhood. In later life she suffered badly from rheumatism, which greatly restricted her social life but she carried on with her work. For much of this time Wilkinson Dent was her neighbour at number 8. He was one of the Dents who built up a highly lucrative family business based firstly in Canton, and later the family connection with number 8 appears to go back to 1803 when Thomas Wilkinson occupied it. The brothers’ father married into the Wilkinson family and Thomas may have taken in the brothers when their father died at a young age in Hong Kong. There were three brothers involved. Thomas the eldest started the business but Lancelot (1799-1853) rapidly developed it once the East India Company lost its monopoly in trade with China. They dealt in silk, tea, finished goods, financial services but chiefly in opium, and Lancelot was right at the forefront in the confrontation with the Chinese authorities which led to the First Opium War. It seems Wilkinson was a restraining influence to some extent on his brother. After Wilkinson (1800-1886) the family business passed to John who renamed the firm after himself. He seems to have been a flamboyant character, wagering £10,000 on a racehorse in the Hong Kong Cup. He also had a leading role in the establishment of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank.

William Dent appears in the 1851 Census as the head of household at number 8 aged 53, East India Director. He would have been a close relation, but the Census does reveal his connection. His daughters Catherine, then aged 18, and Emma, then aged 12, were both born in India. It would be six years later that the Mutiny took place and a year after that that the Government of India Act was passed curbing the company’s powers. His wife Mary, then aged 50, had been born in Canada. The reach of the growing empire had become apparent even in the Square. The household was supported by various female servants and a butler. We find Wilkinson Dent the head of the household at the property. In the next Census (1861) he was described as retired China merchant with a couple of servants, and in the following Census (1871) he becomes landowner. Charlotte Hardimant remained with him as housekeeper, and there is a cook, a couple of domestic servants and a groom. The next Census shows a very elderly Wilkinson Dent now aged 80 still supported by the faithful Charlotte and by George Bell, previously the groom, now the butler. Wilkinson’s nephew John is also in residence born in the East Indies described as an annuitant. We could speculate that Robert Cecil might have walked across the square to have contact with such a powerful family. They would certainly have made a valuable political connection. The Dents, however, for all their globe-trotting were still tied emotionally to the village in Westmorland whence they came. The family’s connection with number 8 ended with John in 1892 upon his death.

Augustus Hofmann (1818-1892) Professor of Chemistry lived at number 9 for a period which the Directories suggest ran roughly from 1857 to 1863. He was a German scientist rather than an artist or writer, and was involved in introducing Chemistry as a science to United Kingdom, with the support of Prince Albert. He would eventually return to his homeland where he saw greater opportunities. He married four times with his second wife, Rosamund Wilson, being an Englishwoman. They were married in 1856, but she sadly died in 1860 just 22 years old. It would appear they moved to the square upon their marriage.

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Augustus Hofmann.

Number 10 was occupied by another anomaly, Joseph Wakefield Kent and his family, during the 1860s. In 1864 the Commercial Directory lists a “mantle and cloak makers” business operating from there so apparently the home was a business too. Robert Cecil would certainly not be walking across the square to call on them! If Kent was a mantle and cloak maker operating at home then the coachman with his family who shared the same house (in the 1861 Census) is likely to have been independent of him. The coach was presumably stored in one of the mews. Even at so early a date the future decline of the square was becoming apparent. As time went by, hotels would appear catering for passengers from Euston and King’s Cross stations, and the pretensions of gentility dissipated somewhat.

As to the rest of the square, William Frend de Morgan (1839-1917), potter and novelist, occupied number 40 in the late 1860s, where he had a kiln in his studio. Born at 69 Gower Street (a very rare example of a local boy coming into the Square), he was the son of a Professor of Mathematics at University College London, and his mother was active in the anti-slavery movement, the suffrage movement, and the workhouse and prison reform. In the 1860s, he met William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones and began to design his own tiles and stained glass. In 1872, he burnt the roof off, and he was forced to leave home. Around this time, he moved to Chelsea, and later when his business collapsed, he followed in his sister’s footsteps and became a professional writer and novelist, achieving great popularity.

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Wares by William de Morgan. Image: London Historians.

