Survey of London: Volume 36, Covent Garden. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1970.
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Nos. 10–12 (consec.) Great Piazza
Part of sites of the Royal Opera House and the Floral Hall
The two easternmost portico buildings in the north range of the Piazza were demolished in 1858 for the erection of the Opera House and the Floral Hall. The western house (No. 10–11) had originally been built on a plot leased to George Plucknett, scrivener, from Michaelmas 1635. (fn. 4) During the reign of Charles II it was occupied by the court painter, Sir Peter Lely, and from his period of tenure may have dated the cupola shown on top of the house in eighteenth-century views (Plates 26, 27a, 29a). This feature was still in existence in 1753 when a new lessee was required to 'make good the Boarding of the Lobby on Top of the Leads'. (fn. 2)
This lessee was the actor and friend of John Rich, Charles Macklin, who retired from the stage in December 1753. Shortly before his retirement he had obtained a licence from the justices to conduct a coffee house which he opened in March 1754. The coffee room was built at the rear of the portico building and part of the premises was fitted up as a theatre for oratory. (fn. 5) (fn. 1) Macklin subsequently became bankrupt and returned to the stage but he had already left the Piazza in 1755. (fn. 3)
Thereafter the premises were in two separate tenancies until 1829, although the whole site, from the Piazza to Hart Street, remained in the possession of one lessee. Macklin's successor as occupant in 1756, and later as lessee, was Richard Maltby, a vintner, who established a hotel, probably in the portico building, and sub-let the coffee room at the rear. (fn. 7)
The coffee house flourished after Macklin's departure and became famous under the name of the Piazza or Great Piazza: it was a popular resort of the literary and stage fraternities and was the scene of Sheridan's famous quip as he watched the burning of Drury Lane Theatre in 1809. The hotel is said to have been popular with country gentlemen who desired a meal and a bed with 'a doxy' to share them. (fn. 8)
In 1788 the proprietor of the hotel, Daniel Brewer, was warned by the steward of the Bedford Office that the Duke would not renew the lease when it expired in 1792 as he intended that the site should be added to Covent Garden Theatre. (fn. 9) Thomas Harris and the other proprietors of the theatre had already taken over the adjoining house on the east side of the Piazza Hotel and Coffee House (No. 12). (fn. 3) This, the last house in the north range of the portico buildings, had been erected by Richard Vesey, carpenter, who was granted a lease in 1635. (fn. 10) Sir James Thornhill had lived in the house from 1722 until his death in 1734 and it was here that he had established his famous academy and that his son-in-law, William Hogarth, had lived until his removal in 1733 to Leicester Square. (fn. 11) The house was occupied from 1761 until 1787 by James Duberley, an army tailor, (fn. 12) and in 1788, being empty, was taken over by Thomas Harris and his associates.
In 1790 the proprietors of the Piazza Coffee House at No. 10–11, Richard Hodgson and Abraham Gann, were allowed to incorporate the front part of No. 12 and connect it with the old coffee room at No. 10–11. (fn. 13) The Piazza Hotel continued in the premises it had always occupied at No. 10–11 but in 1792, when the lease expired and Daniel Brewer gave up the business, (fn. 3) the rear portion of the site was taken over, with the rear portion of No. 12, and added to the curtilage of Covent Garden Theatre. In 1792–3 new scene rooms were erected on the additional ground thus gained, flanking a passage which led from Hart Street to the royal saloon. New leases of the original sites, with the two portico buildings occupied by the Piazza Hotel and the Piazza Coffee House and the theatre buildings at the rear, were granted to Thomas Harris in 1806 for a term of eighty-nine years from Christmas 1805. (fn. 14)
The buildings occupied by the hotel and coffee house survived the fire which destroyed the theatre in 1808 and continued under separate managements until 1828. In the following year the coffee house and hotel were combined when George Cuttress or Cuttriss, the owner of the coffee house, also became proprietor of the hotel. (fn. 3) By the middle of the nineteenth century the prosperity of Cuttress's concern had declined, possibly because of a fire which destroyed part of the premises in 1846, (fn. 15) but more probably because of the competition with its neighbours, and in 1850 the hotel was taken over by the proprietors of the Tavistock. After the destruction of Covent Garden Theatre in 1856, the theatre proprietors were ejected from their tenancy by the seventh Duke of Bedford, and the owners of the Tavistock, as under-tenants of the theatre proprietors, were also ejected from possession of the Piazza Hotel. They were allowed to remain in occupation for another year and were then paid £2,000 in compensation for giving up the premises. (fn. 16) In 1858 the Piazza Hotel, which by then could have retained very little of the fabric of the two original portico buildings, was demolished for the erection of the Floral Hall (Plate 42b) and the new Opera House. (fn. 17)