Long before there was a market, as early as 1200, the land where the first Covent Garden Market subsequently stood was used as arable land and orchards. Having been seized for use by Westminster Abbey it was referred to as The Garden of the Abbey and Convent.
The area was later used to build houses upon and a fashionable square created, it was in this square, now known as The Covent Garden, where a small open-air fruit and vegetable market developed on its southern side.
The market grew, as the population of that part of London did, and with that came some of the era’s more undesirable elements – with bawdy bars and brothels springing up at the markets edges.
By the early 1800’s the whole area had fallen into disrepute, so much so that an act of parliament was passed to clean it up. Architect Charles Fowler was commissioned to design a neo-classical building, which was erected in 1830 to provide cover and bring order the market.
The market thrived, eventually spreading to some 30 acres. But by the end of the 1960s it was traffic congestion that was causing problems, and in 1974, the market relocated to the New Covent Garden Market about three miles south-west at Nine Elms.
Today, New Covent Garden Market is the largest fruit, vegetable and flower market in the UK. With over 200 businesses on site it employs around 2,500 people and supplies 40% of fresh fruit and vegetables used by restaurants in London and supplies 75% of London florists.
‘Old’ Covent Garden Market still thrives and is one of the major draws of central London for tourists and Londoners alike, brought in by a selection of bars, restaurants and independent shops. The area remains lively, but its reputation isn’t quite as bawdy as it once was!