Covent Garden extends beyond its famous piazza. Known as a home for street performance, theatre and food markets, the central London district is enduringly popular with Londoners and tourists alike. A buzzing part of town today, Covent Garden has an equally colourful history. Now we’ve done a little digging to reveal some quirky facts about Covent Garden.
1) Rewind to the 1700s, and Covent Garden marked the centre of London’s red-light district. This led to the publication of Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, a pocketbook-sized directory which outlined the physical attributes, flaws and sexual ‘talents’ of prostitutes working in Covent Garden at the time. Printed and published in Covent Garden, a new edition appeared annually between 1757 and 1795. Estimated to have sold around 8,000 copies per year, the identity of the authors is up for debate. However, the writer Samuel Derrick is considered a likely candidate for penning some of the earlier editions prior to his death in 1969.
2) Punch and Judy puppet shows are strongly associated with British seaside resorts, but the first Punch and Judy show may have been performed in Covent Garden. The diarist Samuel Pepys, on a trip to Covent Garden on 9th May 1662, noted: “Thence to see an Italian puppet play that is within the rayles there, which is very pretty, the best that ever I saw”. This form of improvised performance with marionettes (puppets on strings) is thought to derive from 17th century Italian theatre, hence Pepys’ allusion to Italy.
3) Ever wondered why Covent Garden is called Covent Garden? ‘Covent’ Garden should actually be Convent Garden, as before the area was developed it was the market garden for the convent of Westminster Abbey, and the land was partly given over to orchards. Before Inigo Jones was commissioned to design the square and houses, Covent Garden was known as ‘the garden of the Abbey and Convent’.
4) When in Covent Garden, you can’t help but notice the presence of street performers and entertainers in and around the area’s central piazza. Street performances have been staged regularly in Convent Garden, and we know from Pepys’ diary entry that performances were being held here as early as 1662. Covent Garden is the only London district to retain a license for street performers
5) Hitchcock’s 1972 film, Frenzy, the director’s second to last film, was mainly filmed in Covent Garden. The plot revolves around a serial killer, and a fruit seller at the market is revealed to be the killer. The film twists and turns, but the backdrop of Covent Garden remains consistent.