Survey of London: Volume 36, Covent Garden. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1970.
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From 1627 to 1641
The development of Covent Garden was the first planned layout of any consideration in the expansion of London beyond the City. But its historical importance depends not so much upon its having been the first such development as upon the aesthetic and practical lessons which it provided for those future builders in the metropolis who chose, or were forced, to observe them. As Sir John Summerson has pointed out, we owe the concept of Covent Garden to the happy conjunction in time and place of three men: 'Charles I, with his fine taste and would-be autocratic control of London's architecture; [Inigo] Jones with his perfectly mature understanding of Italian design; and the Earl of Bedford with his business-like aptitude for speculative building'. (fn. 7)
Francis, the fourth Earl (1593–1641), was probably the most remarkable of the Bedfords; in the words of one of the Russells' nineteenth-century stewards, 'he lived in advance of his time altogether'. (fn. 8) The first Earl had acquired the family's great estates, but it was the fourth Earl's energy and acumen—manifested in his rebuilding of Woburn Abbey and his scheme for draining the Fens, as well as in the development of Covent Garden—which established them on a profitable and healthy base and provided the means of wealth that succeeding generations of Russells enjoyed.
Charles I came to the throne two years before Francis Russell became Earl, and one of his first acts was to issue a proclamation concerning new buildings in the metropolis. In the main, this proclamation followed the terms of those issued latterly by James I, although it also contained new regulations for the better manufacture of bricks. It reiterated the prohibition on the building of new houses except on old foundations, and when such new houses were built it required that their fronts, outer walls and the jambs, heads and sills of their window-openings were to be of brick or of brick and stone. Such new houses were also required to conform to certain standards in their storey-heights and in the thickness of their walls. (fn. 9)
It is not necessary to look far for the probable author of this last regulation, which had originated in the proclamations issued by James I in 1618–19. Both James I and his son had, in the person of their surveyor, an officer marvellously suited to implementing their schemes for the ornamentation of the capital. Inigo Jones held the post of Surveyor of the King's Works from 1615, having previously served as surveyor to Charles's brother, Prince Henry; between the two appointments he had made a second visit to Italy in the suite of Thomas Howard, second Earl of Arundel. (fn. 10) In Covent Garden he is only known to have provided designs for St. Paul's Church and the houses on the north and east sides of the Piazza, and although he probably had little time to spare for supervising these buildings, two men who are thought to have done so were in close touch with him. Whether the King insisted on Jones's employment as architect by the Earl of Bedford, or whether the Earl requested his assistance, is not known. But Jones's contribution to the development as a whole was by no means contined to supplying designs for the church and portico buildings, for he was one of the 'Gentlemen of qualitie' (fn. 9) commissioned on 30 May 1625 to enforce the new proclamation and to carry out the King's policy of 'reducing the houses and dwellings of our said Cittie and Confynes to a more orderlie and uniforme manner of building with brick for more ornament strength and safety and contynuance'. In particular, Jones was always to be included among the number of Commissioners required to 'sett forth … soe much grounde for the foundac[i]on of all or any dwelling house or houses … which any of our Subjects shall reedifie according to that forme prescribed in our late Proclamac[i]on … in such sorte as … may beste agree with the uniformitie and decency of the buildings and Answeare the convenience of the place and wydenes of the street'. (fn. 11)
During the early years of Charles I's reign the Commissioners for Buildings seem to have been laggardly in carrying out their duties. For example, the building of Bedfordbury by 1627 in contravention of the proclamation appears to have escaped their notice. It is therefore not surprising to find that by 1629 the proclamation was being treated with 'contemptuous disregard' and the Commissioners themselves with insolence. (fn. 12) Consequently the proclamation, which had not had 'so full effect hitherto as wee expected', was re-issued on 16 July 1630, with much stiffer penalties for non-observance of the regulations. (fn. 13)
Although the proclamations of 1625 and 1630 had contained no reference to the granting of royal licences to build on new foundations, such licences had in fact been granted on occasion in the past, subject no doubt to the payment of a substantial fee. After the dissolution of Parliament in 1629 and the inauguration of eleven years of personal rule, Charles resorted to a number of extraordinary expedients to obtain supplies, and the increase in the sale of licences to build in the suburbs of London was evidently one of these devices. In 1631 at least three such licences were granted, the first of which was to the Earl of Bedford. (fn. 14)
