Wednesday 20 April 2016

London's Covent Gardens: A Vivid Canvas of Van Gogh

"The richness of heaped produce looks like a vivid canvas of Van Gogh."

London's Covent Gardens, once simply three acres of weeds, was developped by the Earl of Bedford, along with Inigo Jones, the Father of the English Renaissance.  The latter designed a quadrangle and a piazza, as well as two colonnades, to surround the garden on the grounds of the Earl's estate.  Covent Gardens became a social meeting place for gentlemen of fashion and their mistresses.

The Plague killed 100,000 Londoners followed by the Great Fire of 1666.  However, London rebuilt and recovered.  A century later, the Covent Gardens, and the surrounding area, fell into a state of disrepair.  The houses bordering the gardens, rented out for low rates, became bawdy houses, an irony for an area originally called "convent gardens".

Covent Gardens regained its respectability as it began to concentrate on its products:  fruits, vegetables and flowers.  Shropshire and Welsh women would trek the nine miles from Baling to London, laden with fresh fruits.  While neighbourhood residents saw the Gardens as a source of noise and dust, they started to attract a growing clientele.  

The opening of a theatre breathed new life into the Gardens, offering tragedies, comedies, operas and music.  The original Messiah, conducted by Handel himself, was staged at the Covent Gardens Theatre in 1741.  The Rules Restaurant, now London's oldest, was erected to serve the theatre actors in 1798.  Tragedy struck when the theatre burned in 1808 and again in 1856.  However, both times the structure was rebuilt.  

The Earls of Bedford sold their interest in the Gardens in 1918.  Today, both the theatre and restaurant remain in operation.  Covent Gardens is 40 acres of beauty:  "The richness of heaped produce looks like a vivid canvas of Van Gogh."

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