05 July 2022

Queen Square, a Bloomsbury
square that celebrates
queens, poets and doctors

Queen Square in Bloomsbury was laid out between 1716 and 1725 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022; click on images for full-screen resolution)

Patrick Comerford

I have often stayed in Bloomsbury in the past, usually in the now-closed Penn Club on Bedford Place, and enjoyed strolling through the elegant squares and gardens and enjoying the literary connections and the many cultural, educational and health institutions.

But when two of visited London last week, we visited Queen Square and Brunswick Square in Bloomsbury for the first time.

Queen Square was originally known as Devonshire Square and was laid out in 1716 on the garden of Sir Nathaniel Curzon’s private house. It was laid out as a square in the decade up to 1725, after the Church of Saint George the Martyr had been built by public subscription in 1706.

‘Square’ is something of a misnomer, however, as houses were originally only built on three sides from 1713 to 1725, with the north side left open to the countryside then still around it, with views out to the villages and hills of Hampstead and Highgate. Later in the Georgian period, the view was closed off by a ‘palace-fronted’ terrace of houses in what is now Guilford Street.

A statue in the square, once thought to be Queen Anne or Mary II, is a statue of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The square is said to have been renamed Queen Square in honour of Queen Anne, although she died in 1714, before the square was laid out. A lead statue in the square shows a queen in ornamental robes, and she originally held a sceptre. The plaque on the plinth is missing, and it was once is thought to be Queen Anne or Mary II. However, most guidebooks now agree this is a statue of Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III.

The Queen’s Larder, the pub at No 1, dates from 1710. According to tradition, Queen Charlotte rented a cellar under a beer shop to store the king’s food while her husband was being treated by his doctor, the Revd Dr Francis Willis, during recurrent bouts of madness.

The writer Fanny Burney (1752-1840) lived on the south side of the square in the 1770s, and wrote in her novel, Evelina, of the ‘beautiful prospect’ from her house ‘of the hills, ever verdant and smiling.’

Fallen figs on the ground in Queen Square (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

This was a fashionable area in the 18th century, by the mid-19th century it had attracted many French refugees and the shops of sundry booksellers and print sellers.

An Act of 1832 provided that the square was to be ‘used and enjoyed by the inhabitants thereof in such a manner as the Trustees shall direct.’ It was maintained by a rate ‘not exceeding one shilling in the pound, assessed on buildings around the square.’

William Morris moved his furnishings business, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co, from nearby Red Lion Square into No 26 in 1865. Morris and his family lived ‘over the shop,’ and a ballroom was converted into workshops at the back. It was during this time that William Morris’s wife Janey and Dante Gabriel Rossetti fell in love.

Queen Square became a favoured centre for charitable institutions in the Victorian era. They included the Roman Catholic Aged Poor Society at No 31 and the Society of St Vincent de Paul. Elizabeth Malleson started the Working Women’s College there in 1864, and there too is the Mary Ward Centre for adult education.

The former Italian Hospital is now part of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Gradually, many of the mansions were turned into hospitals and other institutions, and Queen Square became known for its many medical institutions, including the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine, formerly the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, the Italian Hospital, and the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, once the home of Jerome K Jerome (1859-1927), author of Three Men in a Boat (1889).

The former Italian Hospital on the south side of Queen Square is now part of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, whose main buildings are in Great Ormond Street, the street leading east from Queen Square.

Several buildings on the west side of the square are devoted to medical research and are part of the Institute of Neurology and other departments of University College London.

A circular paved area marks the spot where a Zeppelin bomb fell in 1915 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

A circular paved area on the north lawn of the square marks the spot where a Zeppelin bomb fell in 1915 during World War I. Although around 1,000 people slept in the surrounding buildings, no-one was injured. During World War II, around 2,000 people slept in an air-raid shelter beneath the square.

A women’s-only Turkish bath operated in Queen Square from 1930 to 1962. The site is now occupied by the Imperial Hotel.

The poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath were married in the Church of Saint George the Martyr in 1956. It was once known as the sweeps’ church because kind parishioners provided Christmas dinners for 100 chimney sweeps’ apprentices or ‘climbing boys.’

Lines from Ted Hughes commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee of 1977 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Close to the former Faber and Faber offices at No 3 Queen Square, lines from Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin, two Poets Laureate, are inscribed below a floral bowl commemorating Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee of 1977.

Ted Hughes wrote:

A nation’s a soul
A soul is a wheel
With a crown for a hub
To keep it whole

Philip Larkin wrote:

In times when nothing stood
But worsened or grew strange
There was one constant good
She did not change

Faber and Faber was originally located at 24 Russell Square, where a plaque still recalls that TS Eliot worked there. Faber later moved to 3 Queen Square, and in 2009 the firm moved to Bloomsbury House, 74–77 Great Russell Street.

