Bloomsbury's historic streets to get modern makeover
London's forgotten shopping streets are being given new life - and homebuyers aren't far behind
London’s landed estates are competing to turn neglected backwaters of the capital into successful new high streets. One of Grosvenor Estate’s latest projects, for example, is the sparkling recreation of Elizabeth Street, Belgravia, where a feel-good factor has been introduced by making improvements to the look of the street and creating a street café scene.
Mayfair has received a similar revamp, while the Howard de Walden estate has transformed Marylebone High Street, the Mercers’ Company has worked magic in Covent Garden and so has the Cadogan Estate in Chelsea.
The lastest to join the regenerators is the Bedford Estate, keen to revitalise historic Bloomsbury. Novel and interesting shops are key to its plans, which include London’s first florists dedicated exclusively to orchids, and a bicycle builder.
Bedford Estate has chosen Bloomsbury’s Store Street as the centrepiece for improvements. Moments from Heal’s and Habitat and a key east-west “spine route”, it is being turned into a “village high street” with flats on upper floors. The estate has regained control of an original Georgian parade — 14 shops — on one side of the street, which have now been refurbished and let to cherry-picked independent retailers: an eclectic mix of brasseries and cafés, boutiques and galleries. More than £7 million has been spent improving the handsome streetscape, an inviting contrast to the hustle and bustle of nearby Tottenham Court Road.
Boutique apartments and a restaurant have been built on the site of a disused art deco petrol station and garage and new, too, is Alfred Place, a private members club for entrepreneurs, founded by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason.
Several dozen more flats are being created in side streets, while three listed houses in Bedford Place, which links Bedford Square and Russell Square, are being converted into nine apartments. With their elegant fanlight street doors and tall-windowed drawing rooms, the homes offer a chance to live in grand surroundings. All are available to rent from £450 to £995 a week. Call Hurford Salvi Carr on 020 7299 3322.
Store Street has always had appeal to design businesses and its South Crescent is home to New London Architecture — a public forum, exhibition space and research resource for the capital’s decision-makers (its giant scale model of London displaying all the development activity is alone worth the visit) — and The Building Centre, which promotes ideas and product innovation.
Between them they attract more than 20,000 visitors a week. The Crescent’s public space is transformed into an “urban meadow” during the yearly London Festival of Architecture and it is also one of the main venues of the newly instituted Bloomsbury Festival.
© Rebecca Reid
For long-term landlords such as Bedford Estate, targeted regeneration of this kind brings the reward of rising property values. Homebuyers can share in this uplift, knowing the area is in safe hands.
Built by the nobility
Bloomsbury has been a residential district for more than three centuries, owing its existence to the nobility, who developed the area as one of the capital’s first planned suburbs. Small tracts are still owned by private school trusts, such as Rugby, and there is big academic presence in the form of colleges (University College London) and hospitals (Great Ormond Street).
Another big boost to Bloomsbury’s appeal is its location between central London’s main new Crossrail stations — Tottenham Court Road and Farringdon. With King’s Cross and St Pancras on the doorstep, too, the transport connections are superb: trains to everywhere from Perth to Paris, a Tube hub with five lines, and direct rail links to four of London’s five airports.
Bedford Estate’s area renewal is spreading beyond Store Street to the quarter around the British Museum, where a dramatic new extension is nearing completion.
Many surviving Georgian buildings spent the 20th century as offices but are now returning to domestic use, with smaller-scale refurbishments of barristers’ chambers and university departments spawning more homes.
Refurbished Russell Square, previously a magnet for rough sleepers, is now a recreational space for locals with a rebuilt café that has won design awards. London’s largest Waitrose and niche retailers have opened at the renovated Brunswick Centre, giving a new lease of life to an iconic Sixties housing estate.
Bloomsbury Gardens is a sizeable new-build scheme of 44 private apartments bordering St George’s Park. This will be launching early 2013. Call 020 7229 3322. The Colonnades is a mews development of nine new houses tucked away behind Guilford Street. Prices from £1.75 million. Call 020 7299 3322.
Check out Mecklenburgh Square, which borders Coram’s Fields, a seven-acre green sanctuary dedicated to children. The location is a little piece of Chelsea in Bloomsbury. The garden square is residents-only and bollards at one end stop through-traffic. Big unrenovated houses can be picked up for about £1.75 million.
Pied-à-terre buyers and parents purchasing for student sons and daughters make up a large chunk of the local property market, according to estate agent LDG. Prices start at £400,000 for one-bedroom mansion block flat. Bloomsbury has central London’s largest student population — about 180,000 and growing.
Hotspots with a new cachet
Street makeovers are adding cachet to several London residential neighbourhoods. Some are “organic”, or unplanned, but more often it is the result of landlords and developers working with local councils to create micro zones with better public space.
Buildings range from Georgian to modern, mainly small-scale, and the street boasts a longstanding community of live/workers and artists. Local developments in the pipeline include a scheme on Melior Street, while Sellar Property Group, the Shard developer, is working up detailed plans for residential towers along St Thomas Street.
Shoreditch: Redchurch Street used to be the scruffy end of Shoreditch but has emerged as an area hotspot, boosted by the extended East London line.
Avante-garde is a glitzy 25-storey tower being built in Bethnal Green Road. Prices from £315,000. Call 020 3538 3287.
East Dulwich: Lordship Lane in East Dulwich has become so hot it is almost usurping Dulwich Village, its rich and sedate (but some say boring) neighbour. The lively thoroughfare has bohemian charm and is awash with new gastropubs. The housing stock is mainly Victorian terraces. Houses start at about £600,000 and flats from £250,000, according to Foxtons.
A refurbished four-bedroom property on Goodrich Road is £775,000. Call 0800 369 8667.