Old and New London: Volume 3. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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In this section
COVENT GARDEN:—GENERAL DESCRIPTION.
"Hail, market, hail, to all Megarians dear !"—Aristophanes, "Acharnians."
Extent of the District—Covent Garden in the Fourteenth Century—The Site passes into the hands of the Duke of Somerset, and afterwards the Earls of Bedford—Origin of the Market—Annals of Covent Garden—The Fashionable Days of Covent Garden—The Piazzas as a Promenade—History of the Market—The Sun-dial—The Hackney-coach Stands—The Mohocks and other Marauders.
The region which we intend to embrace in this and the following chapter, extending, to speak roughly, from St. Martin's Lane on the west to Drury Lane on the east, and from Long Acre on the north to the Strand on the south—in other words, considerably less than half a mile the one way and a quarter of a mile the other—is remarkable as including in its circuit more of literary, and, indeed, of human interest, than any other spot in modern or ancient London. That interest belongs chiefly, if not wholly, to the last two centuries; and the memorials of it are scattered on every side of us in such thick profusion, that one can almost fancy we can see the genius loci standing there and pointing around him with his wand, and exclaiming, "Si monumentum quæris, circumspice;" like Sir Christopher Wren in the cathedral church of St. Paul. In the well-known words of the "Connoisseur," the neighbourhood of Covent Garden was in the last century—though it is no longer—"the acknowledged region of gallantry, wit, and criticism." And doubtless it was as a frequenter of this neighbourhood, and in love with the good literary society which its coffee-houses afforded, that Johnson assented with a "Why yes, sir," to Boswell's frank avowal that "the vicinity of the Strand was much better than Blackheath Park."
The latter half of the seventeenth century formed an important epoch in the growth of western London. We see from the Plan of London, published by Aggas in 1562, that it was then comparatively a small place, almost entirely confined to the limits of the City proper. But our capital "found itself so secure in the glorious government of Elizabeth," that by the year 1600 very considerable additions were made to the north of the long line of street now known as the Strand, and the gap between London proper and Westminster was nearly filled up.
Covent Garden—a corruption, we need hardly say, of "the Convent Garden"—was an enclosure belonging, as far back as the first quarter of the thirteenth century, to the abbots of Westminster, who it is supposed used the site as the burial-place for the convent, as being at a convenient distance for "burying their dead out of sight." Here were "fair spreading pastures" seven acres in extent, now all swallowed up in the general name of "Long Acre;" the present Long Acre, which was built in the reign of Charles I., being carried from the north-east towards the south-west—from the middle of St. Martin's Lane and the top of Drury Lane. It is said that where Long Acre runs there was once an avenue of stately elms, whose shade was grateful to the citizens of London when they walked out on holydays; and that there were country lanes with green fields on either side.
In the map of Ralph Aggas above alluded to, Covent Garden is shown as enclosed by a brick wall, which runs straight on the north side, parallel with these shady elms; whilst the southern side is bounded by the houses and small inclosures abutting upon the Strand highway. Nearly in the middle of the old garden there appear to be some small buildings, probably the dwellings of gardeners and other workmen, and the trees are scattered up and down the place so thick as to give it the appearance almost of a wilderness. "A large pond," writes Newton in his "London in the Olden Time," "is said to have existed near the middle of Covent Garden two centuries ago. It was fed partly by a running stream from the higher grounds, and partly by a local spring which still supplies a pump near the modern parish church. The overflow from this pond would pass by Ivy Bridge Lane down to the Thames."
Stow himself makes no mention of Covent Garden; but Strype tells us that it probably had the name of the Convent Garden, "because it was the garden and field of that large convent and monastery where Exeter House formerly stood." But here, no doubt, Strype is in error, for there are no traces of a "convent" or "monastery" on that site; and according to general tradition this convent garden belonged to the abbot and monks of Westminster, by whom it was used partly as their kitchen garden, supplying, no doubt, not only the wants of that religious community, but also the public markets, and so bringing in an income to the abbey, and partly as a burial-ground, as already stated. This supposition is confirmed by the fact that in digging for the foundations of the new market in 1829, a quantity of human bones was exhumed on the north side of the area.
Walter Savage Landor thus quaintly and pointedly describes the change which came over the Convent Garden of the monks of Westminster:—"The Convent becomes a playhouse; monks and nuns turn actors and actresses. The garden, formal and quiet, where a salad was cut for a lady abbess, and flowers were gathered to adorn images, becomes a market, noisy and full of life, distributing thousands of fruits and flowers to a vicious metropolis." It is to be feared, from the turn of his expressions here, that Mr. Landor did not remember that the Latin conventus, and its French equivalent, couvent, is strictly applied to the houses of religious men as well as women; if so, it is more probable that a salad cut on this spot was destined for the Abbot of St. Peter's, Westminster, and not for an abbess. But this is a matter of no great moment.
At the dissolution of the religious houses this property came into the hands of the Duke of Somerset, on whose attainder in 1552 it was given by the Crown to John Russell, Earl of Bedford, under the description of "Covent Garden, lying in the parish of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields next Charing Cross, with seven acres called Long Acre, of the yearly value of six pounds six shillings and eight pence."
It is probable that for a very long time after the Russells became possessed of this property, it still remained a garden, or at all events consisted of open fields; for in 1627, as Mr. P. Cunningham tells us, "only two persons were rated to the poor of the parish of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields under the head of 'Covent Garden.'"
