The Piazza: Nos. 1-4 (consec.) Little Piazza with 11 Russell Street

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

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'The Piazza: Nos. 1-4 (consec.) Little Piazza with 11 Russell Street', in Survey of London: Volume 36, Covent Garden, (London, 1970) pp. 91-94. British History Online [accessed 23 April 2024]

In this section

Nos. 1–4 (consec.) Little Piazza With 11 Russell Street

Sites of Russell Chambers (No. 11–12 Russell Street) and west end of the Flower Market

The site now occupied by Russell Chambers and the west end of the Flower Market is approximately that originally occupied by four portico houses and a house in Russell Street.

The four portico houses had each occupied two bays of the 'Little' Piazza. The site of the most northerly, No. 1 Little Piazza (together with that of No. 11 Russell Street) had originally been let to Thomas Barnes, carpenter, for thirty-seven years from 1636. (fn. 1) This corner house must have been badly constructed for towards the end of Barnes's term, in 1670, it suddenly collapsed, dragging with it the adjacent portico house. (fn. 2) The latter house, which was then tenanted by the Swedish Resident, (fn. 3) had been built under a lease granted to Edmond Keyser, ironmonger, in 1637. (fn. 4) The two houses and the adjoining one on the south, which had also been severely damaged, were rebuilt and re-occupied by 1672. (fn. 3)

The house on the south side of Keyser's and the surviving end house of the row had been built at the expense of George Hulbert who in 1633 had been granted a lease of a large plot, lying between the Piazza and Charles Street, for the exceptionally long term of fifty years. Hulbert had also erected three houses fronting Charles Street on the same plot. (fn. 5)

In 1681, shortly before Hulbert's lease expired, a new lease was granted to Henry Harris of both portico buildings and one of the back houses in Charles Street. Harris had been persuaded to obtain the lease by Richard Lasinby, 'chirurgeon', in order to establish a 'hummums' or 'bagnio'. From his personal observation at Aleppo in Turkey Lasinby claimed a knowledge of the methods used to construct rooms 'for Sweating and Bathing' and proceeded to spend a great sum on building baths, probably at the rear of the northern of the two houses let to Harris. Harris later asserted that Lasinby was 'very ignorant' about the subject, however, and that he himself had had to redesign the baths. In any event they were completed by August 1683 and proved very popular, being among the earliest Turkish baths, though not the first, to be opened in London. (fn. 6) On an undated plan of Covent Garden, which is roughly contemporary with the establishment of Lasinby's Hummums (Plate 4), the house is marked with the words 'Piazza Tav[ern]'. (fn. 7)

After Richard Lasinby's death the baths were managed by his son, another Richard, until he died in 1693. The business was then continued by the latter's widow and, after her remarriage, by her husband, John Groscourt. (fn. 8) An advertisement of 1701, announcing a change of ownership, gave notice that the baths had been 're-fitted' so that 'persons may Sweat and Bathe in the cleanliest and be Cupp'd after the newest manner'. The Hummums also provided 'good lodging for any persons who shall desire to lodge there all night … The price, as was always, for Sweating and Bathing is 5s 6d. For two in a room, 8s.; but who lodges there all night, 10s.' (fn. 9)

In 1704 a new lease of the Hummums, together with the house on the south and the one in Charles Street, was granted to Dr. John Colbatch, a physician, who covenanted not to annoy his neighbours with 'Smoak or any noisome or stinking Savors'. (fn. 10) Colbatch was succeeded by William Boen who was granted a lease of the Hummums only in 1723. (fn. 11) Boen assigned his lease in about 1739 to John Rigg (fn. 3) and in 1748 Rigg was granted a lease of the Hummums together with the houses formerly let to Colbatch. (fn. 12) An advertisement by Rigg 'Cupper at the Hummums in the Little Piazza … with a back door from Charles Street' invited gentlemen to visit his establishment for 'Lodging, Sweating, Bathing, or Cupping'; ladies were also admitted, and treated 'with great care and proper attendance', but they were not permitted to lodge there. (fn. 13) John Rigg was succeeded by John Henry Rigg who was still the proprietor when the Hummums was destroyed by fire in 1769. (fn. 14)

The fire occurred in the morning of 20 March in the premises of John Bradley, a distiller. (fn. 15) Bradley had since 1732 occupied No. 11 Russell Street, adjacent to the corner portico building. In 1747 he also became the tenant of the corner portico building, which had a shop in the ground floor, and in 1750 he became the lessee of this and the adjoining portico building on the south. (fn. 16) The fire broke out in Bradley's distilling-house, under apartments occupied by Richard Vincent, a musician. It spread to Bradley's shop on the corner, to his house in Russell Street and to the house next door, formerly occupied by Daniel Button but then by a cheesemonger; the fire also spread southwards as far as the Bedford Arms Tavern in Tavistock Row, destroying 'Mr. Lovejoy's bagnio', the Hummums, and two peruke-makers' premises. The whole front of the Little Piazza fell down 'with the most terrible concussion'. (fn. 15) Lovejoy's Bagnio was situated in the house between the corner portico building and Rigg's Hummums and extended over Bradley's shop. (fn. 17) The two peruke-makers were probably in the southernmost house of the four.

