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Covent Garden: "Great Square of Venus"

Updated on June 4, 2020

Covent Garden Then and Now

Covent Garden
Covent Garden
Piazza 1735
Piazza 1735
The New Covent Garden Today
The New Covent Garden Today

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.

Harris' List

Harris' List
Harris' List

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

Betty Careless
Betty Careless
Sally Salisbury
Sally Salisbury
Mother Douglas, bottom right
Mother Douglas, bottom right | Source

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

Flowers Galore
Flowers Galore
Vegetables at Market
Vegetables at Market
Apple Four
Apple Four
Royal Opera House
Royal Opera House
Neil's Yard
Neil's Yard

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

British Library


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    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      13 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Something else I've 'dredged up' from the back of my memory: behind Charing Cross Road, south of New Oxford Street, is the church of St Giles in the Field, where felons on their way to the triple gallows at Tyburn were given their final blessings - usually highwaymen and murderers. Tyburn was where Marble Arch is now, a plaque marks the spot.

      Next time you're here I'll show you there.

    • powers41 profile imageAUTHOR

      fran rooks 

      13 months ago from Toledo, Ohio

      Alan, thank you for your constructive comments. I appreciate learning how to improve articles. Again, thanks for reading.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      13 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Fran, you missed a few bits but never mind. It's an entertaining piece that told me a lot I didn't already know of.

      The bits you missed? Covent Garden gets its name from being a convent - or nunnery - garden in the Middle Ages, where employees of the convent grew and sold fruit and vegetables. It's also where Eliza Dolittle in 'My Fair Lady' (based on G B Shaw's 'Pygmalion') learned to 'talk posh' from her mentor Professor Higgins... The film ran and ran around Europe and the West End in the 'Swinging Sixties'.

      Another thing you overlooked was the plethora of restaurants within what had been the market building itself.

      A bit extra: a short way north of here is 'Seven Dials', a meeting point for several streets with a public clock at the centre that sported seven dials - at a time when few owned a clock or watch.

    • powers41 profile imageAUTHOR

      fran rooks 

      14 months ago from Toledo, Ohio

      Thanks for reading and your comments. The Garden must really be impressive.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      14 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I went to Covent Garden a long time ago and enjoyed my visit. I remember being impressed by how many vegetables I saw for sale. Thanks for sharing the very interesting information about the area's history, Fran.

    • powers41 profile imageAUTHOR

      fran rooks 

      14 months ago from Toledo, Ohio

      Thanks for your comments! It must be amazing to see the Garden

    • surovi99 profile image

      Rosina S Khan 

      14 months ago

      Thank you for sharing the history of Convent Garden which dates back to the time when it was known for prostitution. So glad to know an end was put to that, and now there were flower and vegetable markets and other shops offering handmade soaps, jewelry, handbags, clothing and others. Great hub, Fran.

    • powers41 profile imageAUTHOR

      fran rooks 

      14 months ago from Toledo, Ohio

      Thanks for reading. I sure would love to see this amazing place.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      14 months ago from UK

      This is a fascinating article. I visited Covent Garden a few years ago and I was amazed at its transformation. I really appreach the historical input you have added to this article.


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