"If we add an 'n' to 'Covent,' and say Convent Garden," observes a writer in the City Press, "we shall go back to the old days when nuns or friars studied their missals in the church orchard, and then we shall think of Henry VIII., and the Bedford family with their slice of consecrated ground. It was then, and long after, in the country, and was probably used for pasture until the growing population made it an object to possess a market." How the work prospered may be gathered in some measure from the fragmentary accounts which have reached us. The Spectator speaks of daily prayer at the Garden Church, and tells us how fine ladies, with black pages carrying their books, walked across the market to their pews. Even at the beginning of the century the arrangements were very primitive. "The middle walk consisted of odd, tumbledown shed shops, though the fruit, flowers, and vegetables were excellent. Crockery-ware was sold in several of them. There were two medical herb-shops, where you could purchase leeches; and snails, then employed to make broth for consumptive patients, were vended. Also a wellknown itinerant bird-dealer had a stall, where he sold larks, canaries, owls, and, if you desired it, could get you a talking parrot, or manufacture you a love-bird, on the shortest notice. 'Quality folks' often walked in the centre avenue, but there was no accommodation for choice plants on the roof. The ducal proprietor improved the market into its present state; but of course far more might be done with the present site. Covent Garden was used for many years as a pasture-ground, and was subsequently let on a building lease. Then the square was planned, and Inigo Jones designed it. The piazza, which runs round a part of it, was also his work. The market originated casually. Vendors of vegetables and fruit from the neighbouring villages used the centre of the square as a market; and, in lapse of time, the market grew into a recognised institution. It was strangely unsightly, being but a rude combination of stalls and sheds. But in 1831 the present market buildings were erected at the Duke of Bedford's expense; and, a few years later, open-air accommodation was obtained on the roof, at the entrance, for the sale of plants, &c. The duke derives a considerable revenue from the rents and tolls. It is quite a problem to what the tolls amount. Those who occupy shops or stands by the week or year, and who sell the greater part of the produce brought in, merely pay their rents as for ordinary shops. Some of them, though held only from week to week, have continued in the same families through two or even three generations.
"The early morning at Covent Garden affords a curious sight. From 3.30 to 4.30 there is little bustle in the market, though business goes on rapidly. Early risers of both sexes—a class of 'higglers' who indorse the old proverb that 'the early bird catches the worm'—flock to the market. They form a medium between the grower and the small dealer, buying the whole stock from the former, and seeking to sell portions of it to the latter at a higher price. The crowd and bustle increase from five o'clock up to seven or eight. Porters, with baskets, offer their help to buyers. The piazzas become very lively with their clamour. Against every post and pillar are small tables, where coffee, tea, bread and butter may be purchased. Hawkers parade in every direction with cakes, buns, knives, and pocket-books for sale. Many customers seek for stimulants, and consume gin or hot spirits-and-water with avidity.
"In our climate piazzas were a novelty—we
seldom need to exclude the sun—yet those in
Covent Garden became popular. Long afterwards
two piazzas were erected in Regent Street, and
termed the 'Colonnade,' but they were not a
success and have been removed. Those in Covent
Garden, though much dishonoured, still remain;
and are, perhaps, the only buildings in that style in
England." Thus Byron says in "Beppo"—
"For, bating Covent Garden, I can hit on
No place that's called 'Piazza' in Great Britain."
The following is given by the same authority as a brief epitome of the annals of Covent Garden. We shall enlarge upon it as we proceed in our survey:—"The market buildings were commenced in 1632 by the Earl of Bedford. 1650, April 26. Col. Poyse was shot to death in the market. 1675, December 29. A proclamation issued against coffee-houses. 1679, January 8. To allow their continuance till June 24 following. The poet Dryden was assaulted in Covent Garden, on account of some verses in his 'Hind and Panther.' 1687, April 14. A soldier, William Grant, hanged in the market for running from his colours. 1636. This date is cut in a stone let into the brickwork of No. 23, King Street, of Evans's Hotel, we are told. It formed a prominent object in Hogarth's print, 'Morning.' And here lodged Sir William Alexander, Earl of Stirling, 1637; Thomas Killigrew, 1640; Denzil Hollis, 1644; and in 1647, Sir Harry Vane, and also Sir Kenelm Digby, 1662. Of Hollis this anecdote is told:—In a hot debate in Parliament, Ireton offended Hollis, upon which he persuaded him to walk out of the House, and told him he must fight to justify his words. Ireton pleaded that 'his conscience would not suffer him to fight a duel;' upon which Hollis pulled him by the nose, saying, 'If his conscience forbade his giving men satisfaction, it should also keep him from provoking them.' We are assured that nearly all the foundlings of St. Paul, Covent Garden, were laid at the door of Nathaniel, Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham."
Covent Garden was made into a separate parish in 1645, and the patronage of it vested in the Russell family; the district which it comprises being cut off under the provisions of a special Act of Parliament from that of St. Martin's-inthe-Fields. The parish church was dedicated to St. Paul.
In the days of the first two Georges the parish was, if not the fashionable part of the town, at all events a fashionable district, and the residence of a great number of persons of title and high rank, as well as of men known in the world of art and literature. "A concourse of arts, literary characters, and other men of genius frequented the numerous coffee-houses, wine and cider-cellars, &c., within the boundaries of Covent Garden," says Mr. Timbs, who adds the following formidable list of persons whose names are connected with the place:—Butler, Addison, Sir R. Steele, Otway, Dryden, Pope, Warburton, Cibber, Fielding, Churchill, Bolingbroke, and Dr. Johnson; Rich, Woodward, Booth, Wilkes, Garrick, and Macklin; Kitty Clive, "Peg" Woffington, Mrs. Pritchard, the Duchess of Bolton, Lady Derby, Lady Thurlow, and the Duchess of St. Alban's; Sir Peter Lely, Sir Godfrey Kneller, and Sir James Thornhill; Vandevelde, Zincke, Lambert, Hogarth, Hayman, Wilson, Dance, Meyer, and Samuel Foote. But even to this list it would be possible to make many additions.
Strange as it may appear, Covent Garden was for a long period fashionable as a residence and a promenade. From 1666 down to 1700 the following noble persons tenanted the Piazzas:—Lords Hollis, Brownlow, Lucas, Newport, Barkham; Crewe, Bishop of Durham, Duke of Richmond, Earl of Oxford, Sir Godfrey Kneller, Sir Edward Flood, Sir Kenelm Digby, Earl of Bedford, Hon. Colonel Russel, Bishop of St. David's, Marquis of Winchester, Earl of Sussex, and the Earl of Peterborough, in the house where the auctioneer Robins afterwards flourished.
Earl Ferrers, who was executed in 1760 for the murder of his servant, was living in Covent Garden in 1722. Even so lately as the reign of George II. Covent Garden retained much of its fashionable character. At all events, in the March of 1730 the Daily Advertiser gravely tells its readers that "the Lady Mary Wortley Montague, who has been greatly indisposed at her house in Covent Garden for some time, is now perfectly recovered, and takes the benefit of the air in Hyde Park every morning, by advice of her physicians." The same journal for June 10, 1731, tells us that, "A few days ago the Right Hon. the Lady Mary Wortley Montague set out from her house in Covent Garden for the Bath."
