“Beecham’s pills make all the difference”*

Image: Covent Garden

*(Wikipedia) “slogan for Beecham’s Pills, a laxative first marketed about 1842 in Wigan, Lancashire. They were invented by Thomas Beecham (1820–1907), grandfather of the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham (1879–1961).”

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

“…within a month war broke out and Treasury restrictions on the use of capital prevented the completion of the contract. The estate and market continued to be managed by the Duke’s staff, but in October 1916 the situation was further complicated by the death of Sir Joseph Beecham. Shortly afterwards a Chancery suit was instituted for the purpose of unravelling his affairs, and eventually it was agreed by all parties, and confirmed by a court order, that a private company (the Covent Garden Estate Company) should be formed, in which Sir Joseph’s sons, Sir Thomas and Henry, should be directors, and that they should complete the contract made between their father and the Duke. On 30 July 1918 the Duke and his trustees conveyed the estate, which then consisted of 231 properties, five victuallers’ licences, three fee-farm rents and the whole complex of market rights, to the Covent Garden Estate Company, subject to a mortgage of 1,250,000, this being the unpaid balance of the purchase price then still due to the Duke.

Sir Thomas and Henry Beecham now had to sell enough of the estate to discharge this mortgage. Henry Beecham was, however, mainly concerned in the management of the family business at St. Helens, while Sir Thomas was immersed in his musical activities. For some months after the end of the war no progress was therefore made, but in the latter part of 1919 a receiving order was issued against Sir Thomas, who thereupon decided ‘to withdraw from public life until the final determination of my complicated business tangle’. He had never been satisfied that the most was being made of the potentialities of the estate, and under the guidance of Louis Nicholas, a brilliant Liverpool accountant who was the secretary of Covent Garden Estate Company and the Beecham family’s financial adviser, he now set about resolving all the many outstanding problems.

For over three years Sir Thomas attended daily at the company’s Covent Garden offices and with Nicholas ‘completed satisfactorily the labour we had undertaken by selling over a million pounds of property and appreciably increasing the revenue of the balance’. Some of the sales were by public auction and others by private treaty, and they included such famous properties as Bow Street Magistrates’ Court and Police Station and Drury Lane Theatre. The market itself was retained, and several thousand pounds were spent on the renovation of the Flower Market building. Sir Thomas later remarked that ‘the moment was not inauspicious’ for such sales, ‘for ground values were rising and the leading marketeers, having all done extremely well in the war, had money to invest’.

By 1922 enough money had been raised to pay off the outstanding debt to the Duke of Bedford, and on 7 September the mortgage was redeemed. In the following spring the Official Receiver’s claims against Sir Thomas were also settled, and the flotation of a public company to exploit the unsold remainder of the estate now became possible. This was done in May 1924, when the Covent Garden property and the pillmaking business at St. Helens were united in one company, Beecham Estates and Pills Limited. The nominal capital was 1,850,000, of which Sir Thomas had a substantial share; he was also a director for a short while. Other directors included Louis Nicholas and Philip Hill, the latter of whom subsequently played an important part in the history of the Royal Opera House.

In 1928 Beecham Estates and Pills Limited sold its interest in the pill business and changed its name to Covent Garden Properties Company Limited. This new company dealt in real estate and was soon buying property in several other parts of London. In addition to the market the properties which the Company still retained in Covent Garden in 1936 included the Royal Opera House, Russell and Bedford Chambers, Nos. 9-10 Floral Street, Piazza Chambers, Nos. 1-15 (odd) Mart Street, Nos. 1-9 (consec.), 27, 31 James Street, Nos. 1 and 2 Bow Street, Nos. 8, 9 and 16-21 (consec.) Russell Street, and Nos. 33, 35, 41 and 49 Wellington Street. All these properties were near the market and were kept to facilitate its future enlargement.

Covent Garden Properties Company Limited or one of its associated companies continued to own this property until 1962, when the bulk of it, including the whole of the market, was purchased by the newly established Covent Garden Market Authority for the sum of 3,925,000. The company still owns the freehold of the Royal Opera House.

The eleventh Duke did not entirely sever his family’s connexion with Covent Garden after the sale. St. Paul’s Institute was sold in 1919, but the Duke retained his patronage of the living of the parish church until 1938 and did not relinquish the leases of his boxes at Drury Lane Theatre and the Royal Opera House until March 1940, shortly before his death. The last remaining property, No. 26 James Street, was sold by the Duke’s son, the twelfth Duke, in 1945. Pensions to the families of market staff who had retired before the sale of the estate continued to be paid for many years and one is still being paid at the present time (1968).”

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