Covent Garden : Charles II's Restoration London

Visit four historic taverns in London's famous Covent Garden, as we follow in the footsteps of Charles II and his infamous mistress Nell Gwyn

What's so famous about Covent Garden ? In the heart of the west-end, Covent Garden is the entertainment capital of London. Its ancient streets are teeming with theatres, street performers, the opera house, shops, pubs and restaurants.

Covent Garden dates back to Roman & Saxon times. In its medieval history it was a garden belonging to the Benedictine monks of Westminster Abbey. The Covent Garden of today has largely evolved from the development of the land carried out in the 1630s by the 4th Earl of Bedford, who commissioned Inigo Jones to create the first public square in England. This is still known today as Covent Garden Piazza.

But Covent Garden's social history is much stronger and deeper than that. The development of Inigo Jones' Piazza was followed by one of the darkest periods in English history : the Civil Wars and the Commonwealth Protectorship of Oliver Cromwell. The theatres were closed, the maypoles axed, public entertainments and holidays banned, dancing, singing and playing musical instruments forbidden. Adultery was a capital offence. Puritanism thundered through the land, threatening to rip up the entire fabric of society. 

The restoration of Charles II in 1660 changed all that. The Church of England was restored and puritanism lost its momentum. Theatres reopened and "Restoration comedy" became a recognisable genre. A Royal Patent issued by Charles permitted only two theatres in London to perform "serious" drama. The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane was one of those, making it the oldest London theatre. The other was the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, now the Royal Opera House. Henceforth, Covent Garden has become London's "Theatreland".

In 1670, Charles II issued a grant to the 4th Earl of Bedford, giving him the right to hold a fruit, veg & flower market in Covent Garden's Piazza. London's largest fruit & vegetable market traded here for the next 300 years. The market has since relocated south of the river, but the Covent Garden of today will always be inextricably linked with the historic fruit & veg market of its past.

About this Trail. Taverns have been an everyday part of Covent Garden's existance since medieval times. They still are today. Pubs exist in abundance in Covent Garden, but pubs of genuine antiquity are few & far between. We have put four gems together in a Covent Garden walking tour, which combines olde-worlde historic pubs with the rich and varied history of one of London's most famous districts. All of the pubs which we visit on our tours serve real British ales, but each of the four pubs visited on this tour serve an excellent diverse variety of at least five different real ales.

Where to meet ? Meet just outside the entrance to Embankment Underground Station (Circle, District, Northern & Bakerloo Lines). Turn left after coming through the ticket barriers and meet just outside the station on Villiers Street, next to the "pinkpansy" flower stall.

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