Trade Directories were slow at catching up with developments and only very sketchy details are given in the early days. Only five entries for the square appear in the 1844 Thompson Directory: a merchant, two physicians, an artist and a surgeon. Fitzroy Market nevertheless appears, comprising six butchers, a fishmonger-cum-poulterer, a greengrocer and a tin man. The early days of the market, whose entrance was on Tottenham Court Road close to Warren Street Tube station, contained food shops and stalls but by the 1861 Directory there only appear to be a butcher as the sole food supplier. The other businesses included a painter and various furniture makers or sellers. The site was also partly occupied by the St John the Evangelist District Boys School. By 1870 a ragged school appears. These were charity schools which provided a basic education to the very poor.

Mark Boss and his large family are interesting local figures as true Victorians, pulling themselves up by their boot straps. The family would have been extremely well-known as local trades people from the sheer length of their stay: it is possible to follow their stories for some 50 years. Mark was Prussian-born and seems to have been very proud of his German nationality, not changing his nationality for the whole period in which Census returns are available. We find the young Mark Boss in nearby Cleveland Street in a property of multi-occupation at number 60. This is the street where a very young Charles Dickens had lived.  His former home is suitably marked with a plaque and the workhouse which is claimed to be likely inspiration forOliver Twist” still stands nearby. Mark Boss was glass bender by trade at that time.  In 1871, he was in the Cleveland Street property with someone who appears to be his assistant. This property would within ten years become his matrimonial home (as per the 1881 Census) with his wife, three children and two servants. He had already moved up in the world.

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Dickens briefly lived at this property in Cleveland Street. Image: London Historians.

He must have set his eye on the nearby square, perhaps visiting properties in the course of his work. He first moved there to number 25, soon afterwards going next door to number 26, which became his permanent home. The Cleveland Street property would now be used for his glass business, conveniently around the corner. He also ran a separate timber business in the Hampstead Road. The various Census returns reveal his growing family. The last one (1911) at the time of writing shows an extraordinarily large family with his thirteen children, all now grown up still living at home in what must have been a very crowded household. His mother-in-law, aged 87, was with them too.  Some of the boys were given jobs in the family business; the girls were described as being of independent means, apparently not having married. One girl though, seems to have broken free, perhaps she was the black sheep of the family. One of the boys was studying Art at University College. Possibly he was seduced by a more Bohemian lifestyle of the artist rather than the hard-nosed world of commerce. The family were, after all, living in the heart of an artist colony. Mark Boss’s name still appears in the Directories of the 1920s whilst his wife’s continues into the early 1930s.

The artist Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893) lived at number 37 on the southern side with his family.  Born in Calais to British parents, he married his cousin, Elizabeth, in 1841 but she died six years later. He met Emma Hill (1829 – 1890) who first became his model, then his mistress, finally his wife in 1853. Undaunted by the fact that she was the daughter of a bricklayer and illiterate, he taught her to read and write and sent her to a school for social accomplishment so that she could be a hostess in the social circles that he mixed in. Their story seems to be similar to that of Pygmalion, and George Bernard Shaw did live nearby but at a rather later date. Both the Madox Browns were accustomed to financial hardship, although they helped the poor, opening a soup kitchen during the harsh winter of 1860. The couple in the painting The Last of England were Ford and Emma themselves.

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The Last of England (detail), 1850s. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

In 1865, Madox Brown put on a retrospective exhibition of his work with his canvas Work at the heart of the show, bringing in much needed cash. At this time, the artist entered into a new phase of his life, moving with his wife Emma, daughters Lucy and Cathy and son Oliver into the square. It had previously been occupied by Sir William Quiller Orchardson and John Pettie, Scottish artists and Royal Academicians. Madox Brown’s salon was a major focus for artists and other creative people, such as Robert Browning for around the next ten years.  William Michael Rossetti married Lucy, one of the two artistic daughters. Although Madox Brown was a non-believer, he held séances at Number 37 encouraged by Dante Gabriel Rossetti who was trying to contact his dead wife. Apparently his eleven-year-old son Oliver, known as Nolly, confessed to his half-sister, Lucy, that he had made the knocking sounds and made the table move. However, the beloved naughty Nolly died in 1874 and regular gatherings at the home stopped. Madox Brown turned Nolly’s bedroom into a shrine which would be re-erected in all his subsequent homes until his own death.

