King Street and Floral Street Area: James Street

Survey of London: Volume 36, Covent Garden. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1970.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.

'King Street and Floral Street Area: James Street', in Survey of London: Volume 36, Covent Garden, (London, 1970) pp. 178-180. British History Online [accessed 13 April 2024]

In this section

James Street

Plate 49a

This street is mentioned as an unnamed way from Long Acre to Covent Garden in 1630. (fn. 1) As the table on page 300 shows, all the building leases of sites south of Hart (now Floral) Street ran from Michaelmas 1635, and at least one house was occupied in that year. (fn. 2) The street within Covent Garden was fully occupied by 1638, when it was given its present name in the St. Martin in the Fields ratebooks. (fn. 3) The very generous width of the street where it entered the Piazza gave it a certain dignity which its present use largely as an appendix to the market has obscured, and which made the house at No. 27 more suitable for use as the parsonage, from the earliest days until the 1820's, than can now easily be imagined (see page 127). A few people of title lived in the street in the seventeenth century. The houses, whose site-plots have survived without much alteration, were, however, not large, and were mostly assessed for rates at modest amounts. Four shops were separately assessed for rates in 1676, (fn. 4) and four licensed victuallers had their premises in the street in 1690. (fn. 5) No doubt proximity to the Piazza made the houses more attractive than they might otherwise have seemed. Sir Ralph Verney's sister Cary, Lady Gardiner, on her second widowhood in 1684, moved to smaller accommodation in a furnished house on the site of No. 28 at £60 a year, and found some merits in it: 'I now rise at five A clok & after our six A clok prayers, I walk in our quodrangle or in the Covent Garden wher ther is a frechnes of Ayre, purer than in St. James's Park, besids I have a house as is very open backwards wch is comfortable to me … tis near the Church wch is the chef advantag of it'. (fn. 6) Some rebuilding took place on the east side (at Nos. 6–9) in c. 1697–8 under Bedford building leases: (fn. 7) most of the west side had been alienated from the main line of the Russell family by a family settlement of 1640–1, (fn. 8) but the two sides retained a similar character and when Strype described the street in 1720 the contrast he noted was between the part in Covent Garden—'a very handsome Street … well inhabited'—and the inferior part in St. Martin's parish, north of the Nag's Head. (fn. 9) Mortimer's Universal Director of 1763 includes three engravers, three medical men and an apothecary among residents in the street, but the proximity to the market and the access afforded for through-traffic to Long Acre tended towards the deterioration of the street: homely trades were sufficiently numerous in 1779 for the advent of a cheesemonger to be generally resented, not as a threat to amenity but as unwelcome competition; (fn. 10) and in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries James Street was among those whose taverns and 'disorderly houses' troubled the vestrymen. (fn. 11) The Post Office Directory of 1850 lists a miscellany of trades in the Covent Garden section of the street. Only four premises, housing a basket-maker and three potato salesmen, show the direct influence of the market. Throughout the later nineteenth century this increased, and in 1900 twelve or thirteen premises were so occupied. Even more are used for market-trades today, and the surviving eighteenth- or early nineteenth-century fabric contributes less to the visual character of the street than the wholesale fruit and vegetable shops occupying most of the ground floors.

Ratepaying occupants of James Street include: Lady Shurley, 1637; Sir John Cotton, baronet, 1637–8; Dr. Jackson, 1637–8, probably either Abraham or Arthur Jackson, divines; Sir Thomas Hanmoore, 1638; Sir John Seaton, 1639; Sir Charles Howard, 1640, and as third Earl of Nottingham, 1644–5; Sir William Playters, 1644, member of the Long Parliament; Sir Richard Ingleby, 1645; Sir David Cunningham, 1647; Sir Henry Herbert, c. 1647–56, Master of the Revels, member of the Long Parliament; Sir Robert Crumpton, 1651–2; Dr. Edward Warner, 1656–77; Richard Wiseman, 1666–72, surgeon; Dr. Edward Duke, 1666–73; Sir John Barnard, 1669–70; Dr. Joye, 1675–6; Gregory King, c. 1675–6, herald, genealogist, engraver and statistician; Captain Henry Johnson, 1684–6; Lady Gardiner, 1686–8; John Michael Wright, 1694, portrait painter; John Philips, c. 1698– 1702, ? John Phillips, author; Dr. Thomas West, c. 1702–13; Captain William Bradbury, c. 1702–5; Major Cook, c. 1705–6; Captain James Gilbert, 1706–11 or 1718; Richard Estcourt, 1712, actor and dramatist; Mary Porter, 1722–33, actress; Michael Moser, 1730–2, probably George Michael Moser, chaser and enameller; James Rottier, 1731–2, probably James Roettiers, medallist; David Lewis, 1743–5,? poet; Charles Grignion, 1750–72, line-engraver; Frances Abington, 1770, actress; William Birch, 1783– 1784, ? enamel painter and engraver; James Holland, 1829–36, ? painter.