Early in 1630 the Earl and Henry Cary (later second Earl of Monmouth) had been required by the Privy Council to clean Long Acre and make it passable, the King having been offended by the state of the street as he journeyed to Theobalds. In their joint reply the Earl and Cary asked to be allowed to resume the building there which had been begun by their predecessors and which had been interrupted by the proclamations against new buildings. They engaged, in return, to pave Long Acre and keep it 'as well as any other street in London whatsoever'. (fn. 15)
All hope of success must have been dispelled by the issue of the proclamation of July 1630, but by the following January the King's consent had been won. On 26 February 1630/1 the Earl paid £2,000 into the royal Privy Purse for a licence to build. (fn. 16)
The warrant for the Earl's licence was signed on 10 January. It recited that the Earl had sued for permission to build in Covent Garden and Long Acre 'howses and buildings fitt for the habitac[i]ons of Gentlemen and men of abillity', and, also, for a pardon for 'all contempts and offences com[m]itted … upon the saide parcells of grounde … contrary to our saide Proclamations'; it then ordered the Attorney General to prepare an instrument enabling the Earl to build 'soe manie new howses and buildings as hee … shall thinke fitt and convenient' with a pardon for him, and others named by him, for the 'contempts and offences'. (fn. 17)
The licence was issued on 7 February 1630/1. After reciting that 'some wayes or passages have of late beene used' and 'sundrie mesuages houses and buildings have been heretofore erected' in Covent Garden and Long Acre, the licence gave the Earl permission to 'pull downe demolishe alter change repayre and amend the mesuages … now erected', to build 'such and soe many new messuages houses and buildinges … as … shalbe thought fitt', and to divert or change 'the wayes and passages now used … laying out other wayes and passages in places next adioyninge in places fitt and convenient'. The only stipulations made about the buildings themselves were that the outer walls should be of brick or brick and stone ('for the more beautifying of them and alsoe for the better defence from fire') and that only one family should be permitted to occupy each house. (fn. 18)
Considering Charles's manifest concern about the growth of London, the licence was notably defective. It did not require adherence to a general plan or designs, though these presumably would have been submitted and approved before the licence was given; nor did it require any supervision by the King's surveyor and the other Commissioners for Buildings. Evidently the proclamations and the commission were thought to provide sufficient safeguards for the quality of the development. A more serious defect was the omission of any provision for new sewers and a water supply, and these two essential services were not in fact secured until some time after building had begun. Another omission, which from the Earl of Bedford's viewpoint was the most costly, was of any pardon for all 'contempts and offences', which had been mentioned in the warrant but which was not included in the licence.
When Francis Russell became Earl of Bedford in 1627, more than half of his estate, that is the outer part, was already built on or occupied as garden ground (see page 24). Although the licence to build implies that the Earl contemplated the wholesale redevelopment of the outer part, very little rebuilding took place there under his auspices. The main effort of the 1630's was concentrated on the open central area—the great pasture—which measured about 20 acres within the brick wall erected by the third Earl. Parts of this wall were left standing but, in preparation for bringing in building materials, the gates in the east and west sides were removed and a single house 'that stood in the Coven Garden' was demolished. (fn. 19)
Building began as soon as the winter was over and by April 1631 the new streets (most of them to be later named after members of the Earl's and the King's families, with royalty suitably dominant) were marked out. They were fitted inside the rectangular frame formed by the existing blocks round the perimeter of the estate. The smaller rectangle of the Piazza, which originally measured about 420 feet from east to west and 316 feet from north to south, was surrounded by the larger rectangle of Hart Street, Bedford Street, Maiden Lane, Charles Street and Bow Street. Linking the two rectangles were James Street, King Street, Henrietta Street and (Great) Russell Street. The other streets built by the fourth Earl were the east end of Chandos Street, the north end of Half Moon Street, and all of Brydges and York Streets.
At their ends nearest the Piazza, James and Russell Streets were intended to be 60 feet wide— the latter being the same width as, and exactly opposite, the church. Bow, Bedford, Charles, Henrietta, King (and probably Brydges and York) Streets were designed to be 50 feet wide; Maiden Lane and Hart Street were about half that width.
