Survey of London: Volume 36, Covent Garden. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1970.
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Nos. 13–19 (consec.) Great Piazza with No. 13 Russell Street
Part of sites of the Royal Opera House, the Floral Hall and Russell Street market area
The house which was let to (Sir) Edward Sydenham in 1634 (fn. 3) occupied, with its garden, the largest site in the Piazza. The portico building itself stood in the north-east angle of the Piazza and filled two bays of the east side; its garden extended northward to Hart Street. In 1669 it was divided into two parts which were later converted into the Shakespeare's Head Tavern and the Bedford Coffee House. The latter was the earlier of these two establishments, being first rated as a coffee house in 1726 when Sarah Gardiner was probably the proprietress. (fn. 1) At this time it appears to have occupied a building at the rear, but later expanded into the southern part of the portico building. (fn. 4)
In 1731 the whole of the site formerly let to Sydenham was let to John Rich for the erection of Covent Garden Theatre. (fn. 4) The theatre was built over the combined gardens of this and of the adjoining house southwards, No. 16–17. The front of the portico building was retained, but the northern part, where it adjoined the theatre site, was altered to accommodate the principal entrance to the theatre.
The Bedford Coffee House continued in the southern part of the portico building (No. 14), and the northern part (No. 13) was converted into the Shakespeare's Head, or Shakespeare, Tavern and Coffee House. The exact date of the Shakespeare's establishment is not certain. It was in existence by 1738 when Richard Croft was rated for this part of the house, but may have begun in 1736, when Croft first became the tenant. (fn. 5) In 1747 Packington Tomkyns, vintner, became the proprietor. (fn. 6) James Campbell is said to have taken over the management in 1769 but Tomkyns continued to pay rates for the tavern until 1774 (fn. 5) and did not assign his sub-lease to Campbell until 1785. (fn. 7) In 1792 the Duke of Bedford granted Campbell a lease of the tavern, which hitherto had been held by the proprietors as undertenants of John Rich and then of his widow, Priscilla. (fn. 8)
The Shakespeare appears to have been a popular rendezvous for the dissipated; several clubs and masonic lodges also met there to dine and the electors of Westminster held anniversary dinners at the tavern to celebrate Charles James Fox's first return to Parliament as their member. (fn. 9) After the decline of Button's Coffee House in Russell Street the celebrated lion's head letterbox there was transported to the Shakespeare and subsequently to the Bedford Coffee House. It was eventually bought at a sale of James Campbell's effects in 1804 by Charles Richardson, (fn. 10) who transferred it to his own coffee room in No. 43 King Street.
The Shakespeare came to an end in 1804 and the empty premises were burned during the fire which destroyed Covent Garden Theatre in 1808. (fn. 11) A coffee house and tavern of the same name was later opened in Russell Street under a different proprietor. (fn. 9) What little remained of the old Shakespeare's premises was incorporated into the Bedford Coffee House. (fn. 12)
An earlier addition to the Bedford Coffee House had occurred in 1785 when, for the first time, the proprietor had been granted a direct lease from the Duke of Bedford which included the building (No. 15) at the back of Sir Godfrey Kneller's house, latterly occupied by John Rich and his wife (fn. 13) (see below).
In 1790 Stephen Kinsey, vintner, the proprietor, leased the Bedford to John Wake. From 1802 the coffee house appears to have been associated with the Bedford Hotel at No. 16–17. Wake assigned his interest in the coffee house to Robert Joy in 1804 (fn. 14) and in 1811 William White succeeded Joy. (fn. 2) White also became owner of the Bedford Hotel in 1823 and thereafter the two businesses were amalgamated (see below).
The more northerly of the two portico buildings let to Sir Edmund Verney in 1634 (here numbered 16–17) occupied, like the more southerly, three bays of the Piazza front. It was inhabited by Sir Godfrey Kneller from 1682 to 1702. During his tenancy (perhaps in about 1698) a building (No. 15) was erected at the rear of the house on part of the garden site, (fn. 1) accessible by a passage from the Piazza through the north part of No. 16–17. When the portico house to the north (No. 13–14) was granted in 1731 to John Rich for the erection of Covent Garden Theatre, Kneller's old house and its back premises were also granted to Rich for the same purpose. (fn. 4)
The theatre was erected on the site of the two gardens. The back-building, No. 15, was occupied by John Rich and then by his widow until 1767; in 1785 it was transferred on lease to the proprietor of the Bedford Coffee House. (fn. 13) The front or portico building, No. 16–17, was sub-let, being occupied from 1760 to 1768 by Charles Moran, a bookseller. (fn. 15)
In 1802 No. 16–17 was let to John Wake, who in the previous year had established a hotel here, which he called the Bedford, as an adjunct to the Bedford Coffee House at Nos. 14 and 15. (fn. 17) Wake transferred his interest in the coffee house in 1804 and his interest in the hotel in 1806 to Robert Joy. (fn. 17) Joy retained the hotel until 1824, when it was taken over by William White, who, since 1811, had been the proprietor of the coffee house. In 1823 White obtained a lease of the coffee house and hotel (fn. 18) which continued as a single business known as the Bedford Hotel, latterly under the proprietorship of the Ruddell family and then Mrs. Ann Warner, until 1886. (fn. 19) The hotel was demolished in 1887–8 (fn. 1) for the extension of the market and the site has ever since remained open.
No. 18–19 Great Piazza and No. 13 Russell Street
The southernmost of Sir Edmund Verney's two houses was divided into two in about 1740, (fn. 20) one part facing the Piazza and the other part, east of the portico walk, fronting Russell Street. In 1745 or 1746 the house facing the Piazza (No. 18–19) was taken by Calvin Hawksbee and Abraham Carter. (fn. 1) They established a coffee house here, known as Sam's, for which Hawksbee was licensed in 1753. (fn. 21) After Hawksbee's departure in 1755 the house was occupied by William Naisby or Neasby from 1756 to 1761 and licensed under the name of the Hat and Beaver. (fn. 22) A later occupant, Richard Corsbie, was licensed for a coffee house in 1795 (fn. 23) but as he was also rated for Wood's Hotel (on the north side of the Piazza) in the same year, it is not clear for which premises the licence was granted.
From 1761 leases for both houses were granted to brewers (fn. 24) so that the use of the house facing Russell Street (No. 13) as a public house may date from that year. The first certain reference to a public house on this site occurs in 1795 when John Moore, who had occupied the house since 1781, was licensed for the Red Lion. (fn. 23)
Moore was succeeded in 1798 by Philip Salter, victualler, who in 1801 also became the occupant of the former coffee house facing the Piazza. (fn. 25) Both premises continued in the possession of the Salter family for many years, under the name of Salter's or the Russell Hotel and Coffee House, or the Russell Hotel. (fn. 26) By 1866 the old name of the public house had been revived (fn. 27) and the premises were thereafter known as the Old Red Lion until 1886. The building was demolished in 1887–8 for the extension of the market. (fn. 1)