The Piazzas attracted many remarkable literary and scientific persons. In addition to Sir Godfrey Kneller, several gifted painters chose them for their studios—viz., John Zoffany, Aggas, Sir Peter Lely, Peter Roestraten, Mrs. S. P. Rose (a famous watercolourist), and John Mortimer Hamilton. Benjamin West, too, when he first came from America, resided in Covent Garden. The neighbouring streets, also—King Street, Henrietta Street, &c.—were crowded with "persons of quality."
The area of Covent Garden, when as yet it had
not been set aside for the worship of the goddess
Pomona, was a fine open space, which served as a
playground for the youths of London and Westminster, lying as it did half-way between each city.
To this fact Gay alludes in his "Trivia," every line
obviously being a sketch drawn from the life:—
"Where Covent Garden's famous temple stands,
That boasts the work of Jones' immortal hands,
Columns with plain magnificence appear,
And graceful porches lead along the square.
Here oft my course I bend, when, lo! from far
I spy the furies of the football war.
The 'prentice quits his shop to join the crew;
Increasing crowds the flying game pursue.
O whither shall I run? the throng draws nigh,
The ball now skims the street, now soars on high;
The dext'rous glazier strong returns the bound,
And jingling sashes on the penthouse sound."
But it is time to enter into a more detailed account of the district. The large square, with the fruit and vegetable market in its centre, which is known to every Londoner and to most Englishmen as "Covent Garden," was laid out during 1630–31 by Francis, fourth Earl of Bedford, from the designs of Inigo Jones. In all probability the Square was never completed, its sides being built at different times; and Mr. P. Cunningham is of opinion that they may not have been even "designed in full." The Arcade or Piazza, however, ran along not only the north but the whole of the eastern side. That part to the south of Russell Street, however, was burnt down, and the Piazza was never replaced, probably from motives of economy.
The church of St. Paul, erected between the years 1631 and 1638, also from the design of Inigo Jones, formed, as it still forms, the western side of "the Garden," whilst its southern side for many years was formed by a blank wall which bounded the garden of Bedford House. Along this ran a row of trees, under the shade of which the market was originally held, and afterwards in a few temporary stalls and sheds.
The Square, or "Market-place," as it is often called in books and documents of the date of the Rebellion and of Charles II., seems to have grown gradually in importance as a place of business. Its inhabitants doubtless were proud of it, and foresaw that in the course of time it would prove a source of income and profit. Accordingly we find the parishioners of St. Paul's, in 1656, taxing themselves for painting the benches and seats there, and ten years later for planting a new row of trees; and between 1665 and 1668 the wealthier residents subscribed various sums towards setting up the column and dial mentioned below. It was not, however, until 1671 that the market was formally established under a charter granted by the king to the Earl of Bedford; and Mr. Cunningham tells us that eight years later, when the market was the first time actually rated to the poor, there were twenty-three salesmen amenable to the rate. For a contemporary description of the market as it was in 1689, we fortunately have Strype to refer to. He writes:—
"The south side of Covent Garden Square lieth open to Bedford Garden, where there is a small grotto of trees, most pleasant in the summer season; and on this side there is kept a market for fruits, herbs, roots, and flowers every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday; which is grown to a considerable account, and well served with choice goods, which makes it much resorted to." It would appear, however, from another passage in Strype, that at this time it was inferior as a market to the "Stocks' Market" in the City—of which we have already spoken (fn. 1) —afterwards transferred to the west side of Farringdon Street. In 1710, as we can see by a print published in that year, the market was still restricted to a few stalls and sheds on the south side.
Before the middle of the century, however, a great change had come over the place: the streets around being largely inhabited by well-to-do persons and their dependents, the market gradually increased, and the small hucksters and retail dealers began to erect sleeping apartments over their stalls to such an extent as to provoke a memorial from the inhabitants in vestry assembled to the Duke of Bedford, complaining of this encroachment as prejudicial to the tradesmen and fair dealers.
The prints of the square, at the time of which we write, show the inclosure as gravelled, and fenced in with rows of low posts and chains. In its centre was a fluted column of the Corinthian order, with a sun-dial on the top, which would appear by an inscription to have been erected in 1668. Thornton, in his "Survey of London and Westminster" (1786), speaks of the column as surrounded by four sun-dials, and informs us that the inner portion of the Square at that time was surrounded by light wooden rails.
The column, as we learn from another source, stood on a pedestal, which was raised upon six steps of black marble. The capital was very much enriched; it supported a square stone, three sides of which served as sun-dials. Upon this stone stood a globe, supported by four scrolls. It was removed in June, 1790.
Upon the steps of this column sat sundry old
women who sold milk, porridge, barley-broth, &c.,
and to whom allusion is thus made in a brochure
entitled "The Humours of Covent Garden," published in 1738:—
"High in the midst of this most happy land
A well-built marble pyramid does stand,
By which spectators know the time o' th' day
From beams reflecting of the solar ray;
Its basis with ascending steps is grac'd,
Around whose area cleanly matrons plac'd
Vend their most wholesome food, by Nature good,
To cheer the spirits and enrich the blood."
Mr. Peter Cunningham reminds us that the scene of Dryden's Sir Martin Mar-all is laid in this once fashionable quarter of the town, and that allusions to the Square, the Church, and the Piazza are of constant occurrence in the dramas of the reigns of Charles II., James II., William and Mary, and Anne. Thus the Piazza is the locality of a scene in The Soldier's Fortune of Otway, and also of one in The Country Wife of Wycherley.
There were plenty of stands for hackney coaches in and around Covent Garden at the commencement of the reign of George III., and Voltaire probably often used them in passing backwards and forwards between the theatres and his lodgings in Maiden Lane. The forms and shapes of these lumbering vehicles are familiar to all who know Kip's prints of the period referred to.
Such, then, in its main and leading features, was and is the district which will occupy our attention during the next two or three chapters, a district most interesting in a literary point of view, though the coffee-house and theatrical elements will be found, we fear, to predominate very much over that of domestic life. In fact, with the exception of certain actresses, and a few grand ladies of "the quality," the feminine element is "conspicuous by its absence," the coffee-houses of the last century being the equivalent of the clubs and club-land of the present.