Lines from Philip Larkin commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee of 1977 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

A sculpture of ‘Sam the Cat’ was unveiled at the south-west corner in 1997 in ‘affectionate memory’ of Patricia (Penny) Penn (1914-19922), a local resident who was active in the area. ‘Mother and Child’ is a bronze sculpture by Patricia Finch, commissioned by Friends of the Children of Great Ormond Street Hospital in memory of Andrew Meller in 2001.

The shady garden has areas of lawn, rose beds and mature trees, and is much used by visitors to the hospitals.

Queen Square is owned by the Trustees and maintained by Camden Council, and is open to the public during daylight hours.

‘Mother and Child’ is a bronze sculpture by Patricia Finch (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Ordinary Time:
5 July 2022 (Psalm 132)

Psalm 132 quoted on a plaque above the door of Saint George’s Church, Balbriggan, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In the Calendar of the Church, we are in Ordinary Time. Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 132:

Psalm 132 is the thirteenth in a series of 15 short psalms (Psalm 120-134) known as the ‘Songs of Ascents.’ These psalms begin with the Hebrew words שיר המעלות‎ (Shir Hama’a lot). In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is counted as Psalm 131.

Many scholars say these psalms were sung by worshippers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals. Others say they were sung by the Levite singers as they ascended the 15 steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Mishnah notes the correspondence between the 15 songs and the 15 steps between the men’s court and the women’s courtyards in the Temple. A Talmudic legend says King David composed or sang the 15 songs to calm the rising waters at the foundation of the Temple.

One view says the Levites first sang the Songs of Ascent at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple during the night of 15 Tishri 959 BCE. Another study suggests they were composed for a celebration after Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in 445 BCE. Others suggest they may originally have been songs sung by the exiles returning from Babylon, ascending to Jerusalem or individual poems later collected together and given the title linking them to pilgrimage after the Babylonian captivity.

These psalms are cheerful and hopeful, and they place an emphasis on Zion. They were suited for being sung because of their poetic style and the sentiments they express. They are brief, almost like epigrams, and they are marked by the use of a keyword or repeated phrase that serves as a rung on which the poem ascends to its final theme.

Psalm 132 is the longest of the psalms in the Songs of Ascent, with 18 verses.

The New Revised Standard Version associates Psalm 132 with ‘the Eternal Dwelling of God in Zion.’ The Jerusalem Bible describes it as a messianic hymn and an anniversary hymn recalling the finding and translation of the Ark of the Covenant, recounted in I Samuel 6 and II Samuel 6. The former Chief Rabbi, the late Lord (Jonathan) Sacks, says this is a psalm about the Temple and its priests.

Verses 1-5 describe David’s determination to build a house for God: ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent’ (II Samuel 7: 2).

Verses 10-12 describe God’s promise to David that the monarchy would be an ternal gift for his descendants: ‘Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever’ (II Samuel 7: 16). Psalms.

At Saint George’s Church in Balbriggan, Co Dublin, there is biblical text on a plaque above the main door on the south side of tower that quotes from this psalm:

I will not suffer mine eyes
to sleep nor mine eye-lids
to slumber • neither the
temples of my head to
take any rest;
Until I find out a place
for the temple of the Lord:, an habitation
for the mighty God of
. – Psalm 132: 4-5.

The quotation may have been chosen to give thanks for the rebuilding of the church after a fire in 1833.

‘This is my resting-place for ever … Its priests I will clothe with salvation, and its faithful will shout for joy’ (Psalm 132: 14-16) … a priest’s hands raised for the blessing of the cohenim on a gravestone in the new Jewish cemetery on the Lido in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Psalm 132 (NRSVA):

A Song of Ascents.

1 O Lord, remember in David’s favour
all the hardships he endured;
2 how he swore to the Lord
and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,
3 ‘I will not enter my house
or get into my bed;
4 I will not give sleep to my eyes
or slumber to my eyelids,
5 until I find a place for the Lord,
a dwelling-place for the Mighty One of Jacob.’

6 We heard of it in Ephrathah;
we found it in the fields of Jaar.
7 ‘Let us go to his dwelling-place;
let us worship at his footstool.’

8 Rise up, O Lord, and go to your resting-place,
you and the ark of your might.
9 Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,
and let your faithful shout for joy.
10 For your servant David’s sake
do not turn away the face of your anointed one.

11 The Lord swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
‘One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
12 If your sons keep my covenant
and my decrees that I shall teach them,
their sons also, for evermore,
shall sit on your throne.’

13 For the Lord has chosen Zion;
he has desired it for his habitation:
14 ‘This is my resting-place for ever;
here I will reside, for I have desired it.
15 I will abundantly bless its provisions;
I will satisfy its poor with bread.
16 Its priests I will clothe with salvation,
and its faithful will shout for joy.
17 There I will cause a horn to sprout up for David;
I have prepared a lamp for my anointed one.
18 His enemies I will clothe with disgrace,
but on him, his crown will gleam.’

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘Tackling Poverty.’ It was introduced on Sunday by Niall Cooper, Director at Church Action on Poverty.

Tuesday 5 July 2022:

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

We pray and give thanks for the work of Church Action on Poverty over the last 40 years.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org