One feature of the original layout, which is not now apparent, was the lack of general access into the central part from outside the estate. James Street was the only new thoroughfare which extended from the centre to the outer boundary and even this narrowed at its northern end where it entered Long Acre. No attempt was made to widen the three existing openings—(Little) Chandos Street, White Hart Yard and (Little) Russell Street—even when they linked up with new streets, (Great) Chandos Street and (Great) Russell Street. In 1638 a number of inhabitants, when petitioning the King about the church, complained without success about the Earl's failure to enlarge the 'narrow and crooked passages that leade unto the high streetes'. (fn. 20) The seclusion of the inner area was intensified by the continued existence of parts of the brick wall which blocked some of the new streets—King Street at the west end, Maiden Lane at the east end and Bow Street on the north. Hart Street was blocked at its west end by the garden of No. 29 King Street, and Brydges Street at its south end by the back premises of Exeter House and the White Hart.
At least one alteration was made to the original scheme soon after building began, when Bedford Street was moved to its present alignment. (fn. 21) It had been intended to open a way into the Strand from the south end of the proposed line of Bedford Street (fn. 22) (the position of which is not clear), but the Earl was unable to obtain the property he needed to make the opening. (fn. 21) The line of Bedford Street was therefore altered to meet an existing opening called Half Moon Passage or Street. Here the Privy Council intervened and in August 1637 the Earl was ordered to rectify the 'uneven and crooked passage'. (fn. 23) There is no evidence that he ever did so.
The cost of developing Covent Garden was supported by a number of speculators in return for leases. The Earl himself paid for the church, three houses in the east range of the Piazza and certain overall expenses. For the most part, the Earl's lessees were London builders and tradesmen. A few were royal servants or warrant-holders, among whom was the Queen's 'principal chirurgion', Maurice Aubert. (fn. 24) But, if William Prynne, the Puritan pamphleteer, is to be believed, more of the Queen's Roman Catholic servants were involved in building in Covent Garden than is apparent from the surviving leases. In his Hidden Workes of Darkenes Brought to Publike Light published in 1645, he asserted that 'All her Majesty's servants, who doe suck the marrow of our estate, doe buy whole streets of houses in Paris and Lordships in the Country, and when they first came hither they were but poore beggers, and now they keep Coaches: What houses have they built in the Covent-garden, and what faire houses do they built [sic] in Lincoln In-fields? And the City must lend money to build them in other mens name.' (fn. 25) He went on to name one of the Covent Garden speculators, William Newton, a Bedfordshire gentleman who later engaged in speculative development in Great Queen Street and Lincoln's Inn Fields, (fn. 26) and alleged that Newton was acting as an agent for Catholics in building houses, 'for of himselfe he was never so able as to build the hundreth part of them'. (fn. 27)
Five of the speculators in Covent Garden are known to have been officially associated with Inigo Jones; they were Isaac de Caus, Edward Carter, John Benson the elder, Ralph Bries or Brice and William Outing. (fn. 1)
Isaac de Caus, or Caux, was a naturalized Englishman (fn. 31) of French origin whose (?) father, Salomon de Caus, had been 'the princes Inginer' (fn. 32) during the time that Jones was in Prince Henry's service. Isaac described himself as an 'Ingenieur & Architecte' (fn. 33) and had devised the grotto installed in the Banqueting House in Whitehall. (fn. 34) He was subsequently employed by the fourth Earl of Pembroke at Wilton House, with the 'advice and approbation of Mr. Jones'. (fn. 35) De Caus first appears at Covent Garden in 1630, in a newly built house on the south side of (Little) Russell Street, where he lived until 1634. (fn. 36) In 1631, or shortly afterwards, he took a lease from the Earl of Bedford for building two houses on the west side of Charles Street. This lease was surrendered before February 1634/5, (fn. 37) at about the same time as he left the house in (Little) Russell Street, probably on the occasion of his summons to Wilton. Besides having a lease himself, de Caus also witnessed in 1632 the leases of two other speculators, one to John Parker for a site on the south side of Hart Street, (fn. 38) and the other to the William Newton mentioned above, for a site on the north side of Henrietta Street. (fn. 39) None of this information by itself suggests that de Caus played any particularly significant role in the development of Covent Garden, but there is one other piece of evidence which does suggest that he did so. The three houses in the Piazza which were erected at the Earl of Bedford's expense were probably begun in 1633 and finished in 1634. The accounts for building them mention that some of the stonework details were varied by de Caus after the mason had signed his contract. (fn. 40) The variation, it is true, was minimal, but clearly de Caus was supervising the building, perhaps again with the 'advice and approbation of Mr. Jones'. No trace of de Caus in Covent Garden has been found after 1635, but in 1655 his mother left him a legacy, payable out of a house which she owned in Bedfordbury. (fn. 41) (fn. 2)
