Bloomsbury conjures up images of fusty intellectuals like former residents Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, EM Forster and John Maynard Keynes. Home to austere, prestigious institutions like the British Museum, the Royal Portrait Gallery and University College London, it isn’t necessarily somewhere you’d think of moving to.
But the recent clamour for central London property has driven residential demand in the area like never before. “Bloomsbury draws attention from a variety of buyers,” says James Blackler, West End office sales manager for Foxtons, “including overseas investors, domestic and international parents purchasing for their children studying locally, buy-to-let investors and buyers looking for a pied-a-terre that is within easy reach of a range of upmarket amenities.”
While hardly able to sit in the “affordable” bracket, Bloomsbury is still around £300psqft cheaper than Covent Garden and £500psqft cheaper than Marylebone, according to estate agent Chestertons. And that’s taking into account its year-on-year house price growth, which has risen by 59 per cent since 2010, only stalling last year – along with the rest of prime central London – when prices rose by just 1 per cent.
As a result, Bloomsbury is a hotspot for office-to-residential conversions and The Bedford Estates – a major landowner in the area – is behind much of the development. Managing approximately 30 acres, it’s currently refurbishing, restoring and extending many of the Georgian and Victorian period buildings, including six apartments on Bedford Court Mansions, which will be completed this month.
With around 80 educational institutions in the area – including L’Ecole Jeannine Manuel, a popular French international school – post-graduates are also driving demand.
“Over the past five years, we’ve seen more families moving to the Estate,” says Mason Brooks, lettings director at Hurford Salvi Carr, “particularly from the South Kensington and Chelsea area.”
As for new property, Fyfe McDade is currently selling homes in the period, red brick Stedham Chambers from £725,000, while Hudson’s is selling seven apartments at 6 John Street for around £1.2m each.
Many existing homes are situated around garden squares – Russell Square being the second largest in London – which are also in high demand with domestic buyers. “Laid out in the mid-1700s, Bloomsbury was designed as a suburb to attract middle-to-upper class Londoners out of the West End,” says David Fell, analyst at Hamptons International. “The Georgian penchant for garden squares shapes Bloomsbury to this day. Lower than average rents mean Bloomsbury is a hotspot for independent shops, which cluster on its quiet backstreets.”
Fell points in particular towards the Brutalist Brunswick Centre, where flats go for 15 per cent less than their period counterparts.
The Bedford Estates has also invested more than £50m into commercial, retail and public realm spaces over the past five years, including a £7m restoration of Store Street. It also says Facebook and Google’s presence nearby is driving business interest, and the refurbished Heal’s Building, completed this year, will see the arrival of Netflix, Liverpool Football Club and Deliveroo.
Shaun Macnamara, associate director at CBRE Residential, describes Bloomsbury as “an almost forgotten location that offers great value within central London.”
For a retro fun night out, try Bloomsbury Bowling on Bedford Street, with eight lanes, a DJ, four private karoke rooms for hire and pizzas that are seriously enormous. It goes without saying that the British Museum is the most visited tourist attraction in the UK, but if you lived nearby, it’d be worth joining its Members’ club, with access to special lectures and parties. For a bite to eat in vintage surroundings, head to Bloomsbury Coffee House on Tavistock Place, which serves simple, homemade food. Get an alternative education at School of Life, an independent bookshop part-founded by philosopher Alain de Boton on Marchmont Street that also runs courses and creative workshops. Then take life a little less seriously by taking part in the Chap Olympiad, an annual display of sporting ineptitude in Bedford Square.
House prices Source: Zoopla
DETACHED – £2.126m
SEMI – £1.986m
TERRACED – £2.086m
FLATS – £701,339
Transport Source: TfL
Time to Canary Wharf: 25 mins
Time to Liverpool Street: 14 mins
Nearest train station: Russell Square
Best Roads Source: Hamptons International
Most Expensive – Great James St – £2,594,650
Best Value – Boswell St – £415,801