The Bedford Estate: Friars Pyes

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

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'The Bedford Estate: Friars Pyes', in Survey of London: Volume 36, Covent Garden, (London, 1970) pp. 21-22. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]

Friars Pyes

There were two pieces of land called Friars Pyes between the wall of the convent garden and the Strand. This curious name was derived from an order of mendicant friars established, some time before 1257, in a suburb of Marseilles as the 'fratres beate Marie de Areno … qui vulgariter nuncupantur servi sancte Marie matris Christi'. More popularly, they were called 'fratres ordinis de Picca' (fn. 1) (pica=magpie), 'Freres Pyes' (fn. 2) or Pied Friars, because they wore white mantles with black scapularies. In 1267 they were given licence by Henry III to establish a house in England, and in the same year William Arnaud, a king's knight, gave the friars a piece of land in the Strand to hold for an annual rent of 3s. from the Abbot and Convent of Westminster, the chief lords of the fee. It had been part of Westminster Abbey's possessions 'a tempore quo non extat memoria'. (fn. 3)

Here the friars built a house which was occupied by the order for nearly fifty years, until there was only one occupant left. In 1316 the last friar, Hugh de York, died and the property reverted to the Abbot and Convent of Westminster by order of the King. (fn. 4) By 1354 it had been allocated to the office of the abbey's sacrist, (fn. 5) and in that year, under the description of the garden of the Pied Friars, the piece of ground was let to Roger Otowy and his wife Joan for their lives at an annual rent of 8s. (fn. 6) The convent's last lessee, Thomas Bradley, yeoman, was granted a lease for thirty years in 1524 at a rent of 20s. (fn. 7)

The second piece of ground known as Friars Pyes lay immediately to the east of the first piece. It has not been traced back beyond 1398–9 when, as a perquisite of the cellarer's office, it was let to Richard Randolf for 6s. 8d. a year, and described as a cottage and garden next to Friars Pyes late in the possession of the Rector of St. Clement Danes. (fn. 8) By 1492, when a new lease was granted to John Peper, yeoman, for fifty years, the name Friars Pyes had become attached to this second property. Peper covenanted to build within two years a house measuring 20 feet by 12 feet, using good sound timber, with a 'dowbill Roof' (probably a ceiled roof) and a fireplace of 'Breke' and 'sement'. (fn. 9) A new lease was granted in 1524 to Thomas Bradley for thirty years. (fn. 10)

The Abbey of Westminster was surrendered on 16 January 1539, 40 with all its possessions, including both pieces of Friars Pyes. (fn. 11) They did not remain long in the King's hands. On 15 July 1541, in exchange for certain lands in Devon, Henry VIII granted to John, Baron Russell, Great Admiral of England and later first Earl of Bedford, manors and lands which had belonged to the suppressed monasteries in several counties, including the two pieces in the Strand. (fn. 12) Lord Russell at this time was living at Russell Place, on the south side of the Strand, so that the acquisition subsequently formed a useful adjunct to the house, especially as there was an aqueduct between the two pieces of Friars Pyes which supplied Russell Place with water (see page 31).

Between 1560 and 1563 seven houses standing at the east end of Friars Pyes were sold by Lord Russell's son, Francis, the second Earl of Bedford, to Sir William Cecil. The rest of Friars Pyes was retained in the Russell family's possession. Stables for use with Russell Place were erected on the western side by the first or second Earl, and the rest was let to tenants with houses fronting the Strand. (fn. 13) Bedford House was subsequently built on the site of the stables, and later still Southampton Street was laid out there. One parcel of Friars Pyes was sold in 1617 (fn. 14) and others were granted in fee farm (see page 33) between 1635 and 1659. (fn. 15) When the parish of St. Paul was established in 1646 Bedford House and grounds were included within its bounds, but the rest of Friars Pyes remained in the parish of St. Martin. Several alleys were built between the Strand and the old boundary wall of the convent garden, namely (from west to east) Curl Court, Little Denmark Court, Bennett's Court, Little Bennett's Court and Marygold Court (later Southampton Place). (fn. 16) The site of Friars Pyes is now covered by the Strand Palace Hotel, the southern parts of Exeter and Southampton Streets and Nos. 376–389 (consec.) Strand.


  • 1. Richard W. Emery, 'The Friars of the Blessed Mary and the Pied Friars', in Speculum, vol. xxiv, 1949, pp. 228–38.
  • 2. Thomas Walsingham, Historia Anglicana, 1863, vol. 1, p. 182.
  • 3. Westminster Abbey, Domesday Cartulary, f. 112.
  • 4. Cal. Close Rolls, 1313–1318, p. 503.
  • 5. Westminster Abbey, Muniments 17166, 19627– 19628, 19630, 19633, 19634.
  • 6. Ibid., Muniment 17166.
  • 7. Ibid., Register Book 2, f. 209b.
  • 8. Ibid., Muniment 18881.
  • 9. Ibid., Register Book 1, f. 59.
  • 10. Ibid., Register Book 2, f. 210.
  • 11. Cal. L. and P. Henry VIII, Jan.—Aug. 1540, p. 24; P.R.O., SC6/Hen. VIII/2415.
  • 12. P.R.O., C66/701, no. 1.
  • 13. Ibid., C142/211, no. 182.
  • 14. B.O.L., Muniment Register II, p. 1024, E, no. 4.
  • 15. Ibid., pp. 1014–5, D, bundle 6, nos. 1–7.
  • 16. Ibid., pp. 986–91, A, bundle 9, nos. 1–24 and bundle 11, nos. 1–22; B.O.L., Terrier, 1795.