Edward Carter was the son of Francis Carter who had been chief clerk in the Office of Works and who, at his death in 1630, had left some 'bookes of Architeckter' to his son William. (fn. 43) Edward Carter was appointed on 5 January 1630/1 as Jones's deputy at St. Paul's Cathedral and succeeded him as surveyor when Parliament re-organized the Office of Works in 1644. (fn. 44) In 1633 Carter took a lease from the Earl of a plot in King Street, (fn. 45) where he built a house which he occupied until 1650. (fn. 46) Carter perhaps acted as the Earl's surveyor; he signed the accounts for building the church and he seems to have been concerned with the Earl's portico houses in the Piazza, for in 1639, when one of the tenants there required some alterations, he wrote to the Earl advising him about how the work should be carried out, 'because I well remember how difficult they are to please in works that are to be done at the charg of another'. (fn. 47)
John Benson the elder had served the Office of Works as mason, purveyor, and bricklayer. (fn. 28) He had a building lease of a site in Bedford Street in 1631. (fn. 48) Ralph Bries was master carpenter of the Office of Works. He had also worked at the Banqueting House in a lesser capacity (fn. 49) and in 1631 took a building lease from the Earl of a plot in King Street. (fn. 50) The last of this group was William Outing, a bricklayer, who had been employed at Newmarket when the Prince's Lodging, designed by Jones, was being built. (fn. 28) Outing had a lease of a portico building in the Piazza. (fn. 51)
One other builder who took building leases (and worked on the church) was Richard Rider or Ryder, carpenter. (fn. 52) There were at least three generations of the Ryder family who were responsible for much building in the West End of London and elsewhere. Richard Ryder (I), presumably Richard Ryder the elder, who built in Covent Garden, was employed by the first Earl of Salisbury, the patron of Inigo Jones and Salomon de Caus, (fn. 53) to work on his stables on the west side of the Bedford estate in 1609 (see page 267). His son, Richard Ryder (II), sometimes known as Captain Ryder, was also employed by the Cecils (fn. 54) and took over Isaac de Caus's house in (Little) Russell Street in 1635. (fn. 55) He became master carpenter at the Office of Works (fn. 54) and was also surveyor to the first Duke of Bedford. (fn. 56) His son, Richard Ryder (III), succeeded him as surveyor for the Bedford estate. (fn. 57)
As a preliminary step before building, speculators evidently entered into pre-lease contracts with the Earl. For example, shortly after the royal licence to build was obtained in February 1630/1, negotiations were begun with Richard Brigham, the King's coachmaker. A contract was concluded on 4 April whereby Brigham agreed to spend £3,000 in building and the Earl promised to grant him a lease for thirty-one years from midsummer 1631 at an annual rent of £50; if, within the next five years, Brigham spent a further sum of £2,000, the Earl would grant him an extension of five years. Brigham's lease was sealed in June (with the size of plot and rent slightly reduced) and he began building shortly afterwards. (fn. 21) Pre-lease negotiations of this kind were presumably standard practice. Most of the terms granted were for thirty-one years, but some were for longer periods, up to forty-one years; the later common practice of allowing a lessee the first year or so of his term at a peppercorn rent, was not observed.
The original leases which have survived were all granted during the years 1631–7. They are tabulated in Appendix III, and the plots to which they relate are shown on fig. 45 in the end pocket of the volume. They divide into two types, roughly corresponding with two periods of development, 1631–3 and 1634–7. The leases of the portico buildings in the Piazza, which are discussed in Chapter IV, belong to the second period. All those belonging to the earlier period, with four exceptions, (fn. 3) either have articles of agreement attached to them or some other form of building agreement. The articles display a scrupulous adherence to the building-specifications laid down in the proclamations of 1625 and 1630. They are, however, much more detailed than the proclamations, and it is tempting to suppose that they were framed with Inigo Jones's advice. It may also be noted that the specifications foreshadow those laid down by Act of Parliament after the Great Fire of London.