Rossetti (1828-1882), born at 38 Charlotte Street, passionate and hugely talented, is closely connected to Ford Madox Brown and to the square itself. He obtained private tuition from him and also wrote poetry. The offspring of Italian immigrants, the Rossettis embraced but also shaped mid-Victorian English culture. Dante Gabriel Rossetti formed a sketching club with Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood met at Millais’s parents’ house in Gower Street around the end of 1848/early 1849.  Madox Brown frequently welcomed Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal into his house. Dante later suffered a self-inflicted accident and convalesced at Madox Brown’s home. The story is that he somehow managed to break the floorboards with his legs and the table at which he was sitting fell through the resulting hole.

The Dicksees were in residence around the 1890s. Apart from Francis (1853-1928) there was his father, Thomas (1819-1895), known for his idealised portraits of Shakespearian figures. He also had an artist daughter, Margaret (1858-1903).  Harmony and The Two Crowns are two of Francis’s paintings. In the Directory of 1900 James McNeill Whistler is listed not in the square but around the corner at 8 Fitzroy Street, at a premises long-associated with the art community where, later in the early 1930s, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell were to be found.

G._B._Shaw_from_Bain_CollectionA one-time occupant of number 29 is a huge literary figure: George Bernard Shaw (1856- 1950), who was born in Ireland. In 1876, he followed his mother and her singing teacher to London to better himself.  Shaw was desperate for work. He was ghost-writing for a satirical paper run by Lee, his Mother’s singing teacher, but that soon went bust. Shaw then became dependent on his mother’s work as a music teacher. She was the main bread winner in the household. For the next nine years he had practically no income, but he used his freedom to spend day-after-day in the British Museum Reading Room self-educating himself and becoming acquainted with other like-minded people there, while trying his hand at writing novels, though with limited success. When he became involved with The Fabian Society his world changed. He energetically wrote leaflets for them from the mid-1880s, and started public speaking, for which he found he had a considerable talent. He became a journalist as an art, music and drama critic for several papers. His play-writing began in earnest in 1887 when he moved with his mother and sister to 29 Fitzroy Square and it was here that he unleashed his prodigious talent for writing. His friend and staunch supporter, the critic William Archer, lived conveniently close two doors down at number 27. He churned out his first seven plays such as the Widowers’ Houses, Mrs Warren’s Profession and Arms and the Man, emerging from this period as well as a host of critical reviews and political canvassing.

When Shaw first arrived at number 29, he mentioned that the hall was depressing, calling it a most repulsive house which did not have a bathroom. It seems to have been in a pretty shoddy condition.  His family held the third and fourth floors. He had a big room overlooking the square, which also served as his bedroom. He made a room on the fourth floor his study where he could shut out the world with “a mountain of buried books, all wide open”.

Relations with his near relatives seem to have been strained. He noted “my mother and I lived together but there was hardly a word between us”. His sister was trying to make the grade as an opera singer but he did not spare even her from biting criticism. In the Census of 1891, number 29 appears to be a multi-occupancy property with various households and lodgers. In 1898, Shaw moved out on marrying a wealthy Irish woman, to Adelphi Terrace but cheekily claiming still to be living in Fitzroy Square in order to continue to qualify as vestryman for St. Pancras, a role he had begun the previous year. He seems to have been quite effective, battling against slum landlords and keepers of houses of ill repute, especially around Warren Street. Meanwhile, his mother stayed on, appearing in the 1901 Census and in the Directory for 1906. Within a few years the same property would be the home of another major literary figure. This was Adeline Virginia Stephen (1882-1941), as she was known then.

When their father died in 1904, the Stephen siblings, now orphans, decamped en masse from their luxurious Hyde Park home for Gordon Square in Bloomsbury. Led by Vanessa, the eldest, they were fleeing the stuffy conventional Victorian values of their parents’ social circle. They began the Friday get-togethers based on Thoby’s Cambridge friends forming the basis of the Bloomsbury Set. Vanessa married Clive Bell in 1907 obliging the other siblings to move out. Virginia and Adrian found Shaw’s old home 29 Fitzroy Square (Thoby had died the previous year). Virginia seems to have been nervous about the area asking the local police whether it was a safe location, and they assured her it was. In any case a uniformed beadle resplendent in a top hat, tail-coat with red piping and brass buttons was on patrol to maintain respectability and to deter undesirables.

