Secret passages of Covent Garden

Covent Garden’s a corner of the capital that everyone knows. If you’ve ever come down here for a booze-up you’ll have no doubt started your session at the Punch & Judy and ended it somewhere near the Strand in search of a post-11pm watering hole.

Londoners know it better, though like Oxford St, it’s one of those places which we tend to leave to the tourists – a shame because it’s actually one of the capital’s most mysteriously enticing quarters.

Up until the 1974, it was the site of London’s biggest fruit and veg market, a five-a-day version of the bloody, sickly-smelling killing fields of Smithfield, the latter the last remaining wholesale market in central London. When the veg market moved to south London, the place went into disrepair before it was restored in 1980 to a chi-chi version of its earlier Georgian glory.

It was also once the site of Lundenwic, the Anglo-Saxon settlement that sprouted a mile west of the original city of Londinium sometime around the fifth and sixth Centuries. Perhaps too scared to inhabit the overgrown Roman town, these immigrants from Saxony set up a village here until gradually they moved back into the city, prompted, it seems by their king, Alfred the Great.

Away from the main piazza, this bit of London WC2 starts getting really interesting, particularly around St Martin‘s Lane, New Row and the ancient-sounding Bedfordbury (the area was owned by the Duke of Bedford). Tucked away behind the book shops and restaurants of Charing Cross Road, the visitor will find a network of passages and alleys, a remnant of old London preserved for sharp-eyed travellers and knowing locals. A secret way into our past.

Behind the Marquis and Harp pubs, you’ll find Brydges Place, a winding passage that acts as an impromptu outdoor lounge, a shared space that respects neither the licensing laws nor the strict boundaries of the individual pubs. There are others, like Rose Lane, Lazenby Court and the best of all, Goodwin’s Court, a facsimile of the shopping street in the first Harry Potter film (without the wizards and stage school brats). Since 1690, people have been escaping the noise and bustle of the city by popping down this beautifully preserved short-cut on their way to somewhere else.

London never ceases to amaze and intrigue those of us who love to find the unexpected, and here in Covent Garden that’s most certainly the case. We may work in the modern world, but the alleys let us know that our stay here is temporary, whereas they are here for the long haul.


  1. Thanks for this post Tony. This is just the kind of thing I like to explore in modern cities. I'll be sure to check out these alleyways once I return to London.

  2. You should do, Rahul – it’s a really interesting bit of town. Discovered a new one on the way to work today. Very exciting.


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