I felt Mr Bradshaw was a little uncomfortable guiding me around Long Acre, Covent Garden and the warren of streets behind Drury Lane, but we will do our best to share the visit with you.
One of the ‘problems’ is the redevelopment in the early 1900s, including the creation of Kingsway and the demolition of Wych Street, and other streets in the area. (This map gives a good idea of the area prior to redevelopment.)
But first we must start at Covent Garden, and these fascinating maps of earlier times.
Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford, owned land north of the Strand and in 1630 obtained permission for redevelopment to build housing, as well as a piazza (apparently the first open square in London), and a church. ‘..On the North and East Sides are erected stately Buildings for the dwelling of Persons of Repute and Quality..[while]..the South Side is taken up by the Wall of Bedford Garden..’. In the west was the Church of St Paul. (John Strype.) This was very ambitious and certainly innovative: a large open space in the middle of a city, and colonnaded walkways, with a new style of architecture for the church.
In 1633 Inigo Jones completed the Church of St Paul on the western side of Covent Garden for Francis Russell, the 4th Earl of Bedford. The Earl did not want ostentation – ‘I would not have it much better than a barn..’ – but perhaps this attribution, quoted widely, said more about the Earl than reality; after all, £4,000 was a large sum in 1633. The church is significant as the first Anglican church since the mid-1500s, i.e. since the separation of the Church of England from Rome, and because of the style, Neo-Classicism. (There is extensive coverage here.)
The church was destroyed by fire September 17 1795 but restored by Thomas Hardwick. (Excellent post with photographs here.) Although it has always been associated with the theatre, today the church is known as ‘The Actors’ Church’.
And in the churchyard, just a few minutes walk from the traffic in The Strand, and the bustle of Covent Garden –
Covent Garden Market, ‘..the great metropolitan fruit and flower market..’ in early 20C (interesting site of postcards here). The market continued to generate considerable revenue to the Bedford family until after WWI, when ownership passed to the Covent Garden Estate Company. The area is now owned by Liberty International plc. (Information on ownership here, flower sellers. )
Long Acre was originally a long, narrow strip of garden which belonged to the monks of Westminster Abbey, and then the Bedfords. In the 18C many cabinet makers had workshops here, including Thomas Chippendale, and Mr Bradshaw says coachmakers could be found in the area.
St Martin’s Hall was built in the street in 1847 and seated c.3,000 people. It was designed for choral singing promoted by John Hullah, but burned down in 1860, opening again in 1862. In 1867 it was converted to The Queen’s Theatre, and long since demolished.
Bow Street, built with a curve, was originally short (Floral Street to Tavistock Street) but extended later. Grinling Gibbons lived here, as did Henry Fielding.
The Bow Street Magistrate’s Court was opened in 1740, and is about to be redeveloped, one hopes not demolished.
In Duke Street there is a Roman Catholic chapel ‘..much frequented by the humbler class of foreigners and Irish who live about the neighbourhood..’. The chapel has a complicated history!
During the reign of James II (1633-1701) Franciscan priests built a chapel in the area behind 54 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. When James fled in 1688 the priests withdrew and the chapel was destroyed by the mobs. The buildings were restored as a Portuguese Embassy, and by 1715 it was a Sardinian Embassy, with an associated Sardinian Chapel. In 1759 this chapel also burned down, but was rebuilt by the King of Sardinia and generously endowed with plate and works of art. The chapel was destroyed again in 1780 during the Gordon Riots, but was rebuilt and reopened in 1799, the third church on the site. It remained under the protection of the King of Sardinia until 1853, but by 1861 it had been renamed the Church of St Anselm and St Cecilia. This church too was destined for destruction, in 1909, when the new Kingsway was driven through to meet the new boulevards of the Aldwych and the Strand.
The fourth church, known as the Church of SS Anselm and Cecilia, is on the Kingsway
William Holles, Baron Houghton, Earl of Clare, had a mansion in this area, but no images of this mansion remain and apparently all we know is that ‘..It was a large and stately mansion, shut in with a high wall, and its grounds joined on to the eastern side of those of Craven House..’, which was in Drury Lane. (Craven House was on the junction of Drury Lane and Wych Street.)
The Earl built a market building somewhere in the area bounded by The Strand, Drury Lane, and Vere Street (now demolished for Kingsway, and the Aldwych changes). The name Clare Market became attached to both the building and the surrounding area of narrow streets which housed greengrocers and butchers’ shops. There were slaughter houses around the market too, dealing with up to 500 beasts a week, and this was the second largest market after Smithfield. An LSE building is now on the site.
Portugal Street was firstly on the south side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and the name was given to the current street, a block away. The Lincoln’s Inn Theatre was in Portugal Street, until demolished in 1848 to build King’s College Hospital. (The Theatre was apparently used by Handel.)
On a less happy note, the Insolvent Debtors Court was also in Portugal Street, described by Charles Dickens in The Pickwick Papers.
Portugal Street and the area of Clare Market is now buildings comprising the London School of Economics, a busy but anonymous, even ugly, area.
You might also be interested in
New information about the development of Covent Garden, published by Diane Duggan in Architectural History, 2000
The Bedford Estate (a brief introduction)