Survey of London: Volume 36, Covent Garden. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1970.
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The Bedford Estate
Covent Garden derives its name from the presence here, during the middle ages, of a garden belonging to the Abbey or Convent of St. Peter, Westminster. Besides the garden, the convent also owned two smaller pieces of land, later called Friars Pyes, which adjoined the garden on the south, and 7 acres called Long Acre, adjoining the garden on the north (see fig. 1). In 1536 the convent exchanged the garden and the 7 acres with Henry VIII for land in Berkshire; the two pieces called Friars Pyes were taken into the King's hands four years later, when Westminster Abbey was suppressed. All this property came eventually into the possession of John Russell, the first Earl of Bedford, by two separate grants, one from Henry VIII in 1541 and one from his son, Edward VI, in 1552. Although diminished by sales, the estate continued to be owned by the Russell family for nearly 400 years, the last piece of property being sold in 1945.
Whilst the estate was owned by Westminster Abbey it lay in the parish of St. Margaret. In 1542 this part of St. Margaret's was transferred to St. Martin's in the Fields, and when the parish of St. Paul, Covent Garden, was formed in 1646 a considerable part of the Bedford estate was left in St. Martin's. This volume of the Survey of London describes only the parish of St. Paul, Covent Garden, but in the following general account the estate is treated as a whole, irrespective of parish boundaries; the more detailed treatment contained in later chapters is restricted to the area contained within the parish of St. Paul.