The vicinity, however, it is only fair to state here, bore scarcely a higher repute on quite another score. At night it was simply unsafe for pedestrians. For was not Dryden waylaid and beaten by Mohocks or Mohawks at the corner of Rose Street and King Street? In spite of this fact, however, and although it is well known that certain parts of London, Hyde Park for instance, a century ago were very unsafe thoroughfares, on account of footpads and highway robbers, we may raise a smile of incredulity on the faces of some of our readers when we quote the following remarks from Shenstone, in the reign of George II.:—
"London is really dangerous at this time; the pickpockets, formerly content with mere filching, make no scruple to knock people down with bludgeons in Fleet Street and the Strand, and that at no later hour than eight o'clock at night; but in the Piazzas, Covent Garden, they come in large bodies, armed with couteaus, and attack whole parties, so that the danger of coming out of the playhouses is of some weight in the opposite scale when I am disposed to go to them oftener than I ought." And in like manner, and with the same meaning, Shadwell in one of his plays makes a character remark: "They were brave fellows indeed; for in those days a man could not go from the 'Rose' Tavern to the Piazza once but he must venture his life twice."
The Mohocks are well described in the Spectator,
and in Swift's Journal; and Shadwell's comedy of
The Scourers affords a striking picture of the
dangerous state of the streets of London at night
in the early part of the eighteenth century. In
reference to this, Gay writes:—
"Who has not heard the Scourers' midnight fame?
Who has not trembled at the Mohocks' name?"
"These disorderly ruffians," observes Mr. Peter Cunningham, "seldom ventured within the City proper, where the watch was more efficient than in any other part; but took their stand about St. Clement Danes and Covent Garden, breaking the watchman's lantern and halberd, and frequently locking him up in his own stand-box." The curious reader may find much amusing information on this subject in the old ballad of "The Ranting Rambler, or a Young Gentleman's Frolic through the City at night, and when he was taken by the Watch," printed in Mackay's "Songs of the London Prentices' and Traders;" and in Arthur Murphy's letters to David Garrick will be found a graphic sketch of one of the best of the race, known as "Tiger Roach," the bully of the "Bedford Coffeehouse" in 1769.
It is satisfactory to know that, thanks to the police, both the Piazza and King Street are to be traversed now-a-days with less danger to life and limb.
COVENT GARDEN (continued).
"Thames Street gives cheeses, Covent Garden fruits;
Moorfields old books, and Monmouth Street old suits."—Gay's Trivia.
The Market described—The Covent Garden of the Past and Present contrasted—Best Time to view the Market—The Flower Market—The Piazza—The Irish Society of Fortune-hunters—Pepys in the Piazza—Theodore Hook and Sheridan—The Puppet Show—The "Bedford Coffee House"—The Floral Hall—The "Hummums"—"Evans's Hotel"—The Old Supper Room—The New Hall—Famous Residents in Covent Garden—Auction Rooms—Marriage à-la-Mode.
It is now, however, time to proceed to a more minute description of Covent Garden itself. The present market, which occupies all the centre of the square, consists of a central arcade and two side rows of shops, intersected in the centre by another thoroughfare at right angles. It was built, in 1830, by John, sixth Duke of Bedford, whose architect was Mr. William Fowler. The centre consists of an arch raised upon the entablature of two Tuscan columns, with a single-faced archivolt supported by two piers, which carry a lofty triangular pediment, the tympanum of which is embellished by the armorial bearings of the noble owner of the soil, his Grace the Duke of Bedford. On each side of this appropriate centre, which is high enough to admit a lofty loaded wagon into the central area, is a colonnade of the Tuscan order, projecting before the shops. The columns are of granite; and over the east end is the inscription, "John, Duke of Bedford. Erected mdcccxxx."
At each of the extreme angles of the four portions of this new market are raised quadrangular pavilions, which break the monotony of the composition in a very satisfactory and artistic manner, for they are at the same time useful and ornamental. The area of the market is about three acres, and it forms the principal mart of the metropolis for fruit, vegetables and flowers.
Those who wish to see the sight and smell the scent of fresh flowers in London in the summer should pay a visit to Covent Garden before, or, at the latest, soon after sunrise on Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday; but the central arcade is a pretty sight at whatever time, and in whatever season, it may be visited.
"The contrast between the Covent Garden of fifty years ago and the present," says Mr. Diprose, in his "Book about London," "is as wide a one as can possibly exist. The old watchman—helpless for good, and the most corrupt of public officers—the turbulent and drunken old women, the porters quarrelling over their morning potations, the jaded and neglected horse dropping beneath the cartload of half-rotten turnips, the London rakes—(fast men of those days)—making, not the night, but morning, hideous by their obscene blasphemies, and deeming it conduct becoming of gentlemen to interrupt honest industry and to scoff at early labour;—all this has gone, and so also are the terrible lessons that it inculcated. Order is now preserved as well as it can be amongst a rude assemblage of women and men whose battle for existence begins when the civilisation of the great city slumbers."
"There is no rus in urbe," writes Charles Kenny, "like Covent Garden Market. Here Nature empties forth her teeming lap filled with the choicest of produce. … It is the metropolitan congress of the vegetable kingdom, where every department of the 'growing' and 'blowing' world has its representatives—the useful and the ornamental, the needful and the superfluous, the esculent and the medicinal. It is a twofold temple, dedicated to Pomona and Flora, in which daily devotion is paid to the productive divinities. Here, as in a very temple, all classes and grades, all denominations and distinctions of men jostle each other in the humility of a common dependence on the same appetites, the same instincts, the same organs of taste, sight, and smell—the fashionable lady, who has left her brougham at the entrance, in quest of some pampered nursling of the conservatory, and the wan needlewoman bent on the purchase of a bunch of wallflowers, or a root of pale primroses to keep her paler cheeks in countenance; the artisan's wife, purveying for her husband's meal, and the comfortable housekeeper, primed with the discriminating lore of Mrs. Glass, making provisions for her winter's preserves; the bloated gourmand, in search of precocious peas, and the sickly hypochondriac eager to try the virtue of some healing herb.
