Address: Covent Garden, London WC2E 9DD

400m from Charing Cross

0m from Covent Garden

Covent Garden is a trendy tourist area in the West End and is the oldest continually inhabited part of London. It was a Roman settlement from the 1st century and by the 7th century was a busy port. The Vikings arrived in the 9th century and the people moved away from the port. It then reverted to agricultural land which included an orchard and was owned by Westminster Abbey. It was the garden of the Abbey and Convent – hence its name.

The monks’ garden became a major source of fruit and vegetables in London, but with the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII seized the land and it was given to the 1st Earl of Bedford in 1552. In 1630 the 4th Earl, with the support of Charles I, recruited Inigo Jones to develop the area. He had been inspired by the great Piazza in Italy and developed the first public square in Britain. He built grand houses to the north and east, a church to the west and the Bedford estate was to the south.

A small market developed in 1649, and with the Great Fire of London wiping out much of the City, the fruit and vegetable market flourished. The piazza was built to attract the public, but gambling dens, brothels and drinking houses sprang up and the oldest pub in Covent Garden today was opened – the Lamb and Flag on Rose Street. Bare knuckle fights took place there.

In the 18th century the nobility moved out and in 1830 the market was rebuilt and covered. This is the neo-classical columned building seen today. It was so large it employed 1000 porters.

By 1973 the market was too big for central London and moved to Nine Elms. Planners wanted to demolish the area, but locals protested and 250 properties were given listed status overnight. In 1975-79 the main building was redeveloped with shops and restaurants.

It is now one of the most recognisable names to visitors and one of the most famous London sites.

Click on the pics below for an enlarged view and use the arrow towards the right edge of each pic to go on to the next.