Survey of London: Volumes 33 and 34, St Anne Soho. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1966.
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Designs for an intended New Street linking Coventry Street with King Street, Covent Garden
It is generally agreed that most of the Metropolitan Improvements carried out during the nineteenth century were inspired or anticipated by John Gwynn in his London and Westminster Improved, published in 1766. In this brilliant and prophetic essay, Gwynn describes an intended street linking Coventry Street with King Street, Covent Garden. 'From the opening at the northeast corner of Leicester-fields before-mentioned, a street of fifty feet in breadth, making an acute angle with Long-Acre, is carried through St. Martin's-Court, crossing St. Martin's-Lane into New-Street, which is kept of the same breadth to the end of King-Street. It may not be improper to observe, that a carriage from Coventry-Street before it comes into Long-Acre, makes six right-angles, and from the same place into Covent-Garden, no less than eight, which, exclusive of the length of the way, is on account of the hazard and difficulty in making short turnings very dangerous in the night.' Although this street never materialized, it was probably the first of Gwynn's proposals to form the basis for a scheme of redevelopment.
In the British Museum is a bound-up set of drawings (Add. MS. 8851) (fn. 1) giving elevations along the north side of Leicester Square and the projected new street of fifty feet width, together with plans of the oblong block of houses on the south side, between St. Martin's Lane and a new street leading north into Long Acre (Plate 54). The drawings are undated and unsigned, but the elevations are remarkably similar in style to those of Salisbury Street, Strand, built c. 1765–9 to designs by James Paine, who leased the ground from the Earl of Salisbury. The suggestion that Paine was responsible for the scheme under review is strengthened by the following facts. Until 1766 he lived in St. Martin's Lane, having his friend John Gwynn as tenant and neighbour in Little Court. Much of the land required for building the new street belonged to the Earl of Salisbury.
The house fronts, generally three windows wide and four storeys high without garrets, are arranged in formal Palladian astylar compositions, the long terraces of plain-fronted houses having wide central features and narrow end pavilions, all crowned with pediments, while the short ranges have end pavilions only. Shop fronts are provided in the short Coventry Street extension and in the rebuilt Bear Street. Features shared in common with Salisbury Street are the superimposed Venetian, three-light, and lunette windows of the end pavilions in the Bear Street terrace and the Coventry Street extension.
The only plans given are for the houses in the oblong block on the south side, nearest to King Street. The plots are mostly 20 feet wide, the houses being 48 feet deep and planned with a top-lit staircase compartment between the front room and the back, the rooms being linked by a closet behind the staircase. The back room is the larger of the two, having a splay-sided bay with three windows overlooking the small yard. This contains an out-house in one corner and a twinseat privy in the other. There are seventeen houses fronting the new street, but the arrangement is varied in the south-west angle of the block where there are two large and wide-fronted houses having three rooms to a floor. The larger of these houses, fronting to St. Martin's Lane, has an octagonal room on one side of its D-ended staircase, and it appears to have been intended for a special occupant, perhaps the architect of the scheme.