"The priestesses who serve the temple form two distinct classes—those of Pomona and those of Flora—the basket-woman and the bouquet-girl. As to the former, hers is no finiking type of female beauty; the taper waist and slender neck would ill befit the rude labours she is devoted to. Her portly figure is rather architectural than sculptural in its graces; and with arms upraised, in support of the basket balanced on her head, she might serve as a model for the caryatids of a new temple to the deity she serves.
"He who would behold her in full activity must gratify his curiosity at some expense. He must voluntarily accomplish that which is enforced upon the vegetable visitor of the market—he must tear himself from his bed, foregoing the suavities of the morning's sleep to face the bleak air of dawning day: unless, indeed, he repair to the scene, as we have often done, as a sort of 'finish'—to use the language of antiquated fast men—after a round of evening parties, his temples throbbing with an unhallowed mixture of festive beverages, from the bland negus to the ice-bound fire of champagne punch; his senses jaded with a thousand artificial and violent delights; and, perhaps, a secret wound rankling at his heart—a wound that he has attempted to treat with light indifference, and to bury under a hecatomb of flirtations, but which now asserts itself with redoubled pangs, and mingles its reproaches to the many-voiced objurgations of conscience to sicken and disgust him with his existence. Under such circumstances is it that the most striking phase of Covent Garden—that which it presents on the morning of a market-day—will produce its fullest effect.
"Towards the afternoon another and very different phase of the market is presented. To the range of heavy-tilted carts and wagons has succeeded a line of brilliant and elegant equipages. The utile has given place to the dulce, and pleasure now shows itself almost as busy as need. Over this period of the day Flora more especially presides, and the bouquet-girl—her priestess—is in the height of her ministry. Her delicate fingers are now busily employed in tricking out the loveliness of Nature; for even her loveliest daughters must be drilled and trained ere they can make their début in the world of artifice they are called upon to adorn. Their slender stems need a wiry support to prop the head that else would droop in the oppressive atmosphere of the ball-room or the theatre. Art must draw fresh beauties from the contrast of each with the other; nor will the self-complacent ingenuity that paints the lily and gilds refined gold be satisfied till it has completed their toilet by investing them in a white robe of broidered paper.
"The clients of the bouquet-girl consist almost exclusively of the sighing herd of lovers. These, with the exception of an occasional wholesale order from the manager of a theatre with a view to some triumphant début, form the staple consumers of her wares. But among the whole tribe she has no such insatiate customer as he who is struggling in the toils of a danseuse. 'If music be the food of love,' bouquets are certainly the very air upon the regular supply of which hangs its existence; and on such air does the danscuse, chameleon-like, seem exclusively to live. They are the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of her life—the symbols of her triumphs, public and domestic."
Covent Garden Market, it is true, is a limited arena, in comparison with its requirements, and consequently on market mornings the streets and avenues around, for half a mile, are thronged with merchants and traders, with heavy carts or wagons, from the elegantly painted light van to the hand-cart of the humble coster. "The apparent tumult of these occasions," says Mr. Diprose, in his "Book about London," "is all sober business, and the earnestness of all present is most remarkable to a stranger, who is apt to look upon the scene as one of the wildest uproar and confusion. The thousands of tons of vegetables and fruit are dispersed through every avenue and artery of the metropolis by nine o'clock, and the market is then apparently emptied; excepting the many choice fruits and early vegetables to be found in the beautiful arcade, when the peaceable folks arrive on the exquisite mission of discovering delicacies for some poor cast-down invalid friend; and it is in this long-continued arch that the bouquets are made for the evening exhibitions which do such terrible mischief in Cupid's calendar, at balls, theatre, opera, concert, and in the private boudoir of my 'ladye-love.'"
A visit to Covent Garden Market in the early morning in summer is one that should not be missed. Between the hours of one and five there is apparently little bustle in the market, though business goes on rapidly; and the scene presented is curious in the extreme. It is one of those phases of life in which Charles Dickens delighted, and which would require the pen of Swift, or Sterne, or Fielding, to describe adequately and picturesquely, as it deserves. It has been sketched slightly by several hands, but by none perhaps as effectively as it might be. Nor can this be a matter of wonder; for in order to get a view of the scene an effort is required which would be too great a tax on the energies of a hard-worked man of letters in London, and would involve an amount of self-denial beyond his powers. But at all events, it is freely granted that "this market" is the most popular, not only in England, but throughout the world. "When I had no money," writes Charles Dickens, "I took a turn in Covent Garden, and stared at the pine-apples in the market."
"People who know Covent Garden only in its quiet afternoon aspect," says a writer in the City Press, "can form no idea of the vile den it is at the busy hour of daybreak. Then the cabbages and peas that have been fermenting in the wagons for some hours past are tilted out on the flagstones, and scrambled for by porters, who die early through exhaustion and excessive labour at unseemly hours. Then it is that the citizen's dinner is tossed to and fro, smoking with the temperature it has attained by close packing and long confinement, and is at last consigned to an unclean cart, for the district where its destiny is to be completed. The citizens are happily ignorant of the copper used in cooking, and the preliminary cooking vegetables are subjected to on their way to and from the market. We are fully cognisant of the fact that Spitalfields and Farringdon absorb some portion of the trade in vegetables; but Covent Garden is the market, par excellence, and it is a disgrace to the metropolis to be compelled to rely on the capabilities of a place which, spacious as it may be, is fitted at the very utmost to serve as a market for a town of 60,000 inhabitants."