In 1769–70 the Little Piazza range and No. 11 Russell Street were rebuilt. In the Little Piazza no attempt was made to reproduce the design of the original facade (see page 81 and Plates 32b and 47a): the portico walk was abolished and the frontage of the new houses, which were of unequal width, set back some 5 or 6 feet. Nos. 1 and 2 had three bays each, No. 3 had four, and No. 4 had two. Building leases were granted to John and Joseph Bradley, Matthew Lovejoy and John Henry Rigg.

Nos. 1 and 2 Little Piazza and No. 11 Russell Street

No. 11 Russell Street and the shop on the ground floor of No. 1 Little Piazza were let to the Bradleys. Belatedly, they were forbidden to set up a still 'to extract any spirituous liquor by means of fire'. (fn. 18)

In 1790 No. 11 Russell Street and the shop on the corner were taken over by Thomas Harrison, who was already in occupation of the upper part of No. 1 and of No. 2 Little Piazza. After the fire of 1769 the latter premises had been let on a building lease to Matthew Lovejoy who, it will be recalled, was the proprietor of a bagnio destroyed by the fire. Lovejoy possibly re-established the bagnio in his new premises, which in 1781 passed into the possession of Thomas Harrison. (fn. 3) Under Harrison's ownership the three houses were known as the New Hummums Coffee House (or Tavern) and Hotel, which was advertised in 1803 as 'an excellent place for good beds and breakfast, with the convenience of hot and cold baths'. (fn. 19) This Thomas Harrison may presumably be identified with the Thomas Harrison who in 1801 established the Tavistock Hotel on the north side of the Piazza. Leases of the New Hummums were granted in 1831 and 1835, the first being to George Marmaduke Harrison and Thomas Busley, described as tavern keepers, for No. 11 Russell Street and the ground floor and basement of No. 1 Little Piazza, and the second being granted to Henry Thomas Harrison, described as hotel-keeper, for the upper part of No. 1 and the whole of No. 2 Little Piazza. (fn. 20)

The Harrisons were eventually succeeded by John Rockley who took over the tavern in 1835 and the hotel in 1842; thereafter the business was variously known as Rockley's or the (New) Hummums Hotel.

In 1885 Harry Smith of Bolton House, Chiswick, presumably one of the 'Middleman Capitalist' class referred to by the steward of the Bedford estate (see page 45), agreed to demolish the hotel and to rebuild it according to a design approved by the Duke of Bedford. (fn. 21) Smith's architects were Wylson and Long, and the builders were Messrs. Peto Brothers; the furnishings were executed by Messrs. Oetzmann and Company. (fn. 22) The hotel (Plate 49b) was one of the six buildings erected around the Piazza between 1876 and 1890, the elevational drawings of which were either supplied by the ninth Duke's consultant architect, Henry Clutton, or (as in this case) in some degree related to his designs (see page 82).

The new hotel, which was completed in 1887, (fn. 23) was not a success. A company, called the Hummums Hotel and Rockley's Limited, was formed to purchase and manage the hotel in 1888, but by 1892 it was in liquidation, (fn. 24) and the hotel was put up for auction. In 1909 the lease was purchased by the Duke of Bedford. Part of the building was let to Messrs. Flower and Company, brewers, and the basement and ground floor were converted for use by market tenants. (fn. 25)

Drawings by the architects, Wylson and Long, dated 29 July 1886 and approved by the Bedford Office on 25 November 1886, show how Russell Chambers was originally planned as the Hummums Hotel. In the basement were kitchens and a grill-room, the latter entered from outside by two converging flights of steps descending against the west front facing the Piazza, below the three middle arches of the five-bay arcade. The north part of the ground floor was occupied by Rockley's Bar, having two windows and its own entrance in the three arches towards Russell Street. The large dining-room, rising into the mezzanine, had a non-residents' entrance in the north arch of the west arcade, and a residents' entrance from the hotel vestibule, which was entered from the south arch. This vestibule extended east, past the staircase, to a lift lobby and a smoking-room at the back of the premises. A large part of the mezzanine was taken up by the upper part of the dining-room, which was overlooked on the east by a smoking-room, and flanked north by the manager's suite, and south by his office and the staircase. The first floor was planned with a large billiards-room having three windows towards the Piazza; to the north was a drawing-room and ladies' coffee room, and to the south, beside the staircase, was a private diningroom. Each of the three upper floors was divided to provide seven bedrooms, the north two being linked by a dressing-room. All were served by a north-south corridor having on its east side a lavatory and bathroom.

