65-67 Gower Street London WC1E 6HJ
65-67 Gower Street London WC1E 6HJ
The development of Bloomsbury began in the 1660’s when the 4th Duke of Bedford began to build a ‘little town’ on the edge of agricultural fields that bordered Covent Garden to the North and the village of Hampstead to the South.
In the 1780’s, under the supervision of Lady Gertrude Leveson-Gower, the estate began to expand and the building of Gower Street began. Numbers 65 and 67 Gower Street were completed in 1786 and the it remains one of the longest unbroken Georgian terraces in London. The majority of buildings in the area, including the Ridgemount Hotel, are still owned by the Bedford Estates – one of the wealthiest families in Great Britain.
Bloomsbury is a vibrant, creative area with its own distinct identity: it is home to the British Museum, the British Medical society as well as the University of London’s main campus and some of the most important hospitals in the country – UCLH, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, and Queen’s Square Neurological Hospital.
As well as being a centre for scientific learning, Bloomsbury is known for its literary and artistic leaning: Charles Dickens lived on Tavistock Square from 1851 (his house was demolished in 1901). The Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood (1848), founded by John Millais in his parent’s house on Gower Street, was acknowledged as a reform movement to counteract the mechanistic approach to art and the Bloomsbury Set (Gordon Square) was established in the early 20th Century – the work / discussions of Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes and E. M Forster (amongst others) had a great and lasting influence on literature, feminism, pacifism and economics.
The Architecture of 65 – 67 Gower Street
65-67 Gower Street are perfect examples of Georgian building style and are characterised by their balance and regularity adhering to the classical rules of architecture. In the 1700’s uniformity of house fronts along a street were considered pleasing to the eye and anything that implied lack of proportion or balance was frowned upon.
There are a number of Georgian characteristics that you can identify at the Ridgemount Hotel: the pillars on either side of the front door, the square symmetrical shape of the house, the fan light, paired chimneys and sash windows.
It is thought that the houses on Gower Street were built of low-grade materials and this may have worked in their favour as the passage of time has allowed the buildings to slip and slide a little; to move with the ages and different levels of traffic flow.
The rooms at the top of 65 – 67 Gower Street are smaller than those lower down the house, these would have been the servants quarters – with the grander rooms, meant for entertaining, below. The kitchens were situated in the basement where cook would have worked on a cast iron range heated by coal. If you look on the pavement outside the hotel you will see the original coal-holes – where fuel was delivered until the 1970s.
The houses on Gower Street were built as private homes for upper-middle-class families; there are references to the apple orchards that grew in people’s gardens and the abundance of fresh air available just a little distance from the City of London.
By 1911 many of the residences along Gower Street had (illegally) become boarding houses: Number 67 was leased to Laura Cook who, in turn, leased some of her rooms to long term residents including a ship owner and a furrier. Number 65 was leased to an American; Mary Heriot; corsetière (allegedly) to the Royal Family), who rented rooms to a pianoforte instructor and his family. During the 1900’s a wide variety of lodgers from army captains to families of ‘private means’ lived in the two houses.
The most famous inhabitant of 67 Gower Street was Elizabeth Stride aka ‘Long Liz’, who, after she moved from Bloomsbury to the East End, was killed by Jack the Ripper.
The most notable inhabitant of 65 Gower Street seems to have been a ‘low’ comedian called John Bannister 1760 – 1836 who was an actor at the Drury Lane theatre and whose portrait can still be seen at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
The Present Day
Willie and Margaret Rees (originally from the southern most foot of the Brecon Beacons) took over the lease of 65 Gower Street in 1965. In 1966 their son, Royden, left the Royal Navy to come and work with them.
In 1988 Margaret Rees retired and Royden began running the hotel with his wife Gwen. In 1992 they bought the building next door and knocked the two buildings together to form one hotel. The buildings are still referred to as ‘The Ridgemount’ and ‘The Georgian’.
In 2000, after finishing his degree, Gwen and Royden’s son Aled joined the family business. In 2019 he opened a boutique hotel in Somerset with his wife (numberonebruton.com), he now works between the two.
Although the Rees family has lived in London for many years, they consider themselves to be Welsh exiles and take their roots very seriously indeed. Welsh is their first language, they are rugby mad, they love singing and they spend as much time as they can in their home country!
There are an estimated 300,000 Welsh living in London: and Bloomsbury and Kings Cross are traditionally Welsh strongholds as this is where the dairymen, milkmaids, drovers and weeders lived when they moved to London in the late 1700’s. Before the Rees family ran The Ridgmount Hotel they had a dairy / grocery called Rees and Sons on Kings Cross Road and Royden Rees delivered milk in the area.