Southampton Street and Tavistock Street Area: Bedford Ground

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

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'Southampton Street and Tavistock Street Area: Bedford Ground', in Survey of London: Volume 36, Covent Garden, (London, 1970) pp. 205-207. British History Online [accessed 11 April 2024]

In this section

Bedford Ground

Bedford House


Bedford House on the north side of the Strand was built for the third Earl of Bedford in c. 1586. It stood on part of the land called Friars Pyes which John Russell, later first Earl of Bedford, had acquired in 1541 and its garden occupied part of the site of the former convent garden which he had acquired in 1552. This house of c. 1586 is said to have replaced an earlier mansion erected there by the first Earl (fn. 3) but the documents which mention Bedford House before 1586 evidently refer to the earlier family mansion which stood on the south side of the Strand, and which was variously known as Russell House, Russell Place or Bedford House. (fn. 4) A description of Friars Pyes contained in the inquisition taken after the second Earl's death in 1585 makes clear that there was no large house there then and that both he and his father, the first Earl, lived and died at Russell House on the south side of the Strand. (fn. 5)

After the second Earl's death in 1585 Russell House descended to his female grandchildren, Elizabeth and Anne Russell, (fn. 5) and the contents, which belonged to his grandson Edward, the third Earl, then a minor, were sold. (fn. 6) To provide the new Earl with a home, Bedford House was built on Friars Pyes (which had descended to him) and, from Michaelmas 1586, his revenues were credited with 6s. 8d. annually for 'The newe Rent of the Capitall messuage called Bedford house newly buylded & letten during my Lo. mynoryty'. (fn. 7) The money for building it was probably lent by the Earl's aunt, the Countess of Warwick, with whom he lived. (fn. 8) He and his aunt were evidently lodged at Bedford House in 1590, for the Earl of Warwick died there in February of that year. (fn. 9) In 1593 the Earl of Bedford came of age and in the following January his aunt released to him 'all maner of ymplementes, seelinges, portalles, and other houshold stuffe and furniture of myne whatsoever, nowe remayninge and being in … Bedford howse'. (fn. 10)

The fragmentary information about the appearance of Bedford House is mainly derived from an inventory of 1643, (fn. 11) some vouchers of 1657–94 relating to repairs and additions, (fn. 12) and a few map-views and plans which, however they may vary, prove it to have been a large accretive building of irregular plan. The inventory of 1643 was occasioned by the sequestration of Bedford House and its contents. In August of that year the fifth Earl had removed to Oxford, where Charles I had established his court. The House of Commons authorized Sir William Waller to live in the house with his family, but the Earl's furniture and household goods, valued at £765, were ordered to be sold. (fn. 13)

The inventory describes the contents of fortyfive rooms, including closets. Of these, twentythree appear to have been equipped with fireplaces, but in 1673 the Earl was taxed for sixty hearths. Tapestry hangings adorned the walls in the family's apartments, and the gallery next the Strand, where the chairs were covered with crimson velvet, was hung with green cloth and gilt leather. Many of the rooms had carpets, most of them being described as 'turkey'. In the drawing-parlour were 'brancht' green velvet chairs, and the dining-parlour had carpets, a screen and ten gilt leather chairs. There was also a 'great chamber' furnished with nine tapestries, carpets and twenty-four back chairs covered in blue kersey. The 'waiteing roome' contained chairs, stools, three screens, a couch of green and silver and a court cupboard; in the turret room were high stools covered with figured satin and silver lace, chairs in red velvet, a green couch 'flowered' with gold, a matching set of folding stools, a table, ten gilt candlesticks and a 'seller of glasses with 39 glasses and silver screwes'. Vouchers of later date than the inventory show that many of the rooms were wainscoted, but there was some variation in finishing, a closet being painted 'white and vained' and a parlour 'painted and grained'.

