Monday, 6 June 2011

Convent Garden

Source Wikipedia
It's not a typo above, Covent Garden really was once the convent Garden belonging to Westminster Abbey, the land marked in green in the map above from 1572.  It was then surrounded by a wall.  After the dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, the land was taken and eventually ended up in the hands of the Earl of Bedford.

Then came an early example of town planning when a public square was designed with grand homes all around it.  It became very popular, so much so that the people who lived in the grand homes decided to move to areas where there were fewer "undesirables".

The fruit and vegetable market started in a small way but expanded when the Great Fire destroyed many larger markets.  By the mid-18th century it occupied most of the square.

Source: The Victorian Web George P. Landow

The buildings there today were erected during the 19th century but at first they didn't have the glass roof which came during the 1870s.

Floral Hall

The Floral Hall is now officially the Paul Hamlyn Hall although it's still called the Floral Hall in the same way as the Royal Opera House is called Covent Garden.  The Floral Hall was absorbed into the Opera House complex and is now its main public area.

By the 1960s, the congestion in London made it impossible to have a large scale fruit and vegetable market in Covent Garden.  The wholesale market was moved to Nine Elms and the plan was to redevelop the whole area.  Fortunately public outcry prevented the destruction of such a historical part of London and the it has been transformed into a shopping area with caf├ęs and bars and some casual stalls. 

Although the atmosphere is very different now, you can still sense how it must have seemed to Ruth and Tom Pinch in Charles Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewitt:
Many and many a pleasant stroll they had in Covent Garden Market; snuffing up the perfume of the fruits and flowers, wondering at the magnificence of the pineapples and melons; catching glimpses down side avenues, of rows and rows of old women, seated on inverted baskets, shelling peas
....Many a pleasant stroll among the waggon-loads of fragrant hay, beneath which dogs and tired waggoners lay fast asleep, oblivious of the pieman and the public-house.

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  1. Hi A --

    I know that Covent Garden is a tourist area -- but I like it all the same. Is the toy museum and Porter's restaurant still there? (Oh... just did a quick Google search and found that Porter's still seems to be around. I loved its lamb and apricot pie!)

  2. They claim 'Porter' was invented there as the 'porters' drink. Until the 60's they still walked about with several baskets on their heads, to keep off the rain I suspect!

  3. I never fail to learn something when I visit your blog, and today was no exception. Frankly I never knew there even WAS an Earl of Bedlam. Isn't that crazy? It was very interesting about how the square developed through the years, sans monks, and nothing short of amazing what it has become today.

    This is in London, right?

  4. This is so interesting, thank you for sharing this bit of history!

    I love love love Covent Garden, it's one of my favorite places in London!

  5. @YTSL, I love Covent Garden too. I has a great atmosphere even if the prices are high to say the least. I didn't know about the pie - I'll look for it next time!

    @Adullamite, I didn't know that about porter. Or the basket on their heads. :)

    @Max, are you nuts? Yes, of course it's London. :)

    @Elisa, I must admit, I'm very fond of it too.


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