The elevations, in Portland stone and red brick, were designed to conform with the Bedford Office's requirements, and were obviously intended to harmonize with Bedford Chambers, but they show a sharp decline from the standard set there by Clutton. The arcade, with narrow piers and a moulded impost, is finished with a bold cornice and a pedestal underlines the first-floor windows. These are dressed alike with stone, the architraves expanding into scrolls at the feet, and the triangular pediments rising against the shaped aprons of the second-floor windows, which are linked by a moulded sill and are less richly dressed, each having an cared architrave with a plain frieze and cornice. The third-floor windows are even simpler, having moulded architraves rising from a moulded sill. The angles of each storey are strongly emphasized with straight channel-jointed stone quoins. Stone is used to finish the fronts with a Baroque bracketed entablature, and a balustrade which is broken over each bay by a pedimented dormer window.

No. 3 Little Piazza

The two sites south of the New Hummums Hotel had been let after the fire of 1769 to John Henry Rigg. (fn. 14) Rigg established a hotel at No. 3, under the name of the Old Hummums, which was both successful and respectable: William Hickey commented on the fact that no women were ever admitted. (fn. 26)

In 1781 Rigg removed from No. 3, leaving the hotel in the charge (or ownership) of George and Elizabeth Kinnard. (fn. 3) The ownership passed in 1816 to Messrs. White and Hewitt and in 1819 to James Hewitt whose family continued in possession until 1865, when the hotel was closed. (fn. 27) The building was then let to market tenants until 1883. (fn. 28) In 1885 it was demolished to make way for the extension of the Flower Market. (fn. 3)

No. 4 Little Piazza

In 1769 this site was let with the site of No. 3 to John Henry Rigg. From 1781 to 1801 it was occupied by Rigg, who moved here from No. 3. (fn. 3) In 1801–3 the house next door to the Old Hummums was said to be occupied by the Tavistock Coffee House and Public Breakfast Room, (fn. 29) perhaps a short-lived venture at No. 4 during the years 1801–2 when the house was tenanted by Rigg's successor, Francis Keymer. (fn. 3) Alternatively it may be that the Harrisons' New Hummums Coffee House and Hotel at Nos. 1 and 2 was sometimes called the Tavistock, since the new hotel established by Thomas Harrison on the north side of the Piazza was so called.

From 1805 to 1838 No. 4 was occupied by the proprietor of the Imperial Hotel in Tavistock Row. It was let to a fruit salesman in 1854 and continued to be occupied by market tenants until its demolition in 1884 for the extension of the Flower Market. (fn. 3)


  • 1. E/BER, Rental, 1637.
  • 2. P.R.O., C5/462/49; Cal.S.P. Dom. 1670, p. 190.
  • 3. R.B.
  • 4. E/BER, Piazza, lease of 24 Feb. 1636/7 to E. Keyser.
  • 5. P.R.O., C7/57/103.
  • 6. P.R.O., C8/354/106; Lillywhite, op. cit., pp. 95–6.
  • 7. B.M., Dept. of Prints and Drawings, Crowle's Pennant, vol. 6, p. 33.
  • 8. P.R.O., C10/386/38; R.B.
  • 9. The Postman, 15 Nov. 1701.
  • 10. E/BER, Piazza, lease of 15 Aug. 1704 to J. Colbatch.
  • 11. Ibid., Piazza, lease of 10 Sept. 1723 to W. Boen.
  • 12. Ibid., Piazza, lease of 19 March 1747/8 to J. Rigg.
  • 13. Quoted in The Builder, 6 July 1872, p. 520.
  • 14. E/BER, Piazza, lease of 6 Dec. 1769 to J. H. Rigg.
  • 15. The Annual Register, 1769, Chronicle, p. 83.
  • 16. E/BER, Piazza, lease of 20 March 1749/50 to J. Bardley; R.B.
  • 17. B.O.L., Correspondence, Wynne to Palmer, 23 March 1769.
  • 18. E/BER, Piazza, lease of 6 Dec. 1769 to J. and J. Bardley.
  • 19. Lillywhite, op. cit., nos. 887–8.
  • 20. E/BER, Piazza, leases of 10 Nov. 1831 to G.M. Harrison and T. Busley, and 23 Dec. 1835 to H. T. Harrison.
  • 21. B.O.L., Proposal Book 1883–96, p. 32.
  • 22. The Builder, 7 Jan. 1888, p. 13.
  • 23. G.L.R.O.(L), M.B.W. 1747, District Surveyors' Returns, Holborn and E. Strand, no. 190.
  • 24. The Builder, 30 April 1892, p. 337; R.B.
  • 25. B.O.L., London Reports, 17 Aug. 1909, p. 429.
  • 26. Lillywhite, op. cit., p. 276.
  • 27. Ibid., pp. 418–19; R.B.
  • 28. E/BER, Piazza, leases of 10 Aug. 1869, 21 July 1876 to Messrs. Harris and Messrs. Draper.
  • 29. Lillywhite, op. cit., p. 418.