Survey of London: Volume 36, Covent Garden. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1970.
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Until this court was extended westward into Bedfordbury in the 1880's its main exit for a visitor entering from Bedford Street was southward into Chandos Street (now Chandos Place) across the present site of the Charing Cross Hospital Medical School.
This original, L-shaped, part of the court was included in the site leased by the fourth Earl of Bedford in 1631 to Richard Brigham, the King's coachmaker. Brigham did not appropriate all the hinterland of his plot to the houses on his streetfrontages in Bedford Street and Chandos Street but left a large irregular open space, which in the 1670's was still used as a 'stable and coach house yard' by his successor, Thomas Brigham, also a coachmaker: (fn. 1) at a much later period, after the site had been rearranged, a firm of Victorian coachmakers had their premises in this area. (fn. 2)
On the north side of Brigham's open yard (that is, just behind the present Post Office building at Nos. 17–19 Bedford Street) Remigius Van Leemput, the Flemish painter, lived from about 1647 until his death in 1675: his large house is shown, as that of 'Mr. Remee', on Lacy's map (Plate 2). (fn. 3)
In 1688 the fifth Earl had this incompletely exploited part of his estate cast into a regular court of houses and shops. Building leases of eleven sites for forty-one years were granted in July to William Beech, a vintner, and of one more site in September to Nicholas Spelden, a coachharness maker. The houses were to be of the second rate as categorized in the Act of 1667 for rebuilding the City after the Fire. The leases contained some building specifications, required the lessee to examine and if necessary reinforce the natural foundations, to make a sewer from his house, and to contribute to the cost of the sewer and paving which the Earl was to provide in the court. Some few noxious trades were prohibited. (fn. 4)
As these leases indicate, Bedford Court was not the insignificant backwater of ramshackle little houses that usually resulted from seventeenth-century urban 'in-filling'. Strype in 1720 treated it respectfully: 'a very handsome large Court, with an open Square in the Midst: Its Houses, which have not been very many Years built, are very good, and well inhabited; being a great Through-fare, and a Place of Trade'. (fn. 5) In 1726 the occupations in the court included those of upholsterer (two), tailor (two), mantuamaker, staymaker, mercer, peruke-maker, grocer, pastry-cook, and coffee-house-keeper. (fn. 6)
The decent appearance of the court in the nineteenth century is shown in drawings made in 1879 on the eve of its reconstruction, as part of the Metropolitan Board of Works' improvement of Bedfordbury and the courts on its east side: (fn. 7) the work had been authorized by an Act of 1875, and the royal assent to the Board's scheme obtained in July 1877 (Plates 50c, 51b). The east-west arm of Bedford Court was extended westward as a wide court into Bedfordbury, lined by dwellings erected by the Peabody Trust in 1880–1. (fn. 8) The southern arm of Bedford Court was probably closed about 1903–4.