The above notice appears in one of the passageways of Covent Garden Market where I went for a wander this morning.
The area now generally known as Covent Garden (the main square being called the Piazza) has a long history. The name probably dates back to the time when the land was owned by Westminster Abbey and was its “Convent Garden”. An early example of “redevelopment”, the land was sold in 1630 to become a public square furnished with elegant buildnings, some of which still survive.
In 1670, the Earl of Bedford was given permission to open a market for fruit, vegetables and flowers in the Piazza. The market developed over the following years until it occupied most of the square and from 1828, buildings began to be provided, the whole being roofed in 1876.
By now it was London’s main market for fruit and vegetables, famous throughout the world for the porters who carried tall piles of baskets on their heads. In 1973, having outgrown its premises, the Market moved out to Nine Elms. The buildings remain, now occupied by shops and stalls, and prove a great attraction to tourists. Buskers and entertainers enliven the scene, especially at weekends and bank holidays.
Covent Garden is known for its buskers and street performers. The open space at the western end of the market building provides scope for big performances and all sorts of unusual acts are to be seen here.
Performers like to involve passers-by, so you are likely to find yourself button-holed by a man with a microphone seeking to amuse the crowd at your expense.
The main building is crammed with boutiques and gift shops of the sort that you only see in every boring high street and shopping centre up and down the country.
On the south side is the Jubilee Market Hall which we might describe as more popular and – forgive the pun – down-market. Unfortunately, it does tend to become rather overcrowded at busy times.
Covent Garden is also Theatreland. The best known theatre there is the Royal Theatre, Drury Lane. By one of those strange little quirks of English life, the theatre, often known simply as “Drury Lane Theatre”, isn’t in Drury Lane. It’s in Catherine Street. Drury Lane runs parallel to this but affords no access to the theatre.
Closer to the Piazza is the Royal Opera House which was recently refurbished at great expense.
This just scratches the surface of Covent Garden and the area of which it is the heart. There is plenty to see and explore. The Strand, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square are all within a stone’s throw. It is some years since I used to work here and some familiar things have disappeared but Covent Garden continually changes so there is always something new to see.