When I first came to London to work in 1979 Covent garden was in its last throes as a fruit and veg market.
It was famous everywhere for its porters with their baskets of produce precariously balanced on their heads, its pubs that opened in the evening and stayed open until the early morning* and the chaotic traffic on the fringes of the city from all the fruit and veg lorries. (*As a young lawyer starting at my new city firm in 1981, the initiation was to finish a Fox and Anchor mixed grill which comprised every sort of meat going plus a plate of chips washed down with two pints of draught Guinesss; while this had more to do with the Smithfield meat market the same arrangements applied to the Covent garden pubs – these porters ate and drank copiously; a very old world now, in my judgement, happily no more).
A lot of people worried what would replace the Victorian market. Offices, it was assumed. But the Greater London Council, London’s central authority who owned the site, showed foresight and imagination, not words usually associated with the group of wackos and deadbeats who manage most large cities and retained the buildings, leading the conversion to a mix of retail, restaurants and entertainment.
As a property lawyer, in the 1990s I acted for clients who bought the market and the surrounding buildings to run them. The structure utilised in the mid 1970s still applied and the leases contained restrictions on uses.
For a landlord keen to maximise rental income any user restrictions are anathema. However these worked. They gave a veto on new tenants to the Covent garden Area Trust who, while acting reasonably could have regard to the character of the estate.
In this way multiple retailers and restaurateurs have been kept out, the Transport Museum retains its place on the corner and the Jubilee Market, a place for small carts to sell a variety of nick-nacks and the usual tat and crap allows the market to retain its character.
This is her singing – not bad given all the background noise.
Alongside the market the Covent Garden Opera House was redeveloped. It allows multiple retailers who crave a position, hardly surprising given the uniquely buzzy atmosphere of what it today one of London’s most popular tourist destinations.
Apple has its main London store there too, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but brings a slightly different perspective to the retail offering.
And for me, best of all, just around the corner in Floral Street (the names echo the market history) is London’s only Tintin shop. What’s not to like?
Tomorrow D is for
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