Above: The loading bay of the new premises and, in the distance, the vehicle entrance for market traders.
If you think all the buildings in London are always in the same place then it has been a long time since you visited London. For example, Charing Cross Hospital – which once stood at, well, Charing Cross – was moved to Fulham and the old building is now in use as a Police Station. St George’s Hospital moved from its large site at Hyde Park Corner to new buildings at Tooting. The old hospital building is now in use as a classy five-star hotel. Spitalfields Market was moved to Stratford and only half the old market buildings remain standing – now in use as a craft market along with endless eateries. Even the 19th century London Bridge is now in America!
In case you also think that this ‘moving business’ is related only to the 20th century, you might need to be reminded that St Thomas’s Hospital – which is now in Lambeth – has always stood opposite the Houses of Parliament. The hospital was founded in Southwark, near Borough High Street, and it stood there for about 600 years before moving in the 19th century to its present site.
So, what about Covent Garden Market? The original market was established in 1654 at, er, Covent Garden. Covent Garden had been laid out as a fashionable square. The addition of a fruit and vegetable market was very convenient for the cook in each large house but the up-market owners of the houses were not so keen on the venture and they soon moved to other locations. The market went from strength to strength – so much so that by the mid-1900s the market was overflowing in the cramped space of the square and adjacent streets. Access for lorries was another problem and the market was seen as being constrained by the narrow streets of the West End.
The solution was to move the market to a new location with easier road access for lorries and so, in 1974, the market was moved to modern covered premises beside Nine Elms Lane, just west of Vauxhall. The land had been mainly warehouses and factories which were gradually moving out of London and the new site seemed perfect for the sustained continuity of the market. The site was called New Covent Garden Market.
It is the largest wholesale fruit, vegetable, and flower market in the United Kingdom. It covers a site of 57 acres (23 ha) and is home to approximately 200 fruit, vegetable, and flower companies. The market provides 40% of the fruit and vegetables eaten in London and also supplies many of London’s top restaurants, hotels, schools, prisons, hospitals, and catering businesses.
In April 2017 the market made a third move – about half a mile west along Nine Elms Lane to another site. The market is, therefore, the ’New New Covent Garden Market’. The recent move has allowed the market to expand even more, after being on the previous site for over 40 years. The real reason for the move is to free up the old site at Nine Elms for the more lucrative offices and apartments that are springing up on the land near the eastern end of Nine Elms Lane.