Covent Garden being Recorded
The Strand, the main road lying to the south of Covent Garden was once a Roman road connecting the City of London to Silchester (a parish and village in Hampshire 10 miles southwest of Reading. The parish contains the site of the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum). This passage passed by what was then an island in the Thames called Thorney, now the site of Westminster Cathedral. However four hundred years were to pass before the area that the Saxons had occupied appeared in recorded history as Covent Garden.
Covent Garden was the name given, during the reign of King John (1199 - 1256), to a 40 acre patch in the county of Middlesex, bordered west and east by which is now St. Martin’s Lane and Drury Lane, and north and south By Floral Street and a line drawn from Chandos Place, along Maiden Lane and Exeter Street to the Aldwych. An ancient footpath called Aldewichstrate (‘Old Farmstead’s Way’) issued from the west gate of the City of London at Fleet Street and Drewerie Lane branched off here to the north..
In this quadrangle bordered by a thatch covered mud wall, the Abbey or Convent of St Peter, Westminster, maintained a large kitchen garden throughout the Middle Ages to provide its daily food. Directly to the north the monks also owned seven acres known as Long Acre, and to the south, roughly where the Strand Palace Hotel now stands, two smaller pieces of land known as Friars Pyes. The monks of St Peter’s Abbey cultivated orchards here, grew grain, and pastured livestock, selling the surplus to the citizens of London. Their records for 1327 report that the entire harvest of apples, pears, cherries, nuts, grains and hay fetched £12. Over the next three centuries, the monks old ‘convent garden’ became a major source of fruit and vegetables in London and was managed by a succession of leaseholders by grant from the Abbot of Westminster..
These type of leases did eventually lead to property disputes throughout the kingdom, which the monarch King Henry VIII solved in 1540 by the stroke of a pen when he dissolved the monasteries and appropriated their land..
The next year, in exchange for some land in Devon, King Henry VIII granted both Friars Pyes to John Baron Russell, Great Admiral of England, and later the first Earl of Bedford. In fulfilment of his father’s dying wish, King Edward VI, bestowed the remainder of the convent garden in 1547 to his maternal uncle, Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset who began building Somerset House on the South side of the Strand the next year. When this political powerful noble was beheaded for treason in 1552, the land came once again into royal gift, and was awarded four months later to one of those who had contributed to Seymour’s downfall. Forty acres, that long fruitful rectangle known as ‘le Covent Garden’ plus ‘the long acre’, were granted by royal patent in perpetuity to John Russell, the first Earl of Bedford, at a yearly rent of £6 6s 8d (£6.33).