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The Duchess's Speech
The Duchess's Speech

High Commissioner, Mr. Mayor, Ladies & Gentlemen

It is an honour and a privilege for me to have been invited to perform the re-opening ceremony of Tavistock Square.

Having been the proud bearer of the name Tavistock from the age of 22 until my father-in-law died in October 2002 - 40 years, I was really pleased to accept Philip Nelson's invitation to be here today. Philip seems to have been working tirelessly to bring this day together for which we should all be very appreciative. Things like this don't just happen, they require an excellent conductor and Philip appears to have been one.

The land that now is Tavistock Square came into my husband's family in 1669, when William Russell maried Rachel, the daughter of the 4th Earl of Southampton. She had recently inherited the agricultural fields now known as Bloomsbury from her father. This square, along with other parts of the Bloomsbury Estate, was developed at the turn of the 19th century. In November 1800 James Burton signed a contract to develop the east side of Tavistock Square. The buildings had a 99 year lease.

The building plots adjacent to the Burton development remained undeveloped until 1821 when Thomas Cubitt turned his attention to the area. In April 1821 Cubitt signed a building contract to develop the south side of the square. Again all the buildings had 99 year leases. Cubitt was able to choose the highest standard of materials, the houses were of an unprecedented quality. Unfortunately towards the end of the 1820's the area had fallen out of favour with the "London style" and was deemed unfashionable. In 1825 some of the western side was designed by the architect Lewis Vuilliamy and built by George Anstey and J.A. Frampton.

As Philip said, Charles Dickens lived in the square in 1851. He obtained the lease on Tavistock House. It had recently been divided into three buildings and Dickens moved his young family into the western section of the 18 roomed house. He had a stage built with proper footlights, scenery and even a curtain. Dickens named it "The Smallest Theatre in the World".

He entertained friends and family with performances. Among friends who attended were Hans Christian Anderson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne and George Eliot, to namew but a few.

Dickens lived there for seven years until he separated from his wife.

By the turn of the 20th Century Tavistock House had already been divided into three houses, Bedford House, Tavistock House and Russell House. In 1901 it was partially demolished. The British Medical Association obtained the lease and in 1923 a 200 year lease was obtained from The Duke. Alterations were made and in 1925 His Majesty King George V and Queen Mary officially opened the house. Memorial Gates were dedicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, in remembrance of the 574 members of the BMA who died in the Great War. The Memorial Gates were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. The BMA also commissioned Lutyens to design a statue to be placed in the south east corner of the garden. The statue of Dame Louisa Aldrich-Blake was placed here in 1926. She was the first woman to qualify as a surgeon.

In 1962 the BMA bought the freehold from the estate.

In 1830 to Cubitt's design the planting within the lawn on Tavistock Square Garden was said to be minimal, with scattered tree planting towards the centre and corners of the plot with a boundary and perimeter path. The gardens continued to be developed throughout the 19th Century. By 1928 the gardens were maintained by a committee of the Square's inhabitants from rates levied by St. Pancras Borough Council. In 1940 the railings were removed for the war effort. On the 26th June 2004 a memorial to Virginia Woolf was erected in the gardens, the novelist had lived in the adjacent Gordon Square at number 46.

And in July 2005 the saddest and most awful event happened in the square, when the 13 people were killed and many injured in an act of terrorism. It would be nice to have a memorial dedicated to them here in the square.

As a family we feel very proud to have been the owners and custodians of this beautiful part of London and I feel I can say this, as I only married into the family. I think the family and their staff have done an excellent job in caring for it and improving it, sometimes having long drawn out difficulties with the planning authorities, who seem not to understand that we only want its betterment. They have actually owned it for 342 years and have cared for it and due to a number of things this area is enjoying a resurgence, helped a lot, I believe, due to Eurostar now arriving at St. Pancras. This area is becoming the centre of London for Europe.

I would like to congratulate all who have been involved in putting this together, from the initial idea to its fruition today. It's wonderful, well done and well spent to all who have paid for it.

It now gives me great, great pleasure in declaring Tavistock Square Garden re-opended.

 


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