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  Editors column

Strolling Around

"What inexhaustible food for speculation do the streets of London afford! We have not the slightest commiseration for the man who can not take up his hat and stick, and walk from Covent-garden to St. Paul's Churchyard, and back into the bargain, without deriving some amusement - we had almost said instruction - from his perambulation"

Charles Dickens - Sketches by Boz

Entertainment & education (and what else is there?) is obviously more plentiful in Covent Garden now than it was. For all the current nostalgic obsession with the past the beginnings of theatre, street trade and entertainment - even style was born in times known for rank poverty, crime and stench. Even after plagues and fires Dickens often referred to 'unpleasant vapours'. Lavender sellers came to fill a need as did the sale of 'lemon gloves' at the opera to make the experience of being part of an audience bearable for those who still paid heed to their sense of smell.

'Nowadays' is so rich and the choices so many that I venture to say it would take a long time to get the full experience of this little bunch of streets. Even people who live and work here have exploring to do. Certainly history has made it's imprint over the centuries. The streets you walk in now were a proscenium for dramas in a tragic, funny and often barely human existence Tenements that housed as many people as possible in disgusting, diseased conditions were replaced as necessary in a long cycle of re-development. The tendencies towards bad architecture, carpeted and conditioned faceless comfort actually drives people away. Hence the corporate owners demolish gingerly. Admittedly the largest chains have erected some characterless buildings (having looked enviously at the bottom line of greed-driven 'Walmart types') however Covent Garden still survives as a place that offers real quality and originality. The energy of centuries of artisans, traders and players has survived much foul air and even overcome the safe lull of architectural boredom.

There's little doubt that this part of the capital is the most popular but not because of reputation - rather because it is a continuum of energy from who knows how far back? People come in throngs all the year around.

The current mayoral discovery that congestion is worth hard cash in charges has had the effect of driving more people in to Covent Garden on Saturdays. Unfortunately the charges are not improving public transport apparently since there are no less than 20 tube stations that need renovating to the point where they close if there is too much traffic through them.

The tube station Covent Garden is exit only on Saturday afternoons. The good thing about this is that more people can get 'food for speculation' as they perambulate through the streets to the nearby stations at Embankment Charing Cross, Holborn and Leicester Square. LT's famous tube map does not show how near these stations are. The printable Scape map from this site helps plan some short, if purposeful walks. For example rather than walk down Long Acre, try Floral Street. It starts in Bow street, crosses James Street and continues parallel with Long Acre, right at Garrick Street and over to Cranbourn Street where you can pick up the Piccadilly or Northern lines.

Floral Street is worth going down. It's sweet, has lots of little courts and good shops. We still have the picture of the pink post outside Diesel Designer shop, but the Local Authority did not like the colour so it's black again.

If you like guided walks you will love Strollon. These are excellent. Explore Covent Garden from the viewpoint of history, theatre and its famous personalities including King Charles II who quickly re-established theatre when he became king. Cromwell, typically narrow minded of that age, had closed all playhouses to "appease and avert the wrath of God." Charles licensed 2 'Royal' playhouses in what was then known as the 'Convent Gardens' of Westminster Abbey. He was responsible for a landmark in the progress of women who he allowed to play female parts influenced maybe by his teenage mistress Nell Gwynne.

No two days, walks, shops, or even pints of beer are the same in these parts. The chains who offer the same in any part of any town have a different experience in this area from any other.

Every person out strolling is adding something to the area's riches.



This FAQ (frequently asked questions) is also a running Q&A (questions & Answers) so you can ask and we will answer or find out for you.

Engraving of Seven Dials
around Dickens' time

Scape map of Seven Dials/Monmouth Street and Shorts Gardens have alleyways to explore.


 The Village Feel

 'A time for giving'

  Covent Garden 'homeless'

The White Lamp Old Police Station

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