Cartwright Gardens is a graceful crescent of brick buildings with stuccoed ground floors. The first floors facing the street have finely wrought iron balconies and the top, fourth floor is marked off from the lower levels by a heavy white lintel. Otherwise, the facades are plain with recessed sash windows picked out in white.
The effect is of restrained classical elegance. It lies just south of Euston Road in Bloomsbury, and features in our King’s Cross Walk. The buildings are entirely off the tourist map, and unremarked by most Londoners, but along with better known classically styled houses, such as in nearby Bedford Square, help give the capital much of its distinctive characters. The idiom is inspired by Greece and Italy but Cartwright Gardens is resolutely British in feel.
The houses were put up by John Burton, who also built many of the Nash houses in Regent’s Park. Originally, it was known as Burton Crescent, but two unfortunate events put paid to the name in the late nineteenth century. The first was the brutal killing of Rachel Samuel, an elderly widow living at No. 4 in 1878. This became known as ‘The Burton Crescent Murder’ – not a desirable epithet for the street’s residents. In 1884 there was a second violent murder, this time of Mary Anne Yates, who lived at No. 12, a crime which was given nation-wide coverage by The Times newspaper.
The householders petitioned the vestry to get the name changed, to try to expunge the association with the two terrible (and unresolved) crimes. Eventually, they succeeded. The road is now named after the radical John Cartwright who had lived in the Crescent and who had been an early advocate of universal male suffrage.