At first there were usually eleven articles, sometimes reduced to ten by the omission of the fourth. The first six or five articles dealt with the construction of the houses. By article number one, all houses were to range continuously and in a straight line, taking up the whole frontage of the plots, and were to be uniform. The majority were to be 'double', that is, of greater depth than width, and all double houses were to be at least three whole storeys in height, besides cellars and garrets ('cock lofts'); the rooms on each storey were to be at least 10 feet high, cellars 7½ feet (sometimes 6½ feet) and garrets 3 feet (sometimes 3½ feet) before the 'ryseinge peece' was set on. 'Single' houses, which were square in dimension, did not need more than two whole storeys. The forefront, outer and party walls, window jambs, heads and sills were to be of brick or brick and stone; the outer walls of the ground storey were to be two bricks' length in thickness or 1½ in single houses (the bricks corresponding to the measurements then in force) and all other outer walls were to be 1½ bricks' length thick. The second article specified the outer dimensions of the ground plan of each house; there was considerable variation in the width of the house plots.
The third article prohibited jutting or canted bays; the outer walls were to go straight up, with a 'water table' at the setting off. Party walls were to be one brick's length thick but 'summers' (i.e. bressumers) or girders were to be carried on piers 1½ bricks in depth and 3 feet in breadth. The backs of chimneys set against party walls were also to be 1½ bricks thick, and set at least one brick's length away from the outside of the wall. Sometimes the third article laid down the proportions for windows; they were to be taller than their width in the 'whole' storey, and square 'or neere thereabouts' in the garrets, with 'sufficient' piers between them 'for strength'. This last specification was more usually included with the fourth article, except when the latter was omitted. It dealt with the costs and siting of party walls and named the Earl of Bedford as arbiter in case of dispute between neighbouring tenants.
The fifth article required oak to be used for the roof and 'Reason' or 'raisinge peeces', and for the divisions between the window-lights when stone was not used. These divisions in the windows were to be 'Coloured with oyle' (as they had been in the Banqueting House (fn. 58) ). The rest of the timber used in the houses was left to the choice of the builder, provided that it was well seasoned; but none was to come within a foot of hearths, backs or flues ('tunnels').
Article number six dealt with sewers and number ten dealt with water conduits and pipes (see below); number seven was a covenant to pave with stones half the breadth of the street in front of each plot; number nine was a restriction on stable-building without permission, and number eleven was a covenant to build a brick garden wall adjoining the neighbouring plot.
Lastly, in the eighth article the Earl reserved the right for himself or 'such as he shall appoynct' to inspect the work at convenient times during the day; it is likely that the person he appointed was Edward Carter.
Soon after building began the agreements proved unsatisfactory, either for the Earl's requirements or for those of the Crown. The first change occurred in August 1631 when two new clauses were inserted in the agreements attached to some leases for the south side of King Street. One forbad the alteration of any door or window after the houses had been built; in most cases, this was written in after the agreement had been drawn up, as a pendant to article number nine. The other new clause, added to article number one, required the lessee to 'make the height and front' of his houses 'in all things answerable and according to the houses that are lately built [on the north side of Henrietta Street] … by Mr. William Newton and with the like Balcony wyndowes and Gable ends'. (fn. 59) Newton had in fact altered the design of his houses during the course of building, and had considerably exceeded the costs for which he had contracted, in order to satisfy the Earl's request for 'beautefyinge' his buildings. He was therefore allowed to surrender his original lease for a new one at a longer term of years. (fn. 60) It is perhaps significant that one of the witnesses to the new lease was Isaac de Caus, and it may well be that the alterations executed by Newton were designed by him. The King Street leases which contained the clause relating to Newton's buildings were witnessed by Richard Ryder.
