A Brief History

Why Covent Garden came to need a guardian and protector

Recent History

In the early 1970s, Covent Garden was the subject of major development proposals which would have resulted in the destruction of the immediate environment and in the demolition of most of its old and rare buildings.


Despite the fact that the fruit & vegetable market was gone and the Piazza market buildings left empty, the surrounding streets were still teeming with small businesses. A well-illustrated book, “Covent Garden and her Craftsmen” published in 1975, lists armourers, barrow makers, book binders, chocolate makers, frame makers, glassblowers, jewellery makers, Opera House craftsmen, potters, saddlers, theatrical costumiers, silversmiths and “Francis Bowditch, a maker of Utterly Useless Objects”. There were also many local residents who made their living in book publishing or in local theatres and restaurants. These all took a keen interest in the future development of Covent Garden.


As early as the 1920s it was increasingly obvious to buyers and sellers alike that the Piazza was becoming too cramped for the wholesale trade in fruit and vegetables. Barrows, cars, lorries, horses and donkeys were constantly jammed into the narrow side streets with little room for manoeuvre. As a result, in the 1960s the Covent Garden Market Authority decided to move to Nine Elms in Battersea and the Greater London Council (GLC) bought all the land they owned. Later on, plans were drawn up to redevelop the area.

In accordance with the fashion in architecture at the time, the plans were sweeping and radical. A dual carriageway was proposed to replace ancient Maiden Lane (birthplace of the famous painter, J W Turner) together with other highways which would plough their way through the neighbourhood. New shops, theatres, a vast conference centre, tower blocks and the demolition of large numbers of historic buildings were also included in the plans. Many local residents and lovers of the old Covent Garden were understandably concerned.


However, the GLC was disbanded in 1986 and The Covent Garden Area Trust, which dates back to 1988, was set up to take over the role of guardian and preserver of the buildings and historical features of the Covent Garden market area shortly afterwards.

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