Convent-Garden-Square-Convent-Garden-300x223Covent Garden is a district in Central London between St. Martin’s Land and Drury Lane. Covent Garden is associated with the former fruit and vegetable market in the central square. Covent Garden is divided by the main thoroughfare of Long Acre, this is north of which is given over to independent shops centred on Seven Dials and Neal’s Yard, while the south contains the central square with its street performers and most of the elegant buildings, entertainment and other facilities like Drury Lane, London Transport Museum and Theatre Royal.


Until the 16th century, Covent Garden was briefly settled when it became the heart of the Anglo-Saxon trading town of Lundenwic. After the town was abandoned, part of the area was walled off by 1200 for use as arable land and orchard by Westminster Abbey and was referred to as ‘’the Garden of the Abby and Convent’’. Covent Garden was seized by Henry VIII and was in 1552 granted to the Earls of Bedford. Inigo Jones commissioned the 4th Earl to build some fine houses to attract wealthy tenants. Ingino Jones designed the Italianate arcaded square along Convent-Garden-4-Convent-Garden-300x143with the church of St Paul’s. The design had a significant influence on modern town planning, acting as the prototype for the laying-out of new estates as London grew. The design of the square had a significant influence on modern town planning, acting as the prototype for the laying-out of new estates as London grew. In 1654 a small open-air fruit and vegetable market had developed on the south side of Fashionable Square. The market and the surrounding area both fell into disrepute as theatres, taverns coffee houses and brothels opened up; the gentry moved away and rakes wits and playwrights moved in.

In the 18th century it had become a well-known red-light district attracting notable prostitutes. An Act of Parliament was drawn up to control the area. In 1830, Charles Fowler’s neo-classical building was erected to cover and to help organise the market. The area declined as a pleasure-ground as the market grew and further building were added: Charter Market, Floral Hall and in 1904 the Jubilee Market.

By the end of the sixties, traffic congestion was causing problems. In 1974 the market relocated to the New Covent Garden Market about three miles south-west at Nine Elms. In 1980 the central building re-opened as a shopping centre and now it is a tourist location containing pubs, cafes, small shops and a craft market called the Apple Market, along with another market held in the Jubilee Hall. Covent Garden falls within the London boroughs of Westminster and Camden and the parliamentary constituencies of Cities of London, Holborn, Westminster and St Pancras. Since 1907, the area has been served by the Piccadilly line at Covent Garden tube station, the journey from Leicester Square at 300 yards is the shortest in London.


The Bedford Estate (1552–1918)

In 1540 after the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII took the land belonging to Westminster Abbey, including the Covent Garden and seven acres to the north called Long Acre. In 1552 his son, Edward VI granted it to John Russell, 1ste Earl of Bedford. In 1694, the Russell family were advanced in their peerage from Earl to Duke of Bedford, held the land from 1552 to 1918. On the strand Russell had Bedford House and garden built on part of the land with an entrance on the Strand, the large garden stretching back along the south side of the old walled-off convent garden. Apart from this and allowing several poor-quality tenements to be erected, the Russell’s did little with the land until the 4th Earl of Bedford. An active and ambitious businessman named Francis Russell commissioned Inigo Jones in Covent-Garden-1-Convent-Garden-300x2171630 to design and build a church and three terraces of fine houses around a large square or piazza. The commission had been prompted by Charles I taking offence at the condition of the road and houses along Long Acre, which were the responsibility of Russell and Henry Carey, 2nd Earl of Monmouth. In 1625, Russell and Carey complained that proclamation concerning buildings, which were restricted building in and around London, they could not build new houses. The King then granted Russell for a fee of £2,000, a licence to build as many new houses on his land as he ‘’shall think fit and convenient’’. The church of St Paul’s was the first building, begun in July 1631 on the western side of the square. The last house was completed in 1637. John Russell


Plan of Covent Garden in 1690

In 1654, the houses initially attracted the wealthy, though when a market developed on Plan-Convent-Garden-300x232the south side of the square around 1654, the aristocracy move out and coffee houses, taverns and prostitutes moved in. In 1669 the Bedford Estate was expanded to include Bloomsbury, when Lord Russell married Lady Rachel Vaughan, one of the daughters of the 4th Earl of Southampton.

In the 18th century Covent Garden had become a well-known red-light district, attracting notable prostitutes such as Jane Douglas and Betty Careless. Descriptions of the prostitutes and where to find them were provided by Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, the ‘’essential guide and accessory for any serious gentleman of pleasur’’ A market hall was built in 1830 to provide a more permanent centre. Herbrand Russell, 11th Duke of Bedford in 1913 agreed to sell the Covent Garden Estate for £2 million to the MP and land speculator Harry Mallaby-Deeley, who sold his option in 1918 to the Beecham family for £250,000.