There are few surviving leases dated between August 1631 and May 1632; possibly none were granted. After the latter date, however, the original ten or eleven articles of agreement were altered and expanded to thirteen. (fn. 4) The revised articles required the house fronts to be built of 'hewed or well rubd brickes', the walls to be of equal thickness everywhere, including above, below and between the windows, with strong arches to be turned over every window and door. The piers were now required to be broader than half the width of the window or door adjoining and all windows were to be 'directly sett one over the other, that the peere may carrie his full breadth from the foundation to the topp'. The use of elm, except for stair steps, was now expressly forbidden and the builder had to submit for approval, before building, the measurements of the timbers he intended to use. Most significant of all were the two new articles. The first required that the builder should, sixteen days before laying foundations, 'deliver a true plot of the inside, upright and ground work' and thereafter, 'if the same shalbe disliked and amended by such as the said Earle shall imploy … [the builder] will call such person to be present' at the laying of the foundations. Secondly, the lessee was forbidden after the completion of the houses to 'alter the front or backe parte of the said houses in taking away any capital peeres or putt any windowes or doores without the said Earles consent'. (fn. 62)
The revised articles continued to be appended to leases until July 1633. Two leases granted in that month, however, contained an additional prohibition, forbidding the builder to erect any outer wall in the winter season between All Saints' Day (1 November) and Candlemas (2 February). (fn. 63) Another lease, dated 3 March 1632/3, was to Thomas Turney, bricklayer, who warranted that he had built the house facing the Piazza and the adjoining one on the south side of King Street, 'in all things suitable and like for height and strength and for thicknes of Brickworke and scantlings of timber and good workmanshipp to the two messuages … builte by William [sic] Palmer att the South east corner of the Churchyard fronting towards the Piazza'. (fn. 64) Palmer's lease (dated 1633) survives but has no articles of agreement appended, evidently because the houses had already been completed at the date of the grant of the lease. (fn. 65)
Nearly all the original leases for the second period of development, between 1634 and 1637, and including those for the portico buildings in the Piazza, are unaccompanied by any articles of agreement. (fn. 5) Sometimes, as in the case of Edward Palmer, this was clearly because the leases were being granted after the houses were completed, or sufficiently advanced to make the agreements unnecessary. (fn. 68) On the other hand, the articles may have been unnecessary for the houses in the Piazza because the builders there were required to enter into pre-lease contracts which contained far more detailed specifications than earlier builders had agreed to. The speculators who took leases were said to have built their Piazza houses 'of and with such scantlings of Brick and Brickworke and Pieces of Stone and scantlings of timber in and by all things accordinge to agreement and contract in that behalfe made'. (fn. 69) They were also provided with a model to follow, for the Earl had, at his own costs, already erected the three houses in the east range, which were sufficiently completed to be let in November 1634. (fn. 70)
Apart from the alterations made in the articles of agreement (see above) there is no reason for supposing that the Earl of Bedford experienced more than normal difficulties on the building sites. But before the development was completed, in about 1637, he had had to contend with three major problems. The first of these concerned an adequate supply of water for the new suburb. Local springs were available and water was fairly easily obtained from wells. There was an aqueduct or conduit, first mentioned in 1492, somewhere in Friars Pyes, (fn. 71) which supplied the first Earl of Bedford's house on the south side of the Strand and was still functioning in 1617. (fn. 72) There was also a conduit house to the south of Chandos Street from which, according to a document of 1636, Durham House on the south side of the Strand had 'beene at all tymes served with great plenty and aboundance of very good wholsome and sweet spring water'. (fn. 73) But these springs were less reliable after the building activities of the early 1630's, as the experience of John Pulford illustrates. He had taken a house near the conduit, under the cellar of which, he was told, 'was a good spring of water'. His landlord promised to install a pump in the cellar and, incidentally, to repair the roof. However, after April rains, when the supply of water through the roof was so plentiful 'that Tubbs were set to receive some part of it for preventing the overflowing thereof', the pump in the cellar yielded little or no water, and Pulford had had to buy a supply elsewhere. (fn. 74)
Besides the water obtainable from local springs there was also a piped supply available. In 1440 the citizens of London had obtained leave from the Abbot and Convent of Westminster to bring water in aqueducts and pipes from Paddington through the abbey's lands, (fn. 75) and in 1491 Sir John Fortescu had granted the citizens the right to maintain pipes in Covent Garden for as long as he and his heirs had an interest in the land. (fn. 76) The Act of Parliament of 1536 which vested Covent Garden in Henry VIII contained a clause safeguarding the City's rights (fn. 77) and during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries several of the great houses in the Strand were supplied with water by the City. (fn. 78)
When building began in Covent Garden in the 1630's the builders were required to preserve any conduit heads or pipes which they found on their sites, but there is no evidence of any payment by the Earl of Bedford for the use of the City's supply. Indeed, to judge from a petition from the Mayor and citizens of London to the Privy Council, it is clear that the City's water was illicitly tapped by many householders. The petition was carried to Whitehall on 2 March 1631/2 by a committee which appropriately travelled by water. It represented that the City's supply had been 'taken away by diverse persons inhabiting in the Strand and in or neare the Comon Garden' and that the recent building over the pipes and conduits made maintenance difficult and expensive, 'some of the parties dwelling in these howses denying to permitt the Citty officers and workemen to enter into their houses to search for and amend such defects as are in these Pipes'.