David Garrick lodged in James Street from at least September 1744 until April 1747. (fn. 12)

Nos. 8 and 9 James Street

(fn. c1)

These houses were erected in 1865–6 under eighty-year Bedford building leases from Midsummer 1864 granted to the local builder, William Howard (fn. 13) (Plate 74c). The architect is not known: as at No. 17 Russell Street, the style is old-fashioned for its date. No. 8 was first occupied by printers and No. 9 as dining-rooms. (fn. 14)

The four-storeyed fronts of these two buildings, and the Floral Street front of No. 9, share a boldly detailed Grecian exterior executed in painted stucco. The ground-storey face to Floral Street and the piers between the shops in James Street are of horizontally coursed stucco, finished with an entablature. The three-storeyed upper face is divided into bays by plain pilaster-strips, rising to the crowning cornice. There are three narrow bays to Floral Street and each house has one bay, two windows wide, to James Street. All the windows are framed with band architraves having moulded arrises, those of the second storey being finished with pediments, and those of the third storey with cornices, while both have a bead-and-reel moulding extending between the eared angles of the architrave. The cornices of the second- and third-storey windows, and the sills and heads of the fourth-storey windows, are linked together by plain raised bands, which are returned round the dividing pilasters. The crowning cornice, enriched with dentils and an egg-anddart moulding, is surrounded by a low parapet.

Nos. 10 and 10A James Street: the Nag's Head Public House

A public house called the Nag's Head has occupied all or part of this site since at least the 1670's (fn. 15) and is marked on Lacy's map of 1673 (Plate 3).

The present building was erected in 1900 under an eighty-year Bedford building lease granted to the licensed victualler who had occupied the previous building. The architect was P. E. Pilditch. (fn. 16)

The Nag's Head is a fairly restrained example of neo-Jacobean public-house architecture. The large oak-framed windows and doors of the bars extend between plain piers and pilasters of polished granite, used also for the stallboard. The upper face is of red brick and terra-cotta, used for the moulded storey-bands and sill-bands dividing the three storeys, for the plain architraves of the three-light windows of the second and third storeys, and for the pedimented architraves of the two-light windows in the top storey. The most prominent feature, however, is the ogee-capped circular tourelle with its elaborately modelled terra-cotta aprons, corbelled out above the canted corner entrance.

Nos. 28 and 29 James Street

Plate 49a

Both these eighteenth-century houses occupy sites in that part of the street which had been alienated from the main line of the Russell family in 1640–1. The details of their building history are not known. Between 1750 and 1772 No. 28 was occupied by Charles Grignion, the lineengraver employed by Hogarth for his 'Canvassing for Votes' and 'Garrick as Richard III'. (fn. 17) The simply designed late-Georgian front of brickwork, now painted, is four storeys high and three windows wide. All the windows are recessed in plain openings having flat gauged brick arches, and a simple cornice underlines the top storey, which is finished with a plain pedestal parapet.

No. 29 has a plain stuccoed front, four storeys high and two windows wide, its one interesting feature being the surviving fascia of a lateGeorgian shop front. This is of wood and forms an entablature, curving in a serpentine line to conform with the two bowed windows, now missing, and continuing with a shallow concave curve above the former side doorway.


  • 1. E/BER, James Street, lease of 4 May 1632 to J. Dodge and M. Lucas.
  • 2. Ibid., James Street, lease of 21 Aug. 1635 to J. Ward.
  • 3. W.P.L., F.1021.
  • 4. R.B.
  • 5. G.L.R.O.(M), LV(W), 2/11–15, 1690.
  • 6. Margaret M. Verney, Memoirs of the Verney Family from the Restoration to the Revolution 1660 to 1696, , 1899, p. 272.
  • 7. E/BER, James Street, leases of 1697–8, passim.
  • 8. House of Lords, MS. Act 16 and 17 Car. I, no.30.
  • 9. John Strype, A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, 1720, vol. 11, bk. VI, p. 93.
  • 10. B.O.L., Correspondence, Tomkinson to Palmer, Oct. 1779.
  • 11. W.P.L., H.806, p. 6; H.807, f. 99; H.839, p. 267.
  • 12. The Letters of David Garrick, ed. David M. Little and George M. Kahrl, 1963, vol. 1, pp. 42, 45, 79, 85; The private Correspndence of David Garrick, ed. James Boaden, vol. 1, 1831, p. 50.
  • 13. B.O.L., Proposal Book U, no. 202b, and Scrap book, f. 31; E/BER, James Street, leases to W. Howard; M.L.R. 1865/8/524–5; R.B.
  • 14. P.O.D.
  • 15. P.R.O., C8/328/179; C103/166.
  • 16. B.O.L., Proposal Book 2, no. 40; L.C.C. Minutes, 16 May 1899, p. 735; R.B. date on building.
  • 17. R.B.; D.N.B.
  • c1. Demolished 1978.