The Piazza: Nos. 4-10 (consec.) Great Piazza with No. 1 James Street

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

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'The Piazza: Nos. 4-10 (consec.) Great Piazza with No. 1 James Street', in Survey of London: Volume 36, Covent Garden, (London, 1970) pp. 86-88. British History Online [accessed 19 April 2024]

Nos. 4–10 (consec.) Great Piazza With No. 1 James Street

Sites of Piazza Chambers and Nos. 2–6 (consec.) Mart Street

Before the erection of Piazza Chambers and Nos. 2–6 Mart Street in 1933 the north side of the Piazza between James Street and the Floral Hall was occupied by the Tavistock Hotel. The hotel itself incorporated the remnants of four portico buildings which comprised, from west to east, one, three, two and two bays each of the main façade of the Piazza.

The westernmost site (No. 4–5, with No. 1 James Street) was let in 1636 to Henry Sparkes, gentleman, with two houses upon it; one was a portico building on the corner of the Piazza, and the other fronted James Street. (fn. 5) Sparkes's houses were, apparently, poorly constructed for in 1698 a lease was granted to Thomas Hughs of St. Margaret's, bricklayer, and Joseph Collins of St. Martin's, carpenter, for forty-one years, in consideration of their undertaking to 'pull downe reedifye and New build or otherwise well and substancially Repaire' both houses. (fn. 2) The two houses were empty in 1698 (fn. 3) and were probably only patched up. It was no doubt at this time that the front was heightened by a parapet that breached the uniformity of the portico houses (Plate 26). When, in 1761, a new lease of the corner house was granted to James Pitt, perukemaker, the list of repairs which he was required to perform included taking down the north and south parapet walls as far as the leads (in order to lighten the walls) and fixing wooden 'pallisadoes' in their place; he also had to make good the brickwork and stucco the front and side of the house 'all over'. (fn. 1) The alterations can be seen in Plate 29b.

In 1792 both the corner house, occupied by Pitt, and the house in James Street, occupied by Peter Burn, were again in a 'ruinous' condition. A building lease was offered to Pitt for his own site, but he became insolvent and was unable to accept the Duke of Bedford's proposals. The next two adjoining houses in James Street also needed rebuilding, and a lease of all four was therefore offered to a speculator, George Cloake of Turnham Green, surveyor. Cloake accepted the Duke's proposals in February 1796 and shortly afterwards transferred his option for a lease of Pitt's and Burn's sites to Edward Marter, gentleman, for £290. Marter signed a contract to build one large house there and employed [George] Jerningham as his surveyor, although the elevations, at least, appear to have been supplied by the Duke's own surveyor, Henry Holland.

The original proposals offered to Pitt in 1792 required the front of the portico walk to be of Portland stone, and the building to be protected from fire risk by 'Hartley's Plates' or 'Lord Stanhope's Composition'. The agreement signed by Cloake in 1796 contained the additional stipulations that he was to build the corner house 'so as to maintain the Piazza in its original Character as to Design, the Front to the Top of the Fascia over the arches towards James Street and Covent Garden Market to be built with Portland Stone the rest Stuccod … the Piazza [or portico walk] to be arched over with Plaister or Ribs'. According to Marter he was, in turn, required to ensure that 'not only the Front to the top of the Facia over the Arches might be built with Portland Stone … but that the Pilasters, Window Dressings, Piers in the Arches, Parapet and Balustrade might be done in the same way and not in Stucco', because the Duke intended 'to rebuild and continue the whole of the Piazza in the like manner'. (fn. 6) Marter evidently complied with these demands for in 1800 he was granted a lease for seventy-three years, ten years more than the term originally agreed. (fn. 7)

The single house erected by Marter on the site of the two former houses was thereafter known as No. 1 James Street. In 1856 it was let to R. J. Hawkes who connected the upper floors with the adjoining Tavistock Hotel. The ground floor remained in use, as it had probably been designed, for a shop. (fn. 8)

The next house eastwards (No. 6–7) was erected under a lease granted to John Ward, citizen and girdler of London, from Michaelmas 1635. (fn. 4) It was the widest house of this group but the site was restricted at the rear by the back premises belonging to the houses in James Street. The house was occupied by one of the sons of the first Duke of Bedford during the latter part of the seventeenth century but by 1720 had been divided, one part being converted into a shop with separate lodgings. (fn. 9) The house continued to be occupied as two separate dwellings, part being occupied in 1732–3 as a coffee house kept by one Callaghan, until about 1786. (fn. 10) In 1801 Thomas Harrison became the tenant and established the Tavistock Hotel. (fn. 11)

The site adjoining the last (No. 8) was granted to Thomas Pullen, bricklayer, in 1636. (fn. 12) The house built by Pullen was also occupied by a son of the first Duke of Bedford (fn. 13) and later divided into two separate tenements.

In 1742 the two parts were apparently reunited when Richard Haddock, the proprietor of the Turk's Head Bagnio at Charing Cross, became the tenant. Haddock established another bagnio in the portico house which was granted to him on lease in 1743. Haddock's Bagnio was managed after his death in 1748 by his widow and then by his widow's executrix, Sophia Lenoy, from 1751 to 1762. (fn. 14) Sophia Lenoy also had a licence for a coffee house, which was presumably situated in another part of the house. (fn. 15) The bagnio continued under the ownership of Daniel Haveland in 1763–6, Barney Thornton in 1767–90 and Thornton's widow in 1791–8. (fn. 3) It probably came to an end in 1798 when 'Mother' Thornton, 'Mistress of Haddock's Bagnio', died. (fn. 16) In 1802 the house was taken over by Henry Robins, the auctioneer, who already occupied the adjoining house eastwards. (fn. 3)

