Paris had a brilliant town planner in Baron Haussmann, Prefet of the Seine under
Napoleon III. To him she owes many of her splendid boulevards and her sweeping
vistas. Two centuries earlier in the cramped, overcrowded London of the 1630's
there had emerged another great town planner—Inigo Jones.
In Covent Garden his spectacular Piazza was revolutionary in concept. On three sides
were elegant symmetrical houses and the Church of St. Paul. On the fourth the garden
wall of the mansion in the Strand of the landlord, the fourth Earl of Bedford.
In this volume of the Survey of London Dr. Sheppard and his colleagues tell us the intriguing story of Covent Garden and the surrounding area. Henrietta Street, where the
regicide Lord Monson lived in one of the gabled houses. Russell Street, where in 1763 at
number 8 Boswell met Dr. Johnson for the first time on a fine Spring evening. Bow Street,
where Grinling Gibbons lived in the 1690's. Charles Street, which in 1681 boasted a
bagnio for 'Sweating and Bathing', one of the earliest Turkish Baths in London.
Lely, Hogarth, and Sir James Thornhill lived at one time in the Piazza. Tavistock Row
housed Richard Wilson, and in 1749 David Garrick paid five hundred guineas for the lease
of No. 27 Southampton Street, 'Dirt and all', according to his wife.
However, initially the fine plan of Inigo Jones created new problems. In 1632 a Petition
by the Mayor and Citizens of the City complained to Whitehall that the City's water supply
had been 'taken away by diverse persons inhabiting in the Strand, and in or neare the
This thorny problem having been settled, the Piazza especially must have been a very
attractive place in which to reside. A late seventeenth-century visitor wrote that 'The
South Side lieth open to Bedford-Garden, where there is a small Grotto of Trees, most
pleasant in the Summer Season; and in this Side there is kept a Market for Fruits, Herbs,
Roots, and Flowers, every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday …'
In the thirteenth century Convent Garden was the orchard of the monks of Westminster
Abbey. Their entire crop of apples, pears and cherries fetched £12 in 1327. By 1654
groups of traders with baskets, trestles and carts, had begun to gather there regularly, and
in 1670, three hundred years ago, the Covent Garden Market was established by Royal
Charter. By the late eighteenth century not only food changed hands. There were bird
sellers and dealers in old iron. In the evening it was the haunt of prostitutes and until 1868
politicians at election time harangued disorderly crowds from the hustings in front of St.
Soon the market will move to Battersea and the £70 million yearly total of goods will be
handled in a new home.
The Covent Garden area will then start a new life. Will it still be 'a place all alive with
noise and bustle', as Mary Lamb described it in 1817 as she sat at her window in Russell
Street? Will there be a park where children can watch Punch and Judy shows, as in 1662
when the Italian Pietro Gimonde brought the first show to England? Will there be the
modern equivalent of that 'rendezvous for the dissipated', the Shakespeare Tavern and
We will have to wait and see, but I hope that Dr. Sheppard's wonderful record of the
past will inspire the town planners of the future.
The Greater London Council owes a very big debt of gratitude to the Trustees of the
Bedford Settled Estates and to the Duke of Bedford, for allowing unlimited access to the
Bedford family archives, and for lending indefinitely to the Council the records of their
Covent Garden Estate. We do thank them for their great kindness. Sir John Summerson
has been frequently consulted in the preparation of this volume, and his deep knowledge of
London has been invaluable. I, as Chairman, and all the members of the Historic Buildings
Board, are so very grateful to all the other generous people who have taken so much time
and trouble to help prepare this unique and exciting story of a fascinating area of London.
Chairman, Historic Buildings Board
of the Greater London Council