After due deliberation the Privy Council granted the City's officers the right to enter the house and grounds of anyone, nobleman and King's servant included, to inspect the pipes, but cautioned them to give due notice 'to persons of eminent quality'. In addition, the Council ordered that they should call in the Surveyor of the King's Works 'to view the places where the said pipes are layd over with any new buildings are erected or intended to be erected [sic] and to Consider what inconveniance or hurt may arise or grow by building over the Pipes and how that inconvenience may be avoyded or amended at the Charges of the Owners or Builders'. (fn. 79)
The 'inconvenience' to the City was largely overcome in the following year, 1633, when the King granted the Earl of Bedford a licence to obtain water from springs in Soho. The licence was a joint one, naming certain other landowners (William, Earl of Salisbury, Sir Edward Wardour and Sir Oliver Nicholas), and empowered them to bring water from Soho to their different estates and to build a great cistern in Swan Close (Lord Salisbury's property) for a reservoir. The supply for Covent Garden was to be laid down along St. Martin's Lane, with a branch along Long Acre. (fn. 80)
Closely connected with the problem of water supply was that of adequate surface water disposal. Although none of the government regulations about new buildings had taken cognizance of the problem, the Earl of Bedford's articles of agreement with the builders in Covent Garden had been remarkably specific. Brick sewers were to be built along the forefronts of each plot, below the level of the house cellars, 4 feet in height, 2½ feet in breadth at the shoulders and 1 foot 3 inches wide at the bottom. They were to be so contrived that they carried away the surface water and were to slope into the main sewer, the construction of which was to be the Earl's responsibility.
In 1634 the silting up of the common sewers was mentioned for the first time in a new royal commission for buildings. (fn. 81) The Privy Council discussed the problem, particularly the nuisance to the King's Palace at Whitehall and the carrying of the Covent Garden main sewer to the Thames, and Inigo Jones was required to consider the best method of dealing with it. (fn. 82) In 1634 the 'great Gutter' from Covent Garden which 'rendreth it selfe into the Strand' was ordered to be stopped (fn. 83) and, on the complaint of several local inhabitants, a temporary pit in the locality of Chandos Street and Half Moon Street, which had been made by order of the Earl of Bedford to replace the 'gutter', was ordered to be filled in. (fn. 84) One of the most remarkable clauses in the leases granted in November 1634 of houses in the Piazza was to the effect that if, for want of a common sewer, the tenants could not 'with anie Conveniency' continue to occupy their houses, they could, on giving six months' notice, quit them without any penalty. (fn. 70) Eventually, in 1635, a new common sewer was built in St. Martin's Lane, and continued down Hartshorn Lane (which gave the sewer its name) into the river Thames. (fn. 85) The main sewer from Covent Garden was subsequently linked with it. (fn. 86)
The third problem which faced the Earl of Bedford after building had begun was from his point of view the most serious, since it threatened to wreck the whole enterprise. In 1633 there began a vigorous renewal of government activity against the spread of London. The Privy Council unanimously agreed to discourage, with all their means, any project for new buildings, and even decided to ask the King to revoke licences already granted, at least for houses not yet built and for unfinished houses—'the publique being not to suffer, for any private man's Respect'. (fn. 87) There is a hint in this resolution, supported by other evidence, that the King and his Council did not agree in this matter, and that whilst the King was willing to allow the rich to build and ornament his capital, but determined to prevent the 'poorer and meaner' of his subjects from building, the Council considered the 'better sort' should also be prosecuted. (fn. 88) The King's reply was to give fresh orders to his Commissioners for Buildings, but though instructing them to report on buildings erected contrary to any of the proclamations issued since 1605 he allowed them to use their discretion and to compound with offenders by fines. (fn. 89)
