A rare midweek trip to London meant that I could join another one of the regulars of the London Walks programme that I wouldn’t normally get a chance to do, the Inside Covent Garden walk.
It’s been a while since I did a walk around a part of Westminster that I felt I knew reasonable well. Of late I’ve either done themed ones or ones in a bit of non-central London that I don’t really know. I thought I knew Covent Garden and I was expecting this walk to be largely about the market, despite the blurb on the London Walks website, but it was so much more than that and absolutely fascinating.
The guide was the most clearly thespian Simon Whitehouse, a new one on me which made a change as increasingly I’m finding I recognise most of the guides. Meeting outside Covent Garden tube station, the band of 16 walkers, all bar three of whom were overseas visitors from various countries, it soon became clear that there was going to be a constant battle against noise. No sooner did Simon start speaking then workmen started drilling in a neighbouring building, to be joined soon after by a lorry beeping to reverse around the corner. At this point the introduction was abandoned and we moved elsewhere for it instead. This was when it also became clear that one of the fellow walkers was going to be trouble. One of the group was an Italian and particularly grumpy about the noise, which was difficult at times (as we were competing against a London Poppy Day event) but as the guide pointed out “well we are outdoors” but the Italian then added to this by twice answering his phone whilst the guide was trying to speak. The introduction we eventually got did a brief overview of the history of the area, its ups and downs in the social scale and a bit about the market. But soon moved on to other things which I will as before summarise but not give much detail so as to not spoilt it for others:
- I feel I should have realised but the grand square of Covent Garden existed long before the actual market building, and changed from being a high class area to somewhere more down market to then what it is today. It was interesting to discover that the history of Covent Garden wasn’t what I’d realised.
- St Paul’s Church Covent Garden is known as the actors church and many of them are commemorated and/or buried there, including theatre cats. This is a lovely church and a place I’ve just walked past without realising what a little sanctuary it is both inside and out, especially when you go round to the entrance at the back of the building.
- The history of the costermongers, and the origins of the pearly kings and queens. I’d assumed these were specifically an East End thing, I hadn’t realised they were London-wide and very much connected to the markets of the city.
- When this walk was billed as ‘Inside’ Covent Garden, I assumed it would be inside the market, but we actually largely skirted round this. The first stop was the fascinating Simpsons-in-the-Strand restaurant next door to the Savoy Hotel. This isn’t the sort of place I’d have expected would want tourists tramping round, even if it was out of their open hours, but we saw a couple of different rooms, learnt about its history and its link to international chess. Simpsons was also the place where the Italian I mentioned managed to get trapped in the revolving door and I had to help get him out.
- Rules Restaurant is a particularly historic institution, which like Simpsons I was unaware of. Another fascinating place with its connections to literature, great and the good, and with a fantastic mural of Margaret Thatcher positioned above the Argentinian ambassador’s one-time regular table.
- We finished at the Royal Opera House with a great view over the piazza and the wider area, and now I’ve discovered it a place I expect I will return to.
This was a fascinating walk, which I largely did just because it was at a convenient time rather than because I particularly wanted to do it. But I’m glad I went on it and it was well done and Simon was a great guide.