Covent Garden: "Great Square of Venus"
Covent Garden Then and Now
The Beginning of Covent Garden
Long, long before the now-famous Covent Garden of today, it was famous for many other things.
First, a little background of London in the 1700s. It had to be almost impossible for the poor to survive in London during this time. Although there were workhouses and churches that helped the poor, there was no welfare, no unemployment, and often women were alone with children to provide for. There were some 90 workhouses in London but these were overcrowded and poorly supervised.
Records show that of the children in workhouses, over 90% died because of lack of food and disease. So it must have seemed to the women that prostitution was the means to an end in order to survive. And soon the Garden became known as the "red-light district".
Beginning in the 1600s, the piazza became a place for the open-air markets consisting of flowers and vegetables. It also housed pubs and brothels. Some brothels were furnished lavishly with the finest of furnishings and ladies. Thus the Garden became known as the "Great Square of Venus.
Pamphlets of Covent Garden
Yes, pamphlets were printed from 1757-1795, with specific ladies listed along with their physical descriptions and attributes. The most famous was Harris' List published annually, selling for two shillings and sixpence. It sold over 8000 per year. There were a few other publications such as; Nightwalkers, Jilts, and Crocks and Prostitutes. All were offering similar lists of the "ladies."
Many famous gentlemen and royals were regulars of the brothels and subscribers of the pamphlets. Some notable gentlemen were the Duke of York, James Boswell, Ernest Augustus, King George IV, and others.
Ladies of Covent Garden
The "Ladies" of Covent Garden
Sally Salisbury 1692-1724, whose real name was Sally Pridden. At one point, Sally stabbed a client, politician John Finch and was sentenced to one year in prison. Unfortunately, she died in prison some nine months later. Before that incident, Sally was the mistress of the notorious rake Colonel Francis Charters. Still, he abandoned her when she was only fourteen years old and was taken into a brothel by Madame Wisebourne.
Mother Douglas, as she was called 1698-1761, was also known as "Empress of the Bawds." (bands means madame). In 1735 she moved to Covent Garden, and among her patrons were Prince William, Duke of Cumberland. By the time the red light district fell out of favor, she had amassed a fortune and left a large estate.
Mother Doulas chose her "ladies" for elegance, pleasant manners, and expertise. One of her 'regulars' was John Williams, First Earl Fitzwilliam.
The New Covent Garden
By the end of the 18th century, laws were being enacted to put an end to the red-light district. The public had grown tired of prostitution rampant within the square. Slowly, things changed and today, the new Covent Garden is very different from the 1600-1700s. Over 44 million visitors visit annually. Built-in 1974 and located on Nine Elms Lane, London. They are featuring the famous open market for endless flowers and vegetables for your choosing.
Today, shops are catering to the public offering handmade soaps jewelry, handbags, clothing, and artwork: countless pubs, coffee houses, and eateries. The piazza features music every day, along with entertainers throughout.
Upscale boutiques for clothing are speckled around the piazza.
Market at Covent Garden
Things to Do in Covent Garden
The Covent Garden is so amazing with so so many things to do and visit. Some of those listed include:
Apple 4, Neils' Yard, Royal Opera House, London Transport Museum, Mr. Fogg's Tavern, and St. Pauls Church (the actor's church), built in the 1600s.
There are more shops than days in a year! It is definitely a site for the bucket list.
Sources for Covent Garden