In her reminiscences, Virginia recalls young women playing in the central grassed area, which would have been railed off, just as it is today. Possibly these were the governesses that occupied number 35. At the time, the Swiss House Home for Foreign Governesses and Maids occupied the building. It would soon expand into number 34. Tennis as a social skill would have been very advantageous in their profession. Possibly the presence of a literary giant may have persuaded Virginia to take the property.  Be that as it may, they moved in, taking out a five year lease at 29 Fitzroy Square, Shaw’s old home, for £120 a year. It came with electricity but they had to put in a bath.  Shaw would have been pleased.

Virginia occupied all of the 2nd floor and her sitting room became a “great pyramid of books with trailing mist between them, partly dust and partly cigarette-smoke”, a somewhat more emotive version of Shaw’s “mountain of books”.  She put in a bright green carpet and red brocade curtains and a pianola. In time the décor would become flowing “purple” and it is easy to imagine the whole house was much more attractive than in the time of the Shaws’ occupation. The main drawing room was on the first floor and Adrian was on the ground floor. Luckily, they were still in occupation when the next Census was held in 1911, which provides a valuable insight into the household set-up. Their house seems very unoccupied compared to many other houses in the square. Only five people were there in a large house of eleven rooms, with three being servants. Adrian is described as a “legal historian” and Virginia as a “journalist”. Journalism was a trade taken up by several of the most notable residents of the square; Henry Mayhew, Robert Cecil for a while, Lady Eastlake and George Bernard Shaw. The Stephens held Thursday evening soirées with Leonard Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant, who lived for a while at number 21 according to her biographer, John Maynard Keynes and E M Forster supplementing her sister’s.

Despite a busy life teaching, taking German lessons, hosting the Thursday evenings, and starting her first novel The Voyage Out she would later state these were not happy years possibly because of her “black summer” in 1910. Virginia was apparently disturbed by the sounds of carts and vans. She moved with her brother to more genteel Brunswick Square in 1911, taking in their friends Grant and Keynes as lodgers. She married Leonard Woolf in 1912 at St. Pancras Town Hall.  Eventually the Woolfs, Keynes and Grant with her sister had homes near Lewes, “Bloomsbury in Sussex”.

They were very relaxed in their habits, not formally dressing for dinner, had a dog called Hans apparently not properly house-trained being sick on the carpet. Apparently in 1909 they went in a group in fancy dress to the Royal Botanical Gardens, with Virginia as Cleopatra. They enjoyed many holidays away from London, travelling to Paris, Cornwall, Bayreuth and various parts of France.

In just a few years Grant would be back with a new interest in the square, with the Omega Workshops founded by Roger Fry in 1913 at Number 33.  It was a latter day attempt to merge Design and Art with everyday objects. Grant and Bell became directors, and Shaw took shares in the project. The ethos was to turn artists into paid artisans working for a wage for three half days, allowing them time to focus on their own work.  Grant was one artist among many others badly in need of income. They painted on fire screens, table covers, walls, table designs for cloth. Grant painted the signboard with a huge Ώ on one side and a blue lily on a goblet on the other. Visitors included significant names including W B Yeats, H G Wells, and Rupert Brooke. The war caused a drop in the number of workers and the Omega Workshops closed in 1919.

