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British Medical Association Council Garden and Court of Honour Camden

Summary

The site was that of Tavistock House and grounds, built in 1796 and demolished c.1900, once the home of Charles Dickens. The buildings occupied by the British Medical Association were originally designed for the British Theosophical Society by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1911-14. The unfinished site was acquired by the BMA in 1923 and Lutyens again worked on the project until 1925, when the new headquarters opened, although later additions were made by others. Lutyens' work included the rear Council Garden, his design comprising a semi-circular terrace and oval pool that echoed the geometry and clarity of his architectural style. He also designed a memorial garden in the Court of Honour but this was re-configured in 1954 with a bronze fountain in a circular pool, flanked by figurative stone sculptures representing Sacrifice, Cure, Prevention and Aspiration. Planting in the Council Garden includes a fine Catalpa and a collection of plants with medicinal properties.

Basic Details

Previous / Other name:
BMA Council Garden

Site location:
Tavistock Square

Postcode:
WC1H 9JP ( Google Map)

Type of site:
Private Garden; Institutional Grounds

Date(s):
1911-25 (Council Garden c.1925)

Designer(s):
Sir Edwin Lutyens (Council Garden)

Listed structures:
LBII*: War Memorial. LBII: BMA House, screen and gates

Borough:
Camden

Site ownership:
British Medical Association

Site management:
British Medical Association

Open to public?
Occasionally

Opening times:
Has opened for London Open House and OGSW. Otherwise private
Has taken part in Open Garden Squares Weekend 9 times, most recently in 2017.

Special conditions:

Facilities:
Garden Café

Events:

Public transport:
Tube: Russell Square (Piccadilly). Rail/London Overground/Tube (Northern, Victoria): Euston. Bus: 59, 68, 91, 168.

The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/06/2010
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.bmahouse.org.uk

Further Information

Grid ref:
TQ299824

Size in hectares:

Green Flag:
No

On EH National Register :
No

EH grade:
None

Site on EH Heritage at Risk list:
No

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:
No

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:
No

Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
No

In Conservation Area:
Yes

Conservation Area name:
Bloomsbury

Tree Preservation Order:
Not known

Nature Conservation Area:
No

Green Belt:
No

Metropolitan Open Land:
No

Special Policy Area:
Yes - Area of Special Character: Central London Area

Other LA designation:
Strategic View Corridor

British Medical Association Council Garden and Court of Honour

Photo: Diana Jarvis

Click photo to enlarge.

Album

Fuller information

The site of the British Medical Association (BMA) House was once that of Tavistock House and grounds, demolished c.1900, which had been built for James Burton in 1796 on two plots leased from the Duke of Bedford. In 1845 Tavistock House was extended and divided into three houses, Tavistock, Bedford and Russell. From 1851-60 Charles Dickens lived in Tavistock House where he wrote 'Bleak House', 'Hard Times', 'Little Dorritt' and 'A Tale of Two Cities'. Among his visitors was Hans Christian Andersen who wrote of the 'large garden with a grass plot and high trees' that gave the house 'a countrified look in the midst of this coal and gas steaming London'. A plaque in the Council Garden records Dickens' occupancy here.

The buildings occupied by the BMA were originally designed as the headquarters and Temple for the British Theosophical Society by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1911-14. The project halted when the Society ran out of money and the relationship between client and architect broke down. The unfinished site was initially requisitioned by the War Office and in 1923 it was acquired by the BMA for its new Administrative Headquarters. Lutyens again worked as architect on the project and the new BMA House was opened on 13 July 1925 in the presence of the King and Queen. Lutyens' building was highly praised and his work included 3 sides of the east courtyard and the elevation to Burton Street, although the building we see today was eventually enlarged by other architects. In 1928-9 C Wontner Smith was responsible for the central entrance facing Tavistock Square, with gateway and blocks extending eastwards to form the western courtyard, and Douglas Wood built the flanking blocks to the entrance in 1938-50.

As part of his work for the BMA, Lutyens designed the garden that is overlooked by the Council Chamber, consequently known as the Council Garden. His garden layout reflected the Council Chamber and consisted of a semi-circular terrace and oval pool, with careful attention paid to the geometry of the design and the quality of the materials employed. When it opened in 1925 the garden was simply landscaped, with two catalpa trees planted in the grass on each side of the pond. At that time it was larger and more open, extending to the south to border the grounds of the Mary Ward Settlement in Tavistock Place. The building of the South Wing of BMA House in 1938-50 truncated and enclosed the Council Garden although the framework of Lutyens' design remained. Lutyens also designed a memorial garden at the front of the building, a simple circular lawn within the square Court of Honour, dedicated to members of the BMA who died in WWI.

This memorial garden was reconfigured after WWII when the BMA commissioned James Woodford who created a new memorial in the form of a bronze fountain in a circular pool with steps around it and four figurative stone sculptures representing Sacrifice, Cure, Prevention, and Aspiration. This dates from 1954, and has been praised as a good example of a World War II memorial to civilian professions. In 2008 further works were undertaken at the BMA, which included opening up the Council Chamber into a double height room with a suspended steel walkway that provides spatial fluency between the garden and the rest of the site. A stronger link between the Court of Honour and Council Garden has been created that re-establishes the latter as a pivotal and social space at the heart of the complex. The Council Garden has been re-planted, including bulbs and herbaceous perennials, and numerous species of plants with medicinal properties that serve to create strong links between the garden and the professional community of the BMA. The Garden Café in the lower level of the Council Chamber has stained glass panels showing quotations from Woodville's 'Medical Botany' of 1790, again creating links between the role of plants in medical history and the plants growing in the Council Garden.

Sources consulted:

Open House 2001 booklet; Nuala Hancock, ‘The Council Garden at the British Medical Association, Tavistock Square, London’, The London Gardener, vol IX, 2003-4, pp46-52; 'BMA Council Garden' booklet, BMA, 2009/10?

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