"The flower market of Covent Garden," observes a clever American writer, "is carried on in the open area opposite the church, and at the entrance of the grand row of shops which runs down the centre. The growers chiefly bring their productions into the market at or before midnight, and about one o'clock is the briskest period of the sale, the road being rendered almost impassable from the number of basket-women and others taking in their supply for the day of flowers in pots, as well as cut flowers. A more animated scene of the bustle of business, with the gay and varied hue of the flowers, and their delightful fragrance, it is scarcely possible to describe, than that which continues till about four or five o'clock, when the traders, having generally exhausted their stock, return home, and the dealers are on their way to supply their different walks and routes for the day. The peripatetic dealers having obtained their supply, the next who come in for their share are the various greengrocers of the metropolis, who take but a limited supply; whilst the remnants are left to salesmen for the day's demand of the market. The chief source of the costermonger's market is in the metropolis; and their supply being exhausted on other days but those of the market-days of Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, they replenish their stock from the nurserymen, who may be considered the manufacturers, in the neighbourhood of the metropolis, from whom the limited and humble flora of the metropolis is supplied. It is amusing likewise to contemplate the variety of persons who, at an early hour in the morning, are the visitants of the Market. There are the humble trader trafficking with the grower for his day's supply; the rake or the roué, and the unhappy companion of his night's frolic and dissipation, retiring to their unhallowed rest, whilst others are actively employed in the business of the day; the sot reeling home from his night's debauch, unfitted for the occupation which demands his exertion; the unfortunate, who, homeless, has wandered the streets, and contemplates luxuries in which he cannot indulge; and others induced to visit thus early this fac-simile, as it may be termed, of the most interesting of country enjoyments in the pursuit of health and pleasurable gratification. Such compose the motley group which we jostle against in an early visit to Covent Garden Market.
"The nature of the supply of flowers to the market of course depends upon the season; but it is surprising to what an extent art has beaten nature in the race for priority. In the midst of winter Covent Garden Market shows all the realities of advanced and advancing spring. In February we have primulas, mignonette, wallflowers, violets, tulips, hyacinths, narcissusses, and other forced bulbs; in March, forced verbenas, camellias, epacrises, the heaths of Australia, lilacs, rhododendrons, azaleas, the honeysuckles of the American woods, and kalmias; in April these are more numerous, with a variety of hybrid heaths, acacias forced, roses, and pelargoniums; in May a greater variety of heaths are coming to perfection; and now also we have, in large and interesting variety, pelargoniums or geraniums, the standard flower of English ornament; mignonette, which has continued in perfection all through this artificial season, is now very abundant, and the beautiful China roses add a variety to the scene. In June the varieties of pelargoniums are in full perfection, and upwards of one hundred distinct sorts grace the show in the market; so great being the supply at this time of year that frequently from five to six hundred dozens are daily sent by growers. We have now the beautiful pendant fuchsias, many sorts of verbenas, cactuses, hydrangeas, cockscombs, balsams, stocks, heartsease; and pinks and picotees will soon be added to enliven the floral scene. Now, too, we have the pretty gardenia or Cape jasmine; and the sweet-scented lemon-plant. The flower-market is at the acme of its perfection, and the usual variety of supply continues, with little variation, till the autumnal months."
Some idea may be formed of the taste for flowers in London, and the extent of trade done in them, by reading a case of bankruptcy before Mr. Registrar Brougham, October 19th, 1871, at the hearing of which a proof was put in for £353 for flowers supplied in six months to one individual. Among the items were charges of 10s. 6d. for a moss-rose, and £150 for lilies of the valley and ferns.
A new building has been erected in the southeast corner of the market-place, in which the wholesale business of the flower-market is mainly carried on. The structure possesses little or nothing in the way of architectural pretensions, and has its principal entrance in Wellington Street.
At Wilton House, near Salisbury, the seat of the Earl of Pembroke, there is a fine picture of Covent Garden, painted by Inigo Jones himself. It represents the place in its original state, with a tree standing in the middle. A companion picture by the same artist, as already stated, it may be added, gives a view of Lincoln's Inn Fields when first built upon.
The houses on the north and east sides of the market inclosure, as already mentioned, were so built as to form a covered pathway before the shopfronts, which was commonly known as the Piazza. The name "piazza," as every scholar knows, means in the Italian simply "place," or "square;" but with us it denotes an open arcade of semi-cloistral appearance. Such an arcade, running round the north and part of the east side of the great Square of Covent Garden, came, we know not exactly how, to be called "The Piazza"—possibly an instance of the logical fallacy which puts the part for the whole—and thus the term in English has passed into quite a different signification; and so in Blount's "Glossographia" it is vaguely explained as "a market-place or chief street, such as that in Covent Garden."
The Piazza when first erected was a fashionable lounge, and generally regarded as a work of high artistic merit. Allusions are constantly made to it in the works of the dramatists of the time of the Stuarts and of the first half of the eighteenth century, as a place of appointments and assignations. Peter Cunningham tells us that the north side was called the Great, and the east the Little Piazza; and that so popular and fashionable did the place become, that for a century after its erection many of the female children baptised in the parish were christened "Piazza!"
Thornton, in his "Survey of London and Westminster," published in 1786, says of the Piazza, that if it had been carried around the Square, according to the plan of Inigo Jones, it would have rendered Covent Garden one of the finest squares in Europe. This is perhaps the language of exaggeration; but it certainly is much to be regretted that the design was not carried out in its entirety. Horace Walpole writes: "In the arcade there is nothing very remarkable; the pilasters are as errant and homely stripes as any plasterer could have made." On this Mr. Peter Cunningham very justly remarks: "This is very true now, though hardly true in Walpole's time, when the arcade remained as Inigo Jones had built it, with stone pilasters on a red-brick frontage. The pilasters, as we now see them, are lost in a mass of compo and white paint; the red bricks have been whitened over, and the pitched roof of red tile replaced with flat slates." It will be remembered by readers of the English drama, that in this same piazza Otway has laid one of the scenes in his play, The Soldier of Fortune.
In discoursing of this parish, the "London Spy" (1725) observes that "the vicissitude of all human affairs is pretty discernible in the lives of the gamesters who patrol the Piazza for about three hours generally in the afternoon." The writer adds sarcastically, with reference to the freaks of fortune often witnessed here, as now-a-days at Homburg or Baden, "I have known an inauspicious hand of cards or dice transmute a silver-hilted sword into a brass one…On the other hand, a pair of second-hand shoes has often here stepped at once into a chariot."
The same authority states that in this parish the Irish Society of Fortune-hunters are said to hold their quarterly meetings; but, as his account of their "transactions" on one of these occasions is clearly an exaggerated piece of satire, it is probable that the statement should be received cum grano salis. Little boys used to play a bat game—a sort of cricket—under the Piazza.
Pepys thus writes, in his "Diary," under date
of January 2, 1664–5:—"To my Lord Brounker's
by appointment, under the Piazza in Covent
Garden, where I occasioned much mirth with a
ballet [ballad] that I brought with me made from
the seamen at sea to their ladies in town." This
ballad, it would appear, was none other than the
well-known song beginning—
"To all ye ladies now on land."
