The Wiener Library

For the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide

History of Our Building

No. 29 Russell Square, London

Undated photograph of 29 Russell Sq

Undated photograph of 29 Russell Sq

Neumann and Mendel Business and Family papers, WL Doc Coll 1023

By the end of the 17th century the Russell family, who possess the peerage of Duke of Bedford, owned extensive estates in London, including that of Bloomsbury, a large area now bounded by Tottenham Court Road to the west, New Oxford Street to the south, Euston Road to the north, and Woburn Place and Southampton Row to the east. The Bloomsbury Estate was developed from the 1660s to the 1850s. In the first phase Bloomsbury Square and Great Russell Street were laid out. In 1723 the Bloomsbury Estate became part of the Bedford Estate. By Rocque’s survey of 1762 the ‘New Road’ (Euston Road) had been laid out, enclosing the Estate to the north, but the land to the south remained largely undeveloped as Lamb’s Conduit Fields. In 1776 building agreements were granted for Bedford Square and a second phase in the development of the Bloomsbury Estate started, transforming the pasture fields into a planned estate. The Square became the focal point of a new grid of streets to the west, north and south and although this was to take eighty years to complete, the design was harmonious and ensured the unity of the whole. The overall plan of the estate was based on the existing pattern of closes and field boundaries, hence the variations in the size and shapes of the squares.

Building agreements for Russell Square were granted in 1801 and the building work was largely complete by 1804. Russell Square was designed by James Burton and was larger than any square already laid out, including Grosvenor Square.  Humphry Repton was commissioned by the fifth Duke of Bedford to design the gardens in Russell Square.
(Information from Historic England’s List Entry Description of Russell Square) 

Built c.1804, one of the first residents of No. 29 Russell Square was George Cowie, a gentleman of independent means, who sold on about 1824 to George Brown [1790-1865]. A decade or so earlier, Brown had served with distinction in the Peninsular Campaign - the British army's successful attempt to stiffen Spanish opposition to French revolutionary and Napoleonic aggression. He was knighted in 1852 and advanced to the rank of general. Forty years after seeing action in the Peninsular, at past sixty years of age, he commanded the Light Division in the Crimea. From 1860 to 1865 he was commander-in-chief in Ireland.

From 1832 No. 29 Russell Square was home to George Meek, who owned an estate at Brantridge in Sussex. About 1852 he sold on to Samuel Beale, chairman of the Midland Railway and member of parliament for Derby from 1857 to 1865. He lived here with his second wife, Mary, the daughter of John Johnson of Field House, Chester.

Records for 1873 show No. 29 Russell Square sheltering Henry John Simmons, senior partner with Simmons & Simmons, solicitors, of Threadneedle Street. When Simmons died shortly before the turn of the century he bequeathed the property jointly to his two sons, Edward and Percy. As the former was domiciled elsewhere, it was Percy who made No. 29 his home.

Sir Percy Coleman Simmons [1875-1939] became a member of the London County Council in 1907 at an election which threw the 'old progressives' from power. He was chief whip of the Municipal Reform Party from 1914 to 1921; and during his long term of membership of the L.C.C. served as chairman of various departments including the fire brigade and the theatre and music-halls. In 1919 he became one of the four members who represented the interests of the City of London at County Hall. He is best remembered today for the leading part he played in the Waterloo-Charing Cross Bridge controversy. Sir Percy was in favour of a new six-line railway bridge at Waterloo. His opponents desired to retain the old bridge and to erect a new one at Charing Cross. Sir Percy won the day. He was a liveryman of the Needlemakers’ Company and during the First World War served in the R.A.F. He died at Chelwood Corner, Nutley, Sussex, two weeks after the outbreak of the Second World War, aged 64.

By 1920 No. 29 Russell Square was in use as the accounts department of the London War Pensions Committee. By 1926 - the depths of the Depression - it had become the London office of the Official Receiver for Bankruptcy. Shortly after the end of the Second World War it was acquired by the University of London for the Institute of Germanic Languages and Literature.

The terrace of which no. 29 forms a part (no.s 25-29) was listed Grade II in 1969. In December 2011, The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide was opened by Princess Anne at 29 Russell Square.