The earliest and most complete view of the house is that given by Hollar in his bird's-eye view, probably dating from the mid seventeenth century (Plate 1). By contrast with the stylized 'views' given on later maps, Hollar depicts certain features which can be identified in the inventory quoted above and from the vouchers. The house is shown fronting the north side of the Strand, where Southampton Street is now, with a shallow range, probably timber-framed, about 100 feet long and two storeys high. (fn. 1) At the east end of the ground storey was an arched opening containing the 'great gates'. (fn. 2) Adjoining the gateway was a porter's lodge, having next to it the Earl's agent's office. In the second storey were three evenly spaced oriel windows, lighting the 'gallery next the Strand' and the 'turret room'. The front finished with a line of seven gables intersecting with the steep roof. Behind the west end of the front range rose an ogee-capped turret, perhaps a stairtower, that must have given its name to the 'turret room'. Through the gateway was a deep oblong forecourt, having on its west side a long and low range, presumably also timber-framed, with a central entrance passage leading, perhaps, to a great hall. This range was adjoined on the north by a two-storeyed building with garrets, composed of four short ranges of which three formed the sides of a court open towards the west, and the fourth range projected north and closed Maiden Lane.

A gateway in the north-east angle of the forecourt opened to a walled carriageway leading east into the large stable court, with ranges of stables and offices on its north and part of its east and west sides. This stable court was entered through a gatehouse at the south-west junction of Charles and York Streets. On the north side of the house, forecourt and carriageway was the spacious garden, extending to a raised terrace overlooking the Piazza. Hollar shows the west two-thirds of the garden divided by paths to form four grass plats surrounding a circular feature, perhaps a fountain, and the east part planted with a grove of trees, perhaps the 'wilderness' mentioned in the vouchers.

Apart from general repairs to the whole complex of buildings, most of the improvements mentioned in the vouchers were made in the north part of the house, where the family had their private apartments, generally overlooking the garden. These works culminated in 1680–2 when a 'New Building for the Earle of Bedforde … in his Garden' was erected under the supervision and perhaps to the design of Captain Richard Ryder. Venterus Mandey, the bricklayer to Lincoln's Inn, (fn. 15) was employed on the brickwork of this extension, which contained a 'ground chamber', the Earl's new bedchamber, closet and 'stoole room' on the first floor, and a new wardrobe in the garret storey. William Cleare, the joiner, wainscoted the Earl's three rooms in a manner appropriate to their importance and size. In the bedchamber the panels were framed with a 'stone' moulding, 3 inches wide, the base and sub-base panels being raised. A wainscot cornice, 11 inches deep, finished the walls, and the mantel had a cornice-shelf. There were two doorways with a 'stone' moulding 6 inches wide, presumably a classical architrave, and two sash windows with lines and pulleys. The closet had large bolection mouldings framing the panels, those of the base and sub-base being raised. The cornice was 11 inches deep, the doorcase had a 'stone' moulding 6 inches wide, and the one sash window was equipped with lines and pulleys. The 'stoole room' wainscot was simply 'mitred with a bead', the base and sub-base panels being raised. The cornice was only 6 inches deep and the doorcase had a 5-inch archi trave. Externally the new building was faced with stock bricks and finished with a wooden cornice. The three large sash windows were finished with pediments and there were two lucarne windows, with ornaments, in the roof.

The new sashes were glazed with 'Normandy' squares whereas the older casement windows had the diamond-shaped leaded lights called 'quarries'. In a bill receipted in 1660, the joiner was paid for 'Cutting the Frames of the paper windowes and new paperinge of them'.

The balconies or 'purgulas' so prevalent elsewhere in Covent Garden were also to be found at Bedford House. In 1658 Richard Ryder provided wood for the balcony case and doors for the western banqueting house in the garden. In 1681 John Channell mended the balcony at the evidence house (see below) and in 1685 he repaired the iron balcony in the garden. He made similar repairs to the 'belcony foreward to the street' and mended the rails and 'balisters' of the balcony over the stable door in 1687. In 1692 John Pincke was paid for a considerable amount of painting, including the balcony belonging to Robert Russell's chamber and a balcony in the garden, which he also gilded.

