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Today’s Covent Garden Takes Shape (page 7)


Charles Fowler’s designed covered market in the middle of Piazza was completed in 1830. It looked much as it does today except that the two main aisles were uncovered. The glass roofs were added separately in 1875 and 1889. The central avenue was filled with fruiters, and two conservatories on the first floor of the west terrace fulfilled the constant demand of the Victorian household for plants and cut flowers.

In 1884, to satisfy the market's voracious appetite for space, the demolition crews began to level the remainder of Tavistock Row and other eighteenth century houses. This open space remain as a temporary ‘lay bye’ for market vehicles for another six years when the Duke of Bedford commissioned a new home for the section of the market that sold imported cut flowers..

Built by James Cubitt to the design of Lander, Bedells and Compton the new foreign-flower market was unusually located on the second storey. Though completed in 1904, it was named the Jubilee hall in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, commemorating the sixtieth year of her reign, which had been celebrated in 1897, the year that construction first began..

In 1913, a £2 million private option for sale of the Central market area comprising 19 acres of the Duke of Bedford’s family holdings was agreed. A syndicate led by Sir Joseph Beecham, pill manufacturer and father of Sir Thomas, the famed conductor, officially took the offer up some five years later. The Bedford family however retained the freeholds of Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and Bow Street Magistrates Court..

In 1921 the government decided the buildings were obsolete and the location quite unsuited to modern motor transport. Years of debate followed with a plan to move it to St Pancras being killed in Parliament in 1927. The Utopian Abercrombie plan for London, prepared in 1943, suggested the fruit and vegetable market be moved to the outskirts of London. Still nothing was done, while in 1945, 300 years of exploitation of Covent Garden by the Russell’s quietly ended when the twelfth Duke sold the family’s last remaining property, No.26 James Street. The Covent Garden market had long since become an institution that never slept. The new workday started at midnight as the last buses and trains brought in the porters. Throughout the small hours of the morning lorries arrived from market gardens all over Britain, laden with crates of lettuces, mushrooms, and roses, potatoes from Norfolk, apples from Kent, oranges and lemons from the western ports. Some produce started the trip by air - daffodils from the Channel Isles or anemones from France - and trains brought tulips from Lincolnshire and primroses and violets from the woods of the west Country to the main-line London stations. But everything ended up on a lorry crammed into one of the congested streets around the Piazza..

At daybreak more lorrie swould turn up, loaded with the ordinary vegetables from farms near London - cabbages, leeks, carrots and more potatoes. Farmer’s stalls went up on the cobblestones of the Piazza, and by 7am the market was in full swing..Finally in 1961, the Covent Garden Market act was passed. The following year most of the properties owned by the market landlord, notably excluding the Royal Opera House, were disposed of to a new public body set up by the government for £3,925,000. This was the Covent Garden Market Authority (CGMA) who controlled 4,000 workers and 340 companies and processed £70 million worth of fruit and vegetables and £10million worth of flowers each year..

In 1964 the Authority decided to move the market, wavered over alternative sites (one was Seven Dials, which had most of the same drawbacks). Eventually they chose Nine Elms in Battersea, where surplus railway land was available by the side of the Thames near the Vauxhall Bridge, Parliament gave its blessing in 1966..

This move closed the book on a history of agriculture trading and made way for the Covent Garden of today, still busy and sometimes still noisy but not with the drone of traffic but entertainment, laughter and the sound of people enjoying themselves.


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