Lamb’s Conduit and Rugby Street, Bloomsbury, celebrate 450th anniversary, with street party

THIS month a very special 450th anniversary street party is taking place in Bloomsbury, central London. Celebrating the founding of the Rugby Estate in 1567 by the canny and hard-working Rugby-born grocer and businessman Lawrence Sheriff who sold spices to Queen Elizabeth I, before she was crowned. Once she was enthroned, she rewarded him in 1558 with his own coat of arms. A few years later, Sheriff and his wife purchased a large field in Holborn, then just a undeveloped plot of land, known as Conduit Close, which is now owned by, and thus called, the Rugby Estate. In 1567, Sheriff re-wrote his will leaving part of his money and land to build a school and alms house in his home town, Rugby. And just three weeks after doing this, he died.

Story picture Maggie Owen Conduit streetMaggie Owen shop on Rugby Street

Since then, those eight acres he so wisely bought have been developed many times over, with residential development beginning mainly in the late 17th century – and many of these lovely buildings still remain. In the early 1800s, retailers of general groceries, medicine, cakes, tea, cheese, wine, jewellery, stationery, toys, clothes, books, furniture and funerals, as well as several solicitors – a bit like those found in the area today – had set up in some of the houses populating the streets.

Steven of OliverSpencer_1lr (1)Oliver Spencer owner of Oliver Spencer, a menswear shop on Lamb’s Conduit Street

The Rugby Estate, which includes part of Great Ormond Street too, has also been the setting, as you might imagine, of many enduringly fascinating and important historic events; and home to significant cultural figures, such as Handel, Charles Dickens, Silvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

story langham gallery Langham Gallery, Lamb’s Conduit Street

story picture AESOP UK STORE LAMBS CONDUIT STREET 03 HRAesop on Lamb’s Conduit Street

These days the estate is, perhaps best known, for being the location of Lamb’s Conduit and Rugby Streets, both of which are teeming with extremely cool and niche shops, restaurants, cafes, bars and businesses such as Grenson shoes, Aesop skincare, Maggie Owen jewellery, Oliver Spencer menswear, Dawson flowers, The Noble Rot restaurant, The People’s Supermarket, Persephone Books and around the corner Volte Face on Great Ormond Street – all high quality unique and independent – embodying the ethos of that original trader Lawrence Sheriff whose generous and foresighted act of philanthropy lives on today in this area, the history of which is tangible when walking these fascinating and charming streets. A real gem of a place to take time exploring in the heart of the city.

Story Lambs Conduit StreetPersephone Books, Lamb’s Conduit Street. Photograph: Charlotte Wiig

Maggie Owen, of her eponymous shop, says, “I think for us working here today the area is imbued with a deep sense of history, especially a creative history. And of philanthropy (The Foundling Hospital, Thomas Coram, Handel, Dickens etc who all strove to help the poor especially children – the founding of Great Ormond Street hospital too). It’s a heady mix!”

dawson flowers conduit streetDawson Flower shop, Lamb’s Conduit Street

Volt face pictureVolte Face shop, Great Ormond Street

The relationship between the estate and the school remains strong and healthy with rents from the estate funding scholarships at Rugby School. To celebrate the 450th anniversary of this unique estate, a street party will be thrown by the local retailers and the Rugby School community, which will begin with the noted writer and historian A N Wilson (himself a former Rugby School pupil) unveiling a commemorative plaque on the corner of Rugby and Lamb’s Conduit Streets to kick off the party.

by Caroline Simpson

The 450th Anniversary Street Party starts at midday Friday April 28, with the plaque unveiling by A N Wilson taking place at 6pm on the corner of Lamb’s Conduit Street and Rugby Street WC1, followed by a cake-cutting ceremony. More celebration events to be announced

The street celebrations include a drinks reception, music from Rugby School, street theatre organised by the Rugbeian Under 30s. The party is open to everyone who has a history with the School, guests will require tickets for the street party (free), while there will be a nominal charge for the Under-30s annual get together in the Rugby Tavern. Tickets are available here