Sunday, 26 August 2007
time in the garden
...well not my garden. And not really a garden, as such.
An area often featured in 'Lies Londoners tell Tourists' (because its not a garden), along with 'The Mall as a great shopping area'. And as a place to visit, for a quick buzz of lots happening, Covent Garden has it all from smart cafes, street entertainers, boutique shops and little craft market stands.
For much of its existence Covent Garden served as a fruit and vegetable market covering the whole of the square. Back in the 1600s the land belonged to Westminster Abbey and was a Convent garden, hence the name.
It emerged in its current form out of an experiment in London of town planning as the creation of a public square, developed by the Earl of Bedford, Charles I and architect Inigo Jones. It also introduced Italian style Palladian columns, some smart houses and a grids for streets instead of London's random twists and turns.
The original public square ultimately caused the residential well-heeled toffs to leave the area for Bloomsbury to escape the riff-raff and lack of privacy.
Then the Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed the major markets in the City and the fruit market moved to this area where it remained for around 300 years, evolving in the late 1800s to a covering of the area with a train station style roof.
The final closure of the extensive fruit market in the 1970s was an effect of London road congestion and became the reason for the market to move to South of the river to its current Nine Elms location.
Unimaginative developers wanted to knock down the market and build a conference centre but local opposition was so strong that a renovation plan ensued creating what is, today, a major magnet for tourists and Londoners at rest. Street performers ply their amusements on every corner and there is always a big crowd by the Punch and Judy pub looking out to the end of the square where a high wire act, jugglers or a stand-up will be working the crowd (or sometimes one person doing all three together).
The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and the Covent Garden Opera House also operate in the area and it has a 'one way' tube station at certain times of the year (exit only) and this encourages tourists to wander the area and then find a different way back from Leicester Square or Embankment.
And of course, the spirits from many a yesteryear still inhabit the whole area.
Close your eyes, listen to the noise and you can imagine any time from the past in this vibrant part of London.
But I only took these snaps as I passed through on my way to Shoreditch.