Covent Garden takes its name from the original ‘convent garden’ of the Abbey or Convent of St Paul, Westminster.
Between 1830 and 1914, Covent Garden was London’s main fruit, vegetable and flower market. At the height of productivity it employed some 1,200 porters.
A cast-iron and glass flower market was completed in the piazza’s southeast corner in 1872. The last permanent building, Jubilee Hall, was built in 1903.
The Bedford estate sold Covent Garden to the Beecham family in 1914. It remained in the private hands of Beechams until the family sold it to the Covent Garden Market Authority.
By the 1920s it was already clear that Covent Garden’s outdated market buildings and narrow streets were not suited to motor traffic. By the late 1960s, traffic congestion meant that a modern market could no longer operate on the site.
The authority finally decided to move the market activity to a new site at Nine Elms on the south bank of the Thames between Vauxhall and Battersea. The central site was earmarked for redevelopment and sold to the Greater London Council (G.L.C).
The G.L.C’s 1968 plan for the site’s redevelopment as offices caused heated controversy. The Covent Garden Community Association was founded in 1971 to help protect the historic site from demolition.
After four years of popular protest, the G.L.C’s plan was overturned. In 1973 Robert Carr, the then Home Secretary, designated some 250 buildings in Covent Garden as listed.
New Covent Garden opened at its 56-acre purpose-built site in Nine Elms on 11 November 1974. It now accommodates some 250 fruit, vegetable and flower companies.
Before its move, the market had an annual turnover of around £75 million. In the year ending March 2005, New Covent Garden had an annual turnover of £497 million.
Between 1975 and 1979, Covent Garden’s old central market buildings were restored. The market reopened in 1980 as a shopping precinct and tourist attraction.
In 1980 the floral market became the new premises of the London Transport Museum, now London’s Transport Museum. The Jubilee Market gained Grade 2 listed status the same year. It continues to operate as a market, albeit for crafts and tourist souvenirs rather than fruit, vegetables and flowers.