By 1920 five of the properties were being used as apartments but health and charities were major activities. Many hospitals had been established in addition to an artificial limb manufacturer. Many specialist hospitals were based here. The Metropolitan Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital was located at number 2. The outpatients of Mount Vernon Hospital for Tuberculosis and Diseases of the Lung and Heart were at number 7 (the Eastlakes old home). The Home Hospital was sprawling across numbers 16,17 and 18.  The London Foot Hospital was at number 33 (formerly the Omega Group) and the London Skin Hospital at number 40A. Numbers 13 and 14 were rebuilt at this period for the St Luke’s Nursing Home for the Clergy. A few decorative artists and a stained glass artist worked in the square, but artists were far more strongly based in the neighbouring Fitzroy Street, especially at numbers 6, 8 and 10. Walter Sickert occupied a studio at number 15, just a few doors down at number 19, where, he with Spencer Gore and Harold Gilman ran the Fitzroy Street Group in 1907. It would evolve into The Camden Town Group, not open to women artists, based on the other side of the Euston Road and beyond.  By 1921, public baths occupied the site of Fitzroy Market. In 1930, number 29 (Shaw’s and Woolf’s former home) was full of apartments probably bedsitters but there were far fewer such dwellings than in 1920. However, the modern world was intruding with a motor dealer at number 28 and several others were selling electrical goods.

During the Second World War the southern range received a heavy pounding and was severely damaged; the west and northern sides damaged by a bomb blast, but the eastern terrace virtually escaped altogether except for a few properties in the south-eastern section. The 1944 Directory does not mention numbers 1, 2, 13, 35, 36, 37 and 38, presumably because of bomb damage. The eastern side was only slightly damaged in its southern most houses. Many replicas were built along the south side including number 1.

Warren Street, to the north, adjoining the Euston Road, became a haven for the motor trade, and some of the dealers had offices on the north side of the square, presumably offering a more presentable face to prospective clients. By 1947 engineering companies appear, London sales offices rather than factories. The square was very commercial by this time with a very wide range of trades especially electrical engineers, the clothing trade and even a plane manufacturer. But still a solicitor’s firm and a physician are making an appearance.

By 1961 the Directories show that many long-established charities were still present such as St Luke’s Nursing Home for the Clergy at number 14, Toc H Hostel Mark VII at number 15, The Hostel for Business Girls at number 8. The London Foot Hospital was still at number 33. The Swiss connection was still maintained at numbers 34 and 35 as the Swiss Mercantile Society, but the square had numerous small firms especially at number 1 now called Adam House, the base for eight firms. A second-hand motor company operated out of number 11 sharing with a publisher and an electrical supplier.

Fitzroy Square’s heyday with its artists was essentially Victorian but continued up to the First World War. However, the seeds of its deterioration were already in place.  Wartime bombing did not inflict vast damage except on the south side. In the ensuing decades the square became commercialised and scruffy. The Shaws’ home in the 1890s would have been quite run-down. The presence of a number of very respectable long-term residents Like Lady Eastlake, the Dents and the German entrepreneur Mark Boss may have helped delay the slide into decay. Once they and the artists had gone, the square became the province of charities, hospitals and crowded accommodation. Gradually after the war, commercial use took over from residential properties.

In the 1970s, the square was revived and is now fully pedestrianised and is graced with Naomi Blakes’s View II sculpture of 1977. Its newly acquired stateliness has attracted diplomatic missions from Croatia, Mozambique and Liberia. The Venezuelan one around the corner is the former home of Francesco de Miranda (1750-1816 ) in Grafton Way, who attempted to liberate his country from Spanish control. A statue of him stands on the corner of Fitzroy Street. The central gardens are generally not open to the public. The square itself now has several blue plaques, to Eastlake, Hofmann, Cecil, Woolf and Shaw, but not as yet to Ford Madox Brown.

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Charles Fitzroy’s estate is now a conservation area and hopefully upgrading of the properties will extend beyond the square. It is a quiet enclave despite being so close to the Euston Road, the illusion of solitude perhaps only a little broken by the domineering presence of the 177 metres high BT Tower (formerly Post Office Tower). The 2nd. Duke’s cattle road is now virtually a motorway in all but name. Proposals are afoot to turn the whole area into a low traffic zone. A little way away off Tottenham Court Road is an easily overlooked curiosity, Fitzroy Court. A narrow passageway leads to where Fitzroy Market once stood. In the rest of Fitzrovia are several long-standing and well-known taverns, such as the Wheatsheaf, Fitzroy Tavern and Newman Arms, worthwhile places to find the ghosts of George Orwell, Quentin Crisp, Dylan Thomas and many others of Old Fitzrovia.

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The Wheatsheaf, a favourite drinking spot of George Orwell and Dylan Thomas. Image: The Wheatsheaf.

 

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