At least one contemporary considered the new commission to be a means to raise money, rather than an effort to enforce the law. In a letter of June 1634 George Garrard wrote that the Commissioners 'now are at the Earl of Bedford for his Buildings in and about Covent-Garden, notwithstanding his Licence'. (fn. 90) Shortly afterwards the new Attorney General, Sir John Bankes, was nominated to be one of the Commissioners for Buildings, (fn. 91) and almost immediately he filed a Bill in Star Chamber against the Earl 'about some Buildings anciently built about Covent-Garden, before he had Leave to build there'. The proceedings have not survived, but it appears that the omission from the licence of his pardon for buildings already erected proved to be the Earl's undoing. Garrard, again with private information, related that the Earl 'yet stands it out, but 'tis thought, being a Wise Man, he will accomodate it, by giving some greater Sum of Money, since it is likely to bring him in so great a Revenue for the future'. (fn. 92) This gossip proved to be correct. In April and May 1635 the Earl paid into the Exchequer a further sum of £2,000, in addition to the £2,000 he had paid in 1631. (fn. 93) Even so, his treatment was not so harsh as poorer men received. Some were fined and had to demolish their buildings; (fn. 94) others were fined and imprisoned. (fn. 95) The Earl, however, after paying his fine, was allowed to leave his buildings standing and received a confirmation of his former licence by letters patent dated 30 June 1635. Moreover, the patent gave him both royal approval for his buildings, including the church, which were described as 'an ornament and beautye to those partes', and a guarantee that he would not thereafter be liable for prosecution or ordered to demolish any of his buildings. He was also given permission, with others lawfully claiming under him, to have free passage for the sewers from Covent Garden and Long Acre through the new common sewer in St. Martin's Lane down to the Thames. (fn. 96)
Shortly before the letters patent were issued, the Earl began to sell off portions of the Covent Garden estate. The majority of the houses which he granted away were situated in the outer parts where building had taken place before 1631. The wisdom of this policy was proved later, for when renewed trouble arose with the Commissioners for Buildings, later in the 1630's, over building off Long Acre and St. Martin's Lane, the Earl was able to claim that he was no longer the owner of the property. Moreover, although he had been free to rebuild existing houses without contravening the building regulations, very few had in fact been rebuilt, so the Earl's alienation of the outlying portion divested the estate of all the old and inferior dwellings, many of which were built of timber. At the same time he was assured of a small income from the properties which he had sold, for they were granted in fee farm, that is to say, in return for a perpetual fixed annual rent payable to the Earl and his heirs. (fn. 6) The value of the rents declined, of course, as money values decreased, and benefits from improvements to the properties were not reaped by the Earl and his successors. The fee-farm properties were not subject to the general control exercised over the remaining portion of the estate, and so the well-kept centre was surrounded with ever-increasingly dilapidated properties, slowly ripening for the metropolitan improvements of the nineteenth century.
The sale of the outlying portions of the estate was evidently occasioned by the Earl's unfavourable financial situation. When John Trenchard, the Earl's agent in Covent Garden, wrote to him in October 1639 'Hoping that nowe your Lordshipp wilbe as sparing in borrowing as possible may be, and that these monyes nowe made by the sale of your old rents may be all imployed to the payment of debts for which this sale was intended [and] … take of all that incumbrance which hitherto hath layen soe heavily on you', (fn. 47) he was presumably referring to money borrowed by the Earl for Covent Garden. But agents often take a gloomy view of their masters' budgets and there is not enough evidence to give a debit and credit account for the development of the estate. The statement by a modern writer that 'the whole undertaking' cost the Earl 'rather over £28,000' (fn. 98) is wildly misleading.
The total known outlay of the Earl up to the end of 1635, was £13,010 (£4,000 for the licences, £4,703 for the three houses in the Piazza, and £4,307 for the church). What besides was paid to officials, surveyors, workmen and clerks, and for building sewers and laying a water supply can only be guessed at, but certainly could not have doubled the known outlay. A rental of the whole estate made in 1637 credited the Earl with an annual income of £1,435 11s. 9d. (fn. 51) Less than half (£630—including fee-farm rents) came from the old properties on the north, south, east and west sides, while the rest (£805) came from the new buildings 'within the walls'. Therefore, in spite of disposing of nearly half the estate, the fourth Earl had nearly trebled the income from it and, had it been possible to set aside the whole rental for, perhaps, some ten years, would have recovered his capital costs.
The fourth Earl died in May 1641, leaving his successors to reap the benefit of his work, which consisted of a gross income from all the Russell estates of about £8,500 per annum. (fn. 99) Appropriately, he had been nominated Lord Treasurer in January 1641, and shortly before his death he had embarked on an investigation into means for securing the nation's financial stability. (fn. 100)