Bloomsbury’s Horse Hospital

Tucked behind Russell Square Station is Colonnade, a cobbled mews street in which hides the 18th century former horse hospital.

Bloomsbury's Horse Hospital | Look Up London

Today you might have to fight through the crowds queuing for beignets from the hugely popular Fortitude Bakery, but if you’re waiting patiently for your sweet treat it’s worth admiring the Horse Hospital, a double-decker inner city stables. A very rare Grade II listed survivor!

Fortitude Bakehouse, The Colonnade and Horse Hospital | Look Up London

History of the Horse Hospital

If we look to the 1746 John Rocque map, it’s immediately evident where the metropolis ends, The Lambs Conduit Fields visible to the north.

Image Credit: (John Rocque Map 1746)

A few decades later and The Colonnade appears on the 1799 Horwood map.

Image Credit: (R Horwood Map 1799)

Looking at the south side of the Colonnade, there are no numbers on the houses. This is consistent with most streets lined with stables and mews. Originally the Colonnade serviced the houses which lined the grander ‘Upper Guilford Street’, now Guilford Street.

It was built in 1797 by the developer and architect James Burton who was responsible for much of Bloomsbury including Bedford, Bloomsbury, Russell and Tavistock Squares.

Burton’s plaque can be found on Guilford Street, his home whilst building this street and the south side of Brunswick Square 1794-6. 

James Burton, Bloomsbury | Look Up London

The residents of smart new Bloomsbury townhouses relied on the horse-drawn transport of the day. But what happens when the four legged creatures are sick or injured?

Enter, the Horse Hospital.

Tucked away on a mews street was a two storey building where horses could be restored back to health.

Inside the rusticated concrete ramps still have some raised edges to prevent the horses from slipping when walking to the upper floor.

100 years after its construction the entire street had become a slum and was described as a ‘somewhat squalid neighbourhood’. 

After it closed as a horse hospital it kept its equine theme, becoming a veterinary surgeons and then farriers.

Until 1988 it was a print shop but an even bigger transformation occurred in the 1990s.

New Life for the Horse Hospital

In 1992 Roger K Burton* founded an independent arts venue, focused on the history of sub and counter-cultures. It retained the name, The Horse Hospital.

To give you a flavour, the first exhibition was Vive Le Punk! a Vivienne Westwood retrospective.

Inside the Horse Hospital | Look Up London

Today it also contains the Contemporary Wardrobe Collection, an archive of post-WWII street fashion and in Roger K Burton published a book about teenage sub-cultures and clothing in the 1940s-80s, Rebel Threads

The Horse Hospital Narrowly avoided closure in 2019 when the landlord proposed a 333% rent increase (from £30,000 a year to £130,000!) Thanks to donations and uproar a new lease has been secured but until at least December 2024.

When I visited there was a selection of Roger K Burton’s collection and work for film and TV on display, including original designs for Vivienne Westwood’s shops. 

This one shows the World’s End on King’s Road and you can compare it with the real building today.

You can see the varied programme of exhibitions and events on their website here

*not sure whether he’s related to the original architect, a strange coincidence!

Quirky Bloomsbury

You can discover more of Bloomsbury’s hidden gems on my walking tour. Live availability is shown below and you can read more about it here.

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