Location – Covent Garden Piazza,WC2E 8RF
Covent Garden’s name has its origins in the large kitchen garden for the Convent or Abbey of St Peter at Westminster. The size of the site meant that the Monk’s garden was a major provider of fruit and vegetables for London.
Covent Garden Piazza and Market, London by John Collet 1771–1780 (Museum of London)
The first record of an actual market was 1654 when traders began to operate in the new Piazza designed by Inigo Jones for the Earl of Bedford. The original market was haphazard and disorganised and in the 18th century was the centre of a disreputable area known for its vice and criminal activity. In the 19th century plans were made to clean up the area and in 1830 Charles Fowler was asked to design a building that would cover and organise the Market. Other buildings were added as the market became famous for its flowers, fruit and vegetables.
Covent Garden Market, London by Phoebus Levin 1864 (Museum of London)
However in the 1960s, the increasing traffic was causing concern and with redevelopment out of the question a decision was made to relocate the Market on the south side of the river. The central market was then reopened as a shopping area with crafts being sold in the Apple Market, further shopping areas have been developed over the years.
Another attraction for visitors has been the street entertainment that keeps people entertained in the market and in the Piazza outside. There is a long history of street entertainment in this area, Samuel Pepys in his diary recorded watched a Punch and Judy show here in 1662. Covent Garden has featured in a number of Films, Television and books but probably is most famous as the workplace of Eliza Doolittle in Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion which was adapted into the film My Fair Lady.
The street entertainers have to be licensed to work in this area and are usually very entertaining, although the tradition of passing the hat around for donations gets a bit tiresome as you wander around. It can get exceptionally busy in the summer months and is the centre of an area of many theatres, pubs and restaurants. There is a range of small quirky shops and stalls but the surrounding colonnades have been taken over by large commercial enterprises including Apple, Dior and Disney shops.
For more information visit the Covent Garden Market Website here
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