Picture the City: Covent Garden

How do your purchases shape the economy?

By Bank of England Museum

Covent Garden, Lodnon (c.1700) by Jan Griffier IBank of England Museum

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Covent Garden

Covent Garden originated as the convent garden of the Benedictines of Westminster in the 1200s, which is echoed today in the square’s name.

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In the 1630s, architect Inigo Jones developed the space in the style of an Italian ‘piazza’, providing London with the perfect place for a market. The market began informally but grew quickly, and in 1670 King Charles II opened it officially. 

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Soon the market was the most important place in London for buying and selling fruit, vegetables and flowers. For over 300 years it occupied this square, expanding into several neighbouring buildings.

Theatre Royal Covent Garden (19th century) by UnknownBank of England Museum

Theatre Royal, Covent Garden

In 1732, the Theatre Royal opened adjacent to the market, making the area famous not only for its produce, but its cultural activity. The theatre burnt down twice, in 1808 and 1858, before the building which now houses the Royal Opera House was built. 

Covent Garden, Lodnon (c.1700) by Jan Griffier IBank of England Museum

St Paul's Church, Covent Garden (2020) by Justin PipergerBank of England Museum

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Covent Garden remains a popular destination among tourists and locals for street performances, opera and ballet.  

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Eventually, the produce market outgrew the area, moving to south west London in the 1970s. The many shops and restaurants that are now in the old market hall provide a connection to its past as a food market.

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Markets and shops bring goods together from all around the world. It’s becoming more popular among consumers to want to know how and where their goods are produced. People shape the economy through what they decide to buy, or boycott. 

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The Bank of England’s job is to keep the prices of goods and services stable, regardless of what you buy. 

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What do you prioritise when you’re buying food or clothing: cost, quality, workers’ welfare, sustainability, or local production?

Sugar Caster (1694)Bank of England Museum

Sugar Caster

This caster dispensed sugar that was produced in the Caribbean by enslaved Africans. In the late 1700s, some British consumers boycotted sugar to express support for the abolition of slavery.

Sugar Caster (1694)Bank of England Museum

Even though women didn’t have the vote at this point, they could exert power as consumers through boycotts, as sugar was commonly used in British homes.


Have you ever boycotted a product or brand to make a change?

Covent Garden, Lodnon (c.1700) by Jan Griffier IBank of England Museum

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You make a stop for food at the famous Covent Garden Market. It’s bustling with activity, as people rush to and fro on their errands. 

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In the courtyard, a man waters some plants...

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A crowd listens to a speech...

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And people buy and sell produce.

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In the centre of the painting, a young black person plays with a hoop and stick. His presence is a reminder of London’s growing black community, which was quickly expanding in the 1700s, likely numbering in the thousands.

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The market is a bit crowded and you could do with some fresh air – perhaps there’s a spot nearby to enjoy your nice food… like St James's Park.

Credits: Story

Picture the City is an exhibition produced by the Bank of England Museum.
Covent Garden is stop 5 of 8 in this digital exhibition. The next stop is St James's Park. To go to the start of the exhibition, click here.

All images © Bank of England Museum except where stated.
Explore more and discover the sites in real life on our website!

With thanks to: Thomas.Matthews.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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