Colourful Covent Garden is perfect for photos
Covent Garden is one of the liveliest and most popular destinations for tourists visiting London. It has some great shops, a market where you can buy souvenirs and talented street entertainers dotted around.
The Market Buildings
The glass-roofed market building dates from 1830s. Walk through the colonnades and you see photos people who worked in the wholesale fruit and flower market that was here until 1974. These black and white images remind us of the long history of Covent Garden. This year flower decorated carts also remind us that this was London’s wholesale fruit and flower market.
Part of Covent Garden’s history is the theatre. There has been a theatre at Drury Lane since 1660s. In those days Covent Garden would have been a mix of wealthy aristocrats who lived around the piazza, coffee houses where artists and writers talked, and prostitutes. They would all have worn silk clothes and it would have been just as colourful as it is now, although very much more louche.
The theatre district was Strand right up until the 1890s and St Pauls church is Covent Garden is known as the “actors church” because of the memorials inside to actors. St Pauls Covent Garden is the oldest building in the area, it was designed by Inigo Jones and opened in 1638.
North of the piazza was a network of industrial buildings that thrived while the wholesale market existed. The plan for 1974 was to demolish the market and all the streets nearby.
The narrow streets would be replaced by wide roads for through traffic with modern buildings above. The old buildings were in a poor state of repair and were cheap to rent and developers thought they would make more money from newer ones and the Greater London Council was in favour of it.
The campaign to save the area from developers
It was the local people who campaigned to stop the plans. They formed a community association. They organised petitions and protest marches. Most were renters and had little power but some owned their property and refused to sell them.
The campaign led to a government enquiry to which the locals and the council gave evidence. As a result some of the buildings in Covent Garden were listed for their architecture and history. That meant they could not be demolished. It was a death blow to the development plans.
Nothing much happened in the empty buildings for 4 or 5 years but some people started to open up new businesses.
One of them was Nicholas Saunders who opened a wholesale food shop in Neals Yard in 1976. Now Neals Yard is colourful and still has a hippyish 1970s feel.
So thank you Covent Garden Community Association, without you we, literally millions of people would have missed out on the pleasure of visiting this area.
If you would like to know more about Covent Garden come with me on a walking tour?