5 Fun Things about London’s Covent Garden!

You might have been to Covent Garden —the bustling tourist market sprawling in London—but do you know everything about it? From wild punk groups to fascinating shops to a sometimes-salacious history, read on to find our 5 fun facts!

Covert Garden 1560s
Covent Garden on the ‘woodcut’ map in the 1560s (taken from Wikipedia)

1. Farm Land

Though bustling several centuries, Covent Garden was once a pastoral garden serving Westminster Abbey. Thus its original name: CoNvent Garden. If you’ve read our Henry VIII, piece you’ll know why he pushed through the ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries‘ Act through Parliament. Not only did Henry VIII ditch the Catholic church (when he couldn’t divorce his Spanish wife of 24 years), he made himself head of the Church of England and gave all of the Pope’s English land to Henry’s buddies! So John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, received Convent Garden in 1552. Treasure Hunters will learn more about this (yes, philosopher Bertrand Russell was a descendant), hunting for the Duke of Bedford’s coat of arms & family motto: Che Sera Sera. Ooooooh! That family motto (& song) is the answer to one of your treasure challenges. Here’s Doris Day in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much for the tune!

2. Tawdry Covent Garden

Did you know that Covent Garden eventually became a hot spot for brothels? It’s true! Initially a produce market, it began to house other establishments, such as taverns and coffeehouses, and, you guessed it, brothels. Its reputation began to change and it eventually became infamous for its traffic in sex work. It took an Act of Parliament to get it under control—of course such a blemish was a big concern!—and several official actions shifted the use of the market slightly, over time, turning it into the tourist market of shops and cafes we know today.

3. Covent Garden Movie Appearances

Like many of London’s landmarks, Covent Garden has its fair share of pop-cultural appearances. Eliza Doolittle, the protagonist of My Fair Lady (originally Shaw’s play Pygmalion) sells flowers in Covent Garden. Hitchcock’s Frenzy has scenes here as does the Rom-Com George Michael-inspired movie Last Christmas, starring Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding!

For the purpose of looking at Covent Garden of course it’s certainly recommended!

4. Shop till you drop!

Apple Market
Apple Market (taken from Wikipedia)

There’s quite a variety to be found today in Covent Gardens. Do you know about all of it? You can visit a bougie perfumer’s establishment with bottle topped with golden animal head decorations, visit the bohemian brand Free People, experience Hair by Fairy (whatever that means!), explore the various funky stalls in Apple Market to discover antiques and handmade treasures, or try out the Tea House on Neal Street. While you’re there, maybe try and spot the Blue Plaque commemorating the famous comedy troupe Monty Python. Teams going on our London Street Fun Treasure Hunt (launching on 24 June to the upper school of EIFA International School, with 50 kids from 40 countries speaking 30 languages!) will have the challenge of imitating Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks.

5. Covent Garden’s Punk History

The Vibrators, Roxy Club, 1977
The Vibrators, February 16 1977 at the Roxy Club, London. Art: Andrew Czezowski and Susan Carrington. (taken from flashbak)

Did you know that Covent Garden helped foster the fledgling punk movement in the ‘70s? It’s true! A great place all around for formal and street entertainment to this day, the hip nightclub The Roxy lived in the Seven Dials area of Covent Gardens and hosted many important bands at the beginning of the movement. Here’s an extra fun fact—remember how parts of Covent Garden have been notoriously seedy? Seven Dials gets its name because seven streets join in a circle of storefronts, circling a monument containing seven sundials (which only has 6 sundials!). This was a creative way for landlords to take advantage of rent guidelines to make more money—sounds a bit exploitative to me! But back to The Roxy—it hosted quite a few early punk groups, such as Siouxsie and the Banshees. Quite a few of the names are hilariously NSFW—look them up for a laugh!

As for EIFA kids (& future treasure hunters at large) you have been rewarded for reading a bit more about lovely London in this post! Here in bold are some answers to your THATMuse challenges on the London Street Fun treasure hunt: The name of George Bernard Shaw’s play, My Fair Lady, adapted from Pygmalion… The Duke of Bedford’s family heraldic motto Que Sera Sera (and it’s tune, you hunters may just need to sing and translate!)… From Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks to what the Dissolution of the Monasteries is!

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