Covent Garden Apple Market

Covent Garden

The area of Bloomsbury, WC1 and the properties managed by The Bedford Estates are within walking distance to some of London’s most famous tourist sites. One of London’s most well known and popular of these is the district known as Covent Garden.

Situated on the eastern fringes of the West End, Covent Garden sits between St Martin's Lane and Drury Lane. Now a popular shopping district, it is also home to the Royal Opera House. The district is separated by the main thoroughfare of Long Acre. North of the area is home to many independent shops centred around Neal's Yard and Seven Dials, whilst to the south sits the central Piazza, which is a popular tourist hub famed for its street performers, elegant buildings, theatres and entertainment venues, including the Royal Opera House and the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Russell Family history is entwined with that of Covent Garden district. The property came into the possession of John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford by two grants: one from Henry VIII in 1541 (granting Friars Pyes), and one from his son, Edward VI in 1552 (granting Covent Garden and Long Acre). The estate would be owned by the Family for nearly 400 years and while  it represented a small part of the enormous estates acquired by the Family during the 16th century, Bedford House (north side of the Strand), would be the administrative centre of the extensive  private domain from 1586-1700. It was built for the 3rd Earl, replacing a previous mansion which had been built for the 1st Earl.

Until 1630s Covent Garden was described as ‘pasture land’. While little is known about how the 1st Earl used the estate it is probably that it was used as pasture and fodder for his horses and dairy produce for his household. The 2nd Earl let the estate to tenants. Little was done with the land until Francis, 4th Earl of Bedford, developed Covent Garden - the first planned layout of any consideration in the expansion of London beyond the City.

A co-incidence of timing brought together Francis (with his aptitude for speculative building), Indigo Jones (Surveyor of the King’s Works from 1615) and Charles I (who issued a proclamation regarding building regulations and the conformity of certain standards).  Jones is only known to have designed St Paul’s Church and the houses on the north and east side of the Piazza but as one of the men commissioned to enforce the new proclamation it can be surmised he was closely involved.

The houses initially attracted wealthy residents although when a market developed on the south side of the square in 1654, the aristocracy moved out. When the 5th Earl and 1st Duke died, Bedford House and the rest of the Covent Garden estate passed to the Duke’s grandson, Wriothesley, who preferred to live at his mother’s house in Bloomsbury.  Bloomsbury had been acquired by through the marriage of William, Lord Russell, to Rachel, daughter and co-heiress of Thomas Wriothesley, 4th Earl of Southampton. Bedford House was demolished in 1705-6 and the site was laid out for building.

In the years leading up to the First World War financial and political factors were undermining the traditional power of the landed aristocrats. In 1913, Herbrand Russell, 11th Duke, agreed to sell the Covent Garden Estates for £2 million to the MP and land speculator Harry Mallaby-Deeley. The outbreak of war complicated completion of the contract and the last property. No. 26 James Street was sold by the 12th Duke in 1945.