Covent Garden at Christmas


Above: Looking east in Charles Fowler’s 1830 neo-classical building bedecked with the Christmas decorations of greenery looking like giant mistletoe.

Covent Garden began life as a specially laid out square. The concept was that it would be laid out as a residential square where up-market people would live – in newly-built up-market houses. Some idea of what the whole plan was intended to be can be seen by looking at the buildings on the north side – where the Apple Store is now situated. That shop is in a building with an arched walkway instead of a simple pavement. The new square was called a ‘piazza’ – a new word at the end of the 16th century. The layout of a square was new to London and had a significant influence on modern town planning, acting as the prototype for new estates in Central London as it continued to develop and  grow.

All the up-market atmosphere of Covent Garden gradually evaporated in the 17th century when it was decided to build a fruit and vegetable market in the centre of the new piazza. One thing that up-market people do not want is noisy market stalls outside their up-market windows. The result was that the wealthy householders moved away to other parts of London leaving the area famous only for its fruit, vegetable and flower market which remained until the 1970s. By then the site near the Strand was becoming far too congested and it was relocated to Nine Elms, on the south side of the River Thames. After a campaign by the public to retain the old buildings at Covent Garden, they were eventually converted for use as a modern retail market with restaurants and shop units.

The picture shows the unusual Christmas decorations which this year incorporate a mistletoe motive, alluding to the vast amounts of the Christmas greenery that was once a common feature during the 20th century in the market during the run-up to the festive season.


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