Past Events

Planning for Privacy: The Central Garden of Bedford Square

Research Lunch, Walking Tour – Todd Longstaffe-Gowan

  • 15 July 2022
  • 1:00 – 2:00 pm
  • This event is part of the Bedford Square Walking Tours, Research Lunch series
  • Paul Mellon Centre

From the early eighteenth century the success of London’s squares was contingent on the secure enclosure of their central gardens: in their role as the visible communal centrepieces to new and fashionable neighbourhoods they satisfied a desire for privacy and social exclusivity. To this day, the gardens of many of the most desirable, idiosyncratic, well-gardened metropolitan squares – including Bedford Square – remain private, fenced sanctuaries for the exclusive use of their guardians. The boundaries which defined, and continue to define, these enclosures are socially interesting as they have invariably been seen as both defensive and conspicuous, with the aim of offering both protection and privacy.

Squares were enclosed not only with a view to their physical improvement and embellishment, but also as an act of social control. They therefore possess a very particular social dynamic – they are elaborate social organisms and uniquely complex communities made up of interdependent individuals and groups more or less closely connected with one another, for whom the health of their community is dependent on the harmonious interworking of its culture, politics and economics. This social dynamic extends both to the relationship among the inhabitants themselves (how they see themselves), and to the relationship between the inhabitants and the outside world (how they are perceived by others).

In his perambulation through and around the central garden of Bedford Square, Todd will discuss how the square and its environs evolved both physically and socially, and examine the factors that have made such a square enduringly interesting and attractive to so many Londoners and visitors alike.

Image Caption: Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, East side of Bedford Square, c.1851. Courtesy Trustees of the British Museum.

About the speaker

  • Todd Longstaffe-Gowan is a landscape architect with an international practice based in London. He is gardens adviser to Historic Royal Palaces, lecturer at New York University (London), president of the London Gardens Trust, editor of the London Gardener and author of several books including The London Town Garden (Paul Mellon Centre & Yale, 2001), The London Square (Paul Mellon Centre & Yale, 2012) and English Garden Eccentrics: Three Hundred Years of Extraordinary Groves, Burrowings, Mountains and Menageries (Paul Mellon Centre, 2022).