Lacy's generally accurate survey of 1673 (Plates 2, 3) includes a plan of Bedford House which accords with Hollar's view of the southern ranges, but not with the northern part where some rebuilding had evidently taken place, presumably that referred to in the vouchers dated from c. 1657 to c. 1660 and carried out under the supervision of the fifth Earl's surveyor, John Davenport. Changes can also be seen in the garden layout; a formal maze had replaced the grove of trees on the east side, and each of the four grass plats had a central ornament, shown by the accounts to consist of a statue on a pedestal. (fn. 12) Lacy also shows the large semi-circular projection out of the west wall, containing the 'halfe round banqueting house' which was repaired in 1660. To the south, outside the garden wall and with a doorway to Maiden Lane, was the 'evidence' house—the repository for family and estate papers. In 1705 the contents of this building were removed to Southampton House. (fn. 16) One of the items mentioned in the bills for demolition work in 1705 was a grotto, but whether this was inside the house, like the grotto at Woburn Abbey, or outside in the garden is not clear. Against the eastern boundary wall stood the wash-house or laundry, with an opening on its south side leading to the stable-yard.

Water was supplied to Bedford House in various ways. Rain water was stored in 'holes' in the garden and there was a pond, presumably in the stable-yard, which was supplied with water pumped from a cistern in the garden. There are also references to a cistern in the garden from which water was piped into the kitchen and to a 'great' cistern by the evidence house. The laundry was probably supplied with water from a well in the wilderness. In 1641 the Corporation of London granted the Earl a 'quill' (i.e. pipe) of water from the main supply in the Strand; this provided the house with two gallons of water an hour. (fn. 17)

Bedford House remained the London home of the Earls of Bedford until the death of the fifth Earl and first Duke in 1700. It then passed with the rest of the Covent Garden estate to the Duke's grandson, Wriothesley, who preferred to live in his mother's house in Bloomsbury. Bedford House was demolished in 1705–6, and its site was laid out for building. This development is described in the general account of the Bedford Estate in Chapter 1 (pages 37–9). Fig. 32 shows the layout of the site.


  • 1. Some of the vouchers refer to the old timber house, distinguishing it from that part of the house referred to in a voucher of 1657 as the new building next the garden.
  • 2. In 1688 a 'Lucidary' was set up at the front gate in the Strand; it was provided by the 'Copartnership of the New Invention of Lights' which installed similar oil lamps in Jermyn Street at about this time.
  • 3. B.M., Crace Collection Maps, portfolio xiii, sheet 46; Gladys Scott Thomson, Life in a Noble Household 1641–1700, 1937, p. 37.
  • 4. P.R.O., C142/211, no. 183; P.C.C., 45 Windsor.
  • 5. P.R.O., C142/211, no. 183.
  • 6. Bedfordshire Record Office, Russell Papers, box 355, Account, 1589.
  • 7. Ibid., Rental, 1592.
  • 8. Ibid., Account, 1593.
  • 9. John V. Kitto, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, The Accounts of the Churchwardens 1525–1603, 1901, p. 418.
  • 10. E/BER, Muniments of Title, Middlesex, G, bundle 1, no. 5.
  • 11. Bedfordshire Record Office, Russell Papers, box 355, Inventory, 1643.
  • 12. E/BER, Vouchers, Bedford House, 1657–94.
  • 13. Gleanings relating to the Parish of Covent Garden Westminster, N.D. (B.M. pressmark 1889 a 20).
  • 14. Survey of London, vol. xxix, 1960, p. 51.
  • 15. Colvin.
  • 16. Gladys Scott Thomson, The Russells in Bloomsbury, 1940, p. 216.
  • 17. Corporation of London Record Office, Repertory 55, f. 222b.