In the Piazza, close to the steps of Covent Garden Theatre, about 1704, lived Sir Godfrey Kneller, State-painter to five sovereigns of England in succession, and the painter of scores of the leaders of fashion, as well as of the portraits of the "Kit-cat Club."
Here too Wilson, "the English Claude," friend of Garrick and Dr. Arne, had rooms in his palmy days; poor unlucky Wilson, with his Bardolph nose and fondness for porter and skittles! Utter opposite of the courtly Reynolds, Wilson died neglected and forgotten in a little village in Denbighshire; still his fame among connoisseurs now is almost as great as that of the famous portraitpainter, and happy the possessor of one of his classic sunshiny landscapes.
The "Piazza" Hotel was long a favourite resort of Richard Brinsley Sheridan and his friends, both those of wit and dramatic talent and those of rank.
It was by an improvisation at the "Piazza" Tavern that Theodore Hook, when little more than a lad, made that favourable impression on Sheridan which led to his introduction to the gay West-end circles in which for many years he shone supreme as a wit and amateur singer.
Under the Piazza in Covent Garden, Powell, about 1710, set up his well-known Puppet Show, which had acquired great celebrity in the provinces at Bath, and which is immortalised in the Spectator. It was humorously announced by Steele that Powell would gratify the town with the performance of his drama on the story of the chaste Susannah, which would be graced by the addition of two new elders. In the fourteenth number of the Spectator is a bantering letter which purports to be written by the sexton of St. Paul's parish church, and in which the latter complains, "When I toll to prayers, I find my congregation take warning of my bell, morning and evening, to go to a puppet-show set forth by one Powell under the Piazza. By this means I have not only lost two of my best customers, whom I used to place, for sixpence a-piece, over against Mrs. Rachel Eyebright, but Mrs. Rachel herself has gone thither also. There now appear among us none but a few ordinary people, who come to church only to say their prayers, so that I have no work worth speaking of but on Sundays. I have placed my son at the Piazzas to acquaint the ladies that the bell rings for church, and that it stands on the other side of the garden; but they only laugh at the child. I desire that you would lay this before all the whole world, that I may not be made such a tool for the future, and that Punchinello may choose hours less canonical. As things are now, Mr. Powell has a full congregation, while we have a very thin house." So well known and popular was this place of amusement that Burnet asks, in "The Second Tale of a Tub," "What man or child that lives within the verge of Covent Garden, or what beau, belle, or visitant of Bath, knows not Mr. Powell?"
The "Bedford Coffee-house"—an establishment rendered famous in connection with the names of Garrick, Quin, Foote, Murphy, Sheridan, and other theatrical celebrities—stood at the north-east corner of the Piazza. "This coffee-house," observes a writer in the Connoisseur (in 1754), "affords every variety of character. This coffee-house is crowded every night with men of parts. Almost every one you meet is a polite scholar and a wit; jokes and bon-mots are echoed from box to box; every branch of literature is critically examined, and the merit of every production of the press, or performance at the theatres, weighed and determined. This school . . . . . has bred up many authors to the amazing entertainment and instruction of their readers." It appears to have been modelled on "Button's," but it never reached the fame of that coffee-house, frequented as it had been—even by the confession of its friends and supporters—by Addison, Steele, and Pope, in the previous generation. And yet the "Bedford" once attracted so much attention as a place of public resort as to have its history written. Nor is its history one of those "blanks" which, if the proverb be true, constitute the happiness of nations and peoples; for a search in the Library of the British Museum will convince even the most incredulous that the "Memoirs of the 'Bedford' Coffee House," which were first published in 1751, reached a second edition twelve years afterwards.
The "Bedford" was Foote's favourite coffeehouse. In 1754, when it was in the height of its fame, Foote would sit there, in his usual corner, a king among the critics and wits, like Addison and Steele at "Button's." "The regular frequenters of the room," says Mr. John Timbs, "strove to get admitted to his party at supper; and others got as near as they could to the table, as the only wit flowed from Foote's tongue." Everybody who knew this celebrated wit came early, in the hope of being one of his party during supper; and those who were not acquaintances had the same curiosity in engaging the boxes near him. Foote, in return, was no niggard in his conversation, but, on the contrary, was as generous as he was affluent. He talked upon most subjects with great knowledge and fluency; and whenever a flash of wit, a joke, or a pun came in his way, he gave it in such a style of genuine humour as was always sure to circulate a laugh, and this laugh was his glory and triumph.
Another frequenter of the "Bedford" was Garrick. One day he was leaving the house with Foote, when the latter let fall a guinea, and exclaimed as he looked about for it, "Why, where on earth has it gone to?" "Gone to the d——l!" replied Garrick, still, however, continuing the search. "Well said, David," was the quick and witty answer of Foote; "let you alone for making a guinea go further than any one else in the world."
It will be remembered that here, too, at the shilling rubber meeting, arose the sharp squabble between Hogarth and Churchill, when Hogarth used some insulting language towards Churchill, who resented it in "The Epistle." "Never," says Horace Walpole, "did two angry men of their abilities throw mud at each other with less dexterity."
It was at the "Bedford Coffee-house" that the Beefsteak Club, of which we have already spoken in connection with the Lyceum Theatre, was for some time held under date of 1814. Mr. J. T. Smith, in his "Book for a Rainy Day," writes:—"Mr. John Nixon, of Basinghall Street, gave me the following information respecting the Beefsteak Club. Mr. Nixon, as secretary, had possession of the original book. Lambert's Club was first held in Covent Garden Theatre, in the upper room, called the 'Thunder and Lightning;' then in one even with the two-shilling gallery; next in an apartment even with the boxes; and afterwards in a lower room, where they remained until the fire. After that time, Mr. Harris insisted upon it, as the playhouse was a new building, that the Club should not be held there. They then went to the 'Bedford Coffee-house' next door. Upon the ceiling of the dining-room they placed Lambert's original gridiron, which had been saved from the fire. They had a kitchen, a cook, and a wine-cellar, &c., entirely independent of the 'Bedford Coffee-house.' The society held at Robins's room was called the 'Ad Libitum' Society, of which Mr. Nixon had the books, but it was quite unconnected with the Beefsteak Club." Previously to being called the "Bedford" the house had been held by Macklin, who then kept what Fielding calls a "Temple of Luxury."
