Bow Street and Russell Street Area: The former Charles Street

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

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'Bow Street and Russell Street Area: The former Charles Street', in Survey of London: Volume 36, Covent Garden, (London, 1970) pp. 195-196. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]

The former Charles Street

Now Nos. 28–44 (even) and 33–49 (odd) Wellington Street

This northern part of Wellington Street, between Tavistock Street and Russell Street, antedates the southern part by two centuries, and had existed as Charles Street since the fourth Earl of Bedford's development of Covent Garden. (For Nos. 23–31 and 18–26 Wellington Street see pages 226– 229.) Seventeenth-century maps (Plates 3, 5, 6) show that originally, although the line of Charles Street was continued northward by Bow Street, at the southern end it communicated only eastward with York Street. Southward egress was blocked by the gateway into the stables of Bedford House, and a proposal to make a continuation to the Strand in 1673 came to nothing (see page 36). When the Bedford House site was laid into streets in 1706–14 a westward communication was opened at the southern end of Charles Street via the new Tavistock Street, but no southward extension was made (Plate 7). When this was provided by the opening of Wellington Street in 1835 Charles Street retained its name until 1844, when it was changed to Upper Wellington Street. The separate enumeration of the houses was preserved, but in 1859 both the name and numbering were assimilated to Wellington Street.

Charles Street was laid out under leases running from 1631 (on the east side) and from 1633–5 (on the west side), which are tabulated on pages 298–9. The street filled up with inhabitants during the years 1632–8. (fn. 1) Much of the west side consisted of the backs of two sites leased in the Piazza, but houses were built on these rear frontages, and all this side was occupied from the beginning by ratepayers assessed in Charles Street. In the middle of the west side a passage extended to the southeast corner of the Piazza, where it was still shown on Horwood's map of 1819 (Plate 8).

One of the first occupants, in 1635, was designated 'grocer' in the ratebooks, and the street was never socially very exalted, attracting hardly any persons of title as permanent residents.

In 1640–1 the north end of the west side and all the east side was settled on the fourth Earl of Bedford's younger son, Edward Russell. (fn. 2) Only the north-west part was regained by the Dukes of Bedford in the nineteenth century and the consequences of the 1640–1 settlement are very visible today in the contrast between the east and west sides of this stretch of Wellington Street. By 1685 (probably in about 1663) all the east side had been sold by Edward Russell, evidently to three different purchasers: John Athy, Nicholas Ady or Atty, and Richard Arris. (fn. 3)

From 1681 a site on the west side was held on lease together with the Old Hummums in the Piazza, and afforded an alternative entrance to the 'sweating—house' there (see page 91). In 1691–5 a music-room and auction-room was situated next to the gate into Bedford stable-yard, and Robert King and Johann Franck gave vocal and instrumental concerts here under the name of the 'Vendu'. (fn. 4) The social character of the street was mixed. From 1721 the actors Colley Cibber and Barton Booth lived in adjacent houses newly built on part of the present site of the Flower Market. (fn. 5) A few years later, about 1726, the house on the site of the present No. 40 Wellington Street was taken as the parsonage house of the parish of St. Mary le Strand: it continued to be listed as such in the Covent Garden ratebooks until 1876 and still has a tablet bearing the initials of that parish fixed to its front. The adjacent house at No. 38, when occupied as the Hanover coffee house, was so badly conducted in 1787 that the Covent Garden vestry took measures against it. (fn. 6) In the first half of the nineteenth century Charles Street had a doubtful reputation. In 1835 the inhabitants complained to the vestry of the notorious brothels at two houses on the west side near Russell Street, and by 1844 the former Hanover coffee house had (if it was ever reformed) relapsed, to become, with the adjacent house southward, a brothel of 'the very lowest description'. (fn. 7) By that time the street had been opened to a greater current of traffic by the making of Wellington Street. Charles Street was not widened or re-aligned, but because of 'the bad repute' in which it stood, the old name was abolished in 1844. (fn. 8)

The mid nineteenth-century Post Office directories indicate the very miscellaneous character of the occupants: a public house, a theatrical hosier, two coffee rooms, a figure-maker, an appraiser, the Weekly News, and a barber on the east side, and a hotel, a solicitor, a type-printer, a musicseller, the Gardener's Chronicle, a pencil-maker, and a corn-dealer on the west. The transformation of the street into part of a main highway was, however, to bring great changes on the west side where the Dukes of Bedford redeveloped most of the sites to house the Flower Market: first in 1862–3 at Nos. 37 and 39, then in 1871–2 with the building of a widened front at Nos. 35– 39, and again in 1904–5 when Nos. 43–49 were rebuilt as the Flower-Market extension on a site partially re-acquired by the Bedford estate in the nineteenth century. These ducal enterprises have divested the west side of the street of all its former domestic character. On the east side, however, the properties alienated from the Bedford estate in 1640–1 have been little affected in their fabric by the opportunities for overall redevelopment offered by the opening of Wellington Street and the growth of the market. None of the houses can be identified as being of any great age but no general reconstruction seems to have taken place since the eighteenth century. At No. 42 a public house has borne the name of the Coach and Horses since 1753: (fn. 9) the present building probably preserves the elevational pattern of a rebuilding of 1775–6. (fn. 10) The plain house at No. 30 was probably built in 1760–1, and was first occupied by a teacher of the bassoon. (fn. 11)

Ratepaying occupants in Charles Street include: Lady Perrin, 1636; Captain Yarmouth, 1636; Captain Abraham Yarner, 1637–c. 1641; Dr. Samuel Baker, 1652–c. 1657; Dr. Thomas Laurence, c. 1684–5; Captain Henry Harris, c. 1687–c. 1702; Thomas Gibson, c. 1705–45, portrait painter; Barton Booth, 1721–33, actor; Colley Cibber, 1721–40, actor; Captain Thomas Baker, c. 1726–36.


  • 1. R.B.
  • 2. 16 and 17 Car. I c. 8, private (House of Lords Act no. 30).
  • 3. P.R.O., C5/236/22, C6/298/96.
  • 4. Robert Elkin, The Old Concert Rooms of London, 1955, pp. 37–41.
  • 5. R.B.; E/BER, Charles Street, lease of 12 May 1714 to John Tisser.
  • 6. W.P.L., H.806, p. 7.
  • 7. Ibid., H. 844, f. 135.
  • 8. Ibid., f. 76; R.B.
  • 9. G.L.R.O.(M), LV(W), 1753; R.B.
  • 10. R.B.; B.O.L., Correspondence, D. Beaumont to P. Beaumont, 2 Oct. 1775.
  • 11. R.B.; M.L.R. 1791/8/144; The Universal Director … by Mr. Mortimer, 1763.