The latter (No. 9–10) was originally built under a lease granted to William Outing, bricklayer, from Michaelmas 1635. (fn. 4) It ceased to be occupied entirely as a private residence in 1731 when Christopher Cock, auctioneer, became the tenant. (fn. 3) Behind the house Cock erected an auction room, (fn. 17) which remained in use for over a hundred years, Cock being succeeded by Abraham Langford and then, in 1790, by Henry Robins. (fn. 3) In 1802 Robins took over the adjoining house westwards, as mentioned above, and the two houses continued in the ownership of the Robins family until 1859. In that year the trustees and executor of George Henry Robins assigned the lease of both houses to the proprietors of the Tavistock Hotel, which had occupied part of the premises since some time before 1841. (fn. 18)

At Thomas Harrison's death in 1841 the Tavistock Hotel, which then occupied No. 6–7 in the Piazza and the greater part of Nos. 8 and 9–10, passed into the possession of Robert James Hawkes of Long Acre, ironmonger, Frederick B. and Stephen Harrison and Charles B. Bingley. In 1856 Hawkes obtained a lease of No. 1 James Street and in 1860 Bingley, on behalf of himself and his partners, signed an agreement for a new lease of all the hotel premises. The partners undertook to demolish Robins's auction rooms and other buildings at the rear of the portico buildings and to build additional hotel accommodation on the site. A rear building in Hart Street used by the Opera House as a property store was to be rebuilt by Frederick Gye, the lessee of the theatre, and excluded from the new lease of the Tavistock.

A detailed specification was prepared whereby the lessees were required to 'cover all the external face of the front and rear walls … with the best Portland cement, repairing and making good all defects in the existing front walls and Piazza. Ornament the south front and portion of the west front wall with Corinthian Entablature and pilasters surmounted by an Attic storey, and continue the cornice &c the whole length of the west front'. (fn. 19) Relating to the specification are two drawings for the proposed elevations, signed by Charles Sewell, architect, (fn. 20) although William Munt was named as the proprietors' architect and advertised for tenders in the early part of 1860. (fn. 21) The new works were to be completed by 1868 and a new lease, for sixty years, was granted to the proprietors of the hotel on 24 March of that year. (fn. 22)

A photograph taken in 1921 shows that the work was executed in full accordance with the specification and Sewell's drawings (Plate 45a). Above the restored arcade extended a stone balcony, supported by cast-iron scroll-trusses and furnished with a cast-iron railing of simple design. The Corinthian pilasters of the upper face had plain shafts and were raised on pedestals. The windows of the three storeys were appropriately dressed, those of the first floor with architraves, friezes and cornices, those of the second floor with eared and shouldered architraves, and those of the attic storey with eared architraves.

The Tavistock was one of several 'quasi private' hotels in the neighbourhood which flourished, judging by their expansion, during the middle of the nineteenth century. By 1900, however, it had fallen on hard times and 'public taste' was inclining towards 'the large modern Hotels where the cost of living is not very much higher and the accommodation is infinitely superior'. The Bedford Office resolutely refused to allow the hotel to be converted to other purposes, although pressed to do so, and the Tavistock continued to exist until the main lease of its premises expired in 1928. (fn. 23)

After its demolition Mart Street was laid out on the eastern part of the site and the building called Piazza Chambers erected between the new street and James Street.


  • 1. Ibid., Piazza, lease of 27 Sept. 1761 to J.Pitt.
  • 2. Ibid., Piazza, lease of 6 May 1698 to T. Hughs and J. Collins.
  • 3. R.B.
  • 4. E/BER, Rental, 1637.
  • 5. E/BER, Piazza, lease of 19 May 1636 to H. Sparkes.
  • 6. B.O.L., Correspondence, letters of 14, 25 July 1794 from Bunn and Beaumont to Duke; Proposal Book G, p. 25.
  • 7. E/BER, Piazza, lease of 2 Dec. 1800 to E. Marter.
  • 8. Ibid., Piazza, leases of 30 Aug. 1856 and 14 March 1857 to R. J. Hawkes and C. Underwood, and insurance policy, 29 June 1858.
  • 9. Ibid., Piazza, leases of 20 Dec. 1690 to Hon. R. Russell and 1 April 1731 to A. Fry and T. Connor; R.B.
  • 10. E/BER, Piazza, lease of 6 Oct. 1788 to M. Barrett; R.B.
  • 11. E/BER, Piazza, lease of 15 Dec. 1823 to T. Harrison; R.B.
  • 12. P.R.O., C3/409/81.
  • 13. E/BER, Piazza, lease of 25 Jan. 1698/9 to Lord James Russell.
  • 14. Ibid., Piazza, lease of 10 Jan. 1742/3 to R. Haddock; R.B.; Survey of London, vol. XVI, 1935, pp. 247–8.
  • 15. G.L.R.O.(M), LV(W) 69/938, 72/1185.
  • 16. Bryant Lillywhite, London Coffee Houses, 1963, p. 702.
  • 17. E/BER, Piazza, lease of 11 March 1731/2 to C. Cock.
  • 18. Ibid., Piazza, deeds of 8 April 1845, 30 July, 3 Aug. 1859.
  • 19. B.O.L., Proposal Book U, p. 5a.
  • 20. Ibid., Scrapbook.
  • 21. Ibid., Proposal Book U, p. 5a; The Builder, 3 March 1860, p. 144.
  • 22. B.O.L., Annual Report, 1861, p. 113; Proposal Book U, p. 5a; M.L.R. 1868/11/86.
  • 23. B.O.L., London Reports, vol. 3, pp. 240–1, 302, 377; Hanslip Fletcher, Changing London (Third Series), 1928, p. xvii.