The area’s historic association with the retail and entertainment economy continues. In 1979, Covent Garden Market reopened as retail centre in 2010 the largest Apple Stores in the world opened in The Piazza. The central hall has cafes, bars and shops alongside the Apple Market stalls selling antiques, jewellery, clothing and gifts; there are additional casual stalls in the Jubilee Hall Market on the south side of the square. Long Acre has a range of clothes shops and boutiques and Neal Street is noted for its large number of shoe shops. London Transport Museum and the side entrance to the Royal Opera House box office and other facilities are also located on the square. During the late 1970s and 1980s the Rock Garden music venue was popular with up and coming punk, rock and new wave artists. The market halls and several other buildings in Covent Garden were bought by CapCo in partnership with GE Real Estate in August 2006 for £421 million, on a 150-year head lease. The buildings are let to the Covent Garden Area Trust, who pay an annual peppercom rent of one red apple and a posy of flowers for each head lease and the Trust protects the property from being redeveloped. In March 2007CapCo also acquired the shops located under the Royal Opera House. The complete Covent Garden Estate owned by CapCo consists of 550,000 square feet (51,000 m2) and has a market value of £650 million.



Royal Opera House

The Royal Opera House often referred to as simply ‘’Covent Royal-Theatre-Convent-GardenGarden’’. In 1732 it was constructed as the ‘’Theatre Royal’’ to a design by Edward Shepherd. During the first 100 years or so of its history, the theatre was primarily a playhouse with the Letters Patent granted by Charles II giving Covent Garden and Theatre Royal, Drury Lane exclusive rights to present spoken drama in London. The first ballet was presented in 1734. Handel’s first season of operas began a year later. Many of his operas and oratorios were specifically written for Covent Garden and had their premières here. Since 1945 it has been the home of The Royal Opera and since 1946 from the Royal Ballet. The current building is the third theatre on the site following destructive fires in 1808 and 1857. The façade, foyer and auditorium were designed by Edward Barry, and date from 1858, but almost every other element of the present complex dates from an extensive £178 million nineties. The Royal Opera House seats 2,268 people of consist of four tiers of boxes and balconies and the amphitheatre gallery. The stage performance area is 15 metres sq. A Grade 1 listed building is the main auditorium. The inclusion of the adjacent old Floral Hall is previously a part of the old Covent Garden Market and created a extensive and new gathering place. The pavement outside the playhouse was the scene of the murder of Martha Rav, mistress of the Earl of Sandwich by her admirer the Rev. James Hackman in 1779.


Covent Garden square

The central square is simply called ‘’Covent Garden’’, often marketed as ‘’Covent Garden Piazza’’ to distinguish it from eponymous surrounding area. This was the first modern square in London and was originally flat open space or piazza with low railings. By 1830 the present market hall was built, and before that a casual market started on the south side. The space is popular with street performers, who audition with the site’s owners for an allocated slot. In 1630 the square was originally laid out when the 4th Earl of Bedford, Convent-Garden-3-Convent-GardenFrancis Russell, commissioned Inigo Jones to design and build a church and three terraces of fine houses around the site of a former walled garden belonging to Westminster Abbey. Jones’s design was informed by his knowledge of modern town planning in Europe, particularly Leghorn in Tuscany, Piazza Santissima Annunziata, Piazza San Marco in Venice and the Place des Vosges in Paris. The centrepiece of the project was the large square, the concept of which was new to London and this had a significant influence on modern town planning in the city, acting as the prototype for the laying-out of new estates as the metropolis grew. The French Huguenot architect named Isaac de Caus designed the individual houses under Jone’s overall design.


Covent Garden Market

Convent-garden-2-Convent-Garden-300x156In 1654 the first record of a ‘’new market in Covent Garden’’ when market traders set up stalls against the garden wall of Bedford House. In 1670 the Earl of Bedford acquired a private charter from fruit and vegetable market, permitting him and his heirs to hold a market every day except Sundays and Christmas Day. The original market, consisting of wooden stalls and sheds, became disorganised and disorderly and the 6th Earl requested an Act of Parliament in 1813 to regulate it and then commissioned Charles Fowler in 1830 to design and build the neo-classical market building that is the heart of Covent Garden today. In 1904 The Floral hall, Charter Market and the Jubilee Market for foreign flowers was built by Cubitt and Howard are further buildings.

By the end of the sixties, there were problems with the market because of the traffic congestion. This required increasingly large Lorries for distribution and deliveries. Redevelopment was considered, but in 1973 protests from the Covent Garden Community Association prompted the Home Secretary, Robert Carr to give dozens of buildings around the square listed-building status, preventing redevelopment. The next year the market relocated to its new site named New Covent Garden Market about three miles south-west at Nine Elms. In 1980 the central building re-opened as a shopping with small shops, pubs, cafes and a craft market called the Apple Market. On the south of the square was another market named the Jubilee Market in the Jubilee Hall. Since 2006 the market halls and several other buildings in Covent Garden have been owned by the property company Capital & Countries Properties (CapCo).


St Paul’s Church

In 1631 the St Paul’s Church (known as the Actors Church) was designed by Inigo Jones as Church-Convent-Gardenpart of a commission by Francis Russell to create houses and buildings fit for the habitacons of gentlemen and men ability. The work on the church was completed in 1633 and started in 1631 at the cost of £4,000 with it becoming consecrated in 1638. Covent Garden was made a separate parish and the church was dedicated to St Paul in 1645. It is uncertain how much of Jones’s original building is left as the church was damaged by fire in 1795 during restoration work by Thomas Hardwick, though it is believed that the columns are original the rest is mostly Georgian or Victorian reconstruction.