In the north-east corner of the Piazza, and immediately adjoining the Opera House, with which it communicates, is the Floral Hall. This elegant building was intended as the realisation of a longcherished scheme on the part of Mr. Gye, namely, to establish a vast central flower-market, for many years a growing desideratum in the metropolis. An opportunity was at last presented by the rebuilding of Covent Garden Theatre, after its destruction in 1856; and it was decided to carry out Mr. Gye's favourite plan, by erecting an arcade on the south side of the new Opera House. The ground-plan of the building may be described as resembling two sides of an unequal triangle, the principal entrance being by the side of the Opera House, in Bow Street, at the end of the longer side of the figure, while the other opens upon Covent Garden Market, on the side of the Piazza. The public footway of the Piazza is continued along the Covent Garden entrance, in the shape of a gallery roofed with glass and iron. The main arcades run in a direct line from the entrances, and are surmounted at the point of junction by a lofty dome of fifty feet span, which forms an imposing object in the view. This dome, as well as the roofs, are principally composed of wrought iron; the arches, columns, and piers are of cast iron; the frontage, both in Bow Street and the Piazza, is of iron and glass, of which the entire structure is principally composed, brickwork forming but a very small part of the composition. The utmost length of the arcade, from the Bow Street entrance to the west wall, is 227 feet; and the length of the shorter side, from Covent Garden Market to the wall of the theatre, nearly 100 feet. The total height, from the ground to the top of the arched dome, is rather over 90 feet. Each of the main arcades is 75 feet wide, and has a side-aisle between the main columns and the wall, 13 feet in width and 30 in height. The entrances are both elegant and simple, the doorways being so deeply recessed as, in conjunction with the richly-designed iron arches which give admission to the interior, to obviate the flat appearance which generally characterises buildings of glass and iron. The interior is fully equal in lightness and grace of design to the exterior. The columns which support the roof are of cast iron, with richly ornamented capitals, the latter perforated, in order to ventilate the basement beneath, with which the hollow columns communicate. The ground having been excavated beneath, the principal floor forms a basement of the same area as the building above it, and sixteen feet in height, the floor of the arcade being supported by cast-iron columns. This building was, as its name implies, designed for a flower-market, and was expected to prove a boon to the many florists and nurserymen scattered among the outskirts of London, but has never fulfilled the purpose for which it was erected. It was opened on the 7th of March, 1860, with a Volunteer ball, under royal patronage, and has since been employed principally, if not solely, for concerts during the season.
In the south-east corner of the market-place, and occupying that portion which was destroyed by fire, are two hotels, known by the strange names of the "Old Hummums" and the "New Hummums." The name is a corruption of the Eastern word "Humoum." Mr. Wright, in his "History of Domestic Manners of England," says, "Among the customs introduced from Italy was the hot sweating bath, which, under the name of the hothouse, became widely known in England for a considerable time." Sweating in those hot-houses is spoken of by Ben Jonson; and in the old play of The Puritan, a character, speaking of some laborious undertaking, says, "Marry, it will take me much sweat; 'twere better to go to sixteen hot-houses." These "Hummums," however, when established in London, seem to have been mostly frequented by women of doubtful repute, and they became, as in the East, favourite rendezvous for gossip and company of not the most moral kind. They soon came to be used for the purposes of intrigue, and this circumstance gradually led to their suppression.
The "Old Hummums" was the scene of what Dr. Johnson pronounced the best accredited ghoststory that he had ever heard. The individual whose ghost was said to have appeared here in a supernatural manner was a Mr. Ford, a relation or connection of the learned doctor, and said to have been the riotous parson of Hogarth's "Midnight Modern Conversations." The story is told at full length by Boswell, and we need not repeat it here.
In the north-west corner of Covent Garden is "Evans's Hotel," supper-rooms, and music-hall. The house is a fine specimen of a London mansion of the olden time. It was built originally in the reign of Charles II., and was for a time the residence of Sir Kenelm Digby, as we learn from Aubrey's "Lives:"—"Since the restoration of Charles II., he (Sir Kenelm Digby) lived in the last faire house westward in the north portion of Covent Garden, where my Lord Denzill Holles lived since. He had a laboratory there. I think he dyed (died) in this house."
The mansion was subsequently altered, if not rebuilt, for the Earl of Orford, better known by the name of Admiral Russell, the same who, in 1692, defeated Admiral de Tourville, near La Hogue, and ruined the French fleet. From the Earl of Orford it passed to the Lords Archer. The house, which is said to have been the first family hotel established in London, is built of fine red brick, and down to about the year 1850, when considerable alterations were made in its appearance, the façade was thought to resemble the forecastle of a ship. The front of the house, still used as an hotel, is remarkable for its magnificent carved staircase, and for at least one elegantly painted ceiling, which remains in its original state.
At the end of the last, and during the early part of the present century, when used as a dinner and coffee-room only, it was called in the slang of the day, "The Star," from the number of men of rank by whom it was frequented. Indeed, it is said that previous to the establishment of clubs, it was no unusual occurrence for nine dukes to dine there in one evening.
The rooms on the left hand of the entrance are used by the members of the Savage Club, composed mainly of dramatists and dramatic authors.
"Evans's" is thus described by a writer in Once a Week, in 1867:—"About twenty years ago the list of metropolitan concert-rooms was headed by 'the Cyder Cellars' and 'Evans's.' The entertainments to be found in such places were not very select; but while the former has disappeared altogether, the latter has been altered and purged. The surviving establishment, half supper-room and half music-hall, and one of the 'lions of London,' is situated at the western extremity of Covent Garden Piazza. It is subject to peculiar and stringent regulations. Ladies are not admitted, except on giving their names and addresses, and then only enjoy the privilege of watching the proceedings from behind a screen. The whole of the performances are sustained by the male sex, and an efficient choir of men and boys sing glees, ballads, madrigals, and selections from operas, the accompaniments being supplied on the piano and harmonium… The new hall, one of the most elaborately ornamented in London, was erected from designs by Mr. Finch Hill. Its proportions are certainly fine, and the decorations cost about £5,000. On the occasion of our last visit to 'