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Louise Russell

Louise Russell


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


 

“Bloomsbury is a centre of culture, joining together education, history and diversity at every turn…”

We have left behind the leafy street corners of Bloomsbury and find ourselves in the green fields of Woburn, Bedfordshire. Through the country lanes full of ferns that lean toward the roadside, we make the approach to the 13,000-acre estate of Woburn Abbey. Although it is 50 miles from London, this is the home of a family that has been integral in helping develop Bloomsbury into the place we know and love today. As we walk through the corridors of the Abbey, soaking up the sense of history and admiring the many portraits that line the walls, a lady approaches with a small dog in tow. Her Grace, Louise Russell, The Duchess of Bedford, lives at the Abbey with her husband Andrew, the 15th Duke of Bedford, and their two children. Though it is 50 miles from London, this is the home of a family that has been integral in helping develop Bloomsbury into the place we know and love today. It soon becomes clear, as Louise talks about Bloomsbury’s Bedford Estates and her role as Patron of the upcoming Bloomsbury Festival, that this is very much an ongoing relationship.

The Russell family has been part of the fabric of the Bloomsbury neighbourhood for over 300 years. When William, Lord Russell, married Lady Rachel Wriothesley in 1669, the Bloomsbury Estate came into the ownership of the Russell family. Rachel had inherited the estate upon the death of her father, the 4th Earl of Southampton, two years earlier. He had died leaving three daughters but no male heir, thus his estates were divided equally between his children. William, Lord Russell, was the eldest surviving son of the 5th Earl of Bedford. He became implicated in the Rye House Plot of 1683 and was executed for treason. The family was later pardoned, and the Dukedom was created in 1694. The couple had lived at Southampton House in Bloomsbury with their children, including the future 2nd Duke of Bedford. Southampton House became the primary ducal London residence and was renamed Bedford House in 1734 and later demolished in 1800, facilitating the creation of Russell Square. Much of the landscape and architecture of Bloomsbury is the work of past Dukes and Duchesses of Bedford. It was the formidable Duchess Gertrude, widow of the 4th Duke, who created the much admired Bedford Square and Gower Street, while Tavistock Square takes its name from the courtesy title given to the eldest sons of the Dukes of Bedford: the Marquess of Tavistock.

Louise has a passion for Bloomsbury, describing its notable architecture, fine Georgian squares and rich history as captivating and unmatched in Central London. “I hate the term up-and-coming, though there is something really quite unique about Bloomsbury that defines it as different from nearby neighbourhoods such as Fitzrovia, Soho and Marylebone,” she says. “Bloomsbury is a centre of culture, joining together education, history and diversity at every turn. Iconic literary and intellectual figures throughout history have made Bloomsbury their home, from Charles Dickens to Virginia Woolf. The Bedford Estates is proud of this heritage.”

Since it was established in 2006, The Bloomsbury Festival has become a focal point of the neighbourhood calendar. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the festival is a creative explosion of arts, science, literature, culture and fun. It’s a unique event, representative of the neighbourhood’s spirit, bringing together over 100 world-leading institutions, from drama, dance and visual art colleges to creative businesses, theatres, cinemas, ground-breaking scientists, thinkers, and publishing houses. Led by festival director Kate Anderson, the 2016 Festival takes place over five days from 19th to 23rd October, with a schedule of about 150 events in venues across the neighbourhood – streets, parks, museums, galleries and public and private buildings are all involved. For 2016, the theme of the festival is language, marking the Centenary of SOAS and also reflecting the rich diversity of the neighbourhood’s population. The interpretation of the theme is broad, promising a varied programme that will bring it to life: expect street parties celebrating the language of dance, debates on the language of social change, poets battling it out against technology, a sound installation of endangered languages, and many more wide-ranging creative projects and performances throughout the festival’s duration. Throughout the weekend of the festival, Store Street’s unique independent shops and restaurants will remain open later than usual and will each house a different art or music experience.

The Bedford Estates is one of the lead partners of this year’s Bloomsbury Festival, and has supported the event for many years, with Louise acting as Patron. The Duchess is an ambassador for the entirety of the programme, meeting with the festival chair and director throughout the year to discuss strategic plans, development and fundraising. Louise takes an active role in all of these capacities, hosting a number of receptions to help raise the festival’s profile and support its fundraising drive. The Duchess is a particular advocate for work that involves the community at all levels, especially the Step Out Store Street event, which this year takes place on Friday 21st October. “I would love to encourage as many people to come as possible – it’s really worth coming along! It’s a happy, vibrant and relaxed atmosphere, which captures the essence of the neighbourhood. If this corner of London is accessible to you, it would be a shame to miss it. Last year’s event on Store Street was a huge success,” she says. “It was attended by some 3,000 people, and the street was lined with fire sculptures inspired by 2015’s theme of light.”

The 10th Bloomsbury Festival is set to both captivate and represent the neighbourhood over its five days, and it’s one way in which the Bedford Estates maintains its historical links with the neighbourhood and continues its work here in modern day Bloomsbury, working closely with various stakeholders and the local London Borough of Camden to enhance the public realm and celebrate the cultural heritage of the area.

Store Street Espresso

Store Street Espresso


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“We’re one of the few independent coffee shops that has remained independent”

Walk down Store Street and you leave behind the roar of the West End and cross the bridge into the more peaceful world of Bloomsbury. Starting at Tottenham Court Road in the west and ending at Gower Street in the east, Store Street is one of the most diverse in the neighbourhood, indeed in all of central London. Just a short walk from the British Museum and some of London’s top universities, Store Street Espresso has become a favourite with students, locals and visitors alike, making it a serious contender on London’s independent café scene.

Serving delicious artisan coffee since 2009, Store Street Espresso has fast became an institution on the street from which it takes its name and one of the best coffee shops in Bloomsbury. Boasting an excellent selection of sandwiches and pastries, as well as consistently delicious coffee, Store Street Espresso caters for a growing band of loyal customers. As you’d expect, they’re a diverse clientele, drawn from the neighbourhood’s mix of academia and commerce. The café was the brainchild of friends Rog and Jack. Having identified an impending coffee explosion in the city, they opened up with a simple aim: to offer great coffee to the people of Bloomsbury.

“Originally we just wanted to make some nice coffee, work with great equipment and have a cool space for the locals to hang out. On top of that it is always important that we provide a fun environment for people to work in, and for them to feel that they can have influence on what we do,” says General Manager Momo. Coffee is still at the centre of what they do, and their passion and enthusiasm for experimenting and trying new suppliers is evident both in their vast selection and on their Instagram feed, which on any given day is full of shout-outs to their most popular suppliers. “I’m open to all suggestions,” says Momo, “and because of that we were one of the first speciality coffee shops to produce cold brew, bulk brew filter and matcha, all of which has brought us a lot of success.”

It was this success that led to the opening of a second branch, closer to King’s Cross. “Honestly”, Momo tells me, “we were victims of our own popularity. We had reached the limits of what we could do in the space we had, the second store provided us with an opportunity to have an in-house kitchen so we could make our own sweets and offer cooked brunch for customers. It was a chance to try something new and different from the original, but to keep it familiar.” Recognising the need for expansion allowed them to grow the business on their own terms, and keeping their duo of cafes close together has facilitated this. The second Store Street Espresso can be found on Tavistock Place, not far from Russell Square, offering a port in the storm for anyone looking to escape King’s Cross and enjoy a peaceful interlude of coffee, cake and people-watching through the vast street-facing windows.

“All we knew was that we wanted it to be simple, minimal and different.” This signature minimalist style runs throughout every element of both locations. The relaxed café is a haven for students escaping the library, busy freelancers seeking a bit of human interaction and tourists and locals in search of sustenance and a break in their busy day. The minimalist interiors keep the space light and airy, with few distractions other than the array of tempting treats on offer. Store Street Espresso sources from anyone and everyone: local suppliers, recommendations or requests from regulars, or members of the team championing something they’ve discovered. This collaborative approach fits well with the community vibe that the café shares with Bloomsbury in general.

Arriving at 40 Store Street, you’re quickly lured in by the distinct aroma of coffee. The skylights at the rear of the café make it feel a bit like an airy workshop, while the bright walls add to the cheerful feel. At present, those walls also illustrate Store Street Espresso’s dedication to the local community, hosting an art exhibition in conjunction with the upcoming Bloomsbury Festival.

Is Store Street Espresso Bloomsbury’s living room? Perhaps. What is certain is that it guarantees excellent service and some of the best coffee in the area – not to mention the perfect vegetable quiche. It continues to be clear about its aims: great coffee for every taste, and a relaxing environment for people to visit. As Momo puts it, “We’re one of the few independent coffee shops that has remained independent, Jack and Rog still work closely with the team every day.” Expansion will hopefully continue for Store Street Espresso as they explore new locations, but they intend to stay anchored in Bloomsbury – with the area’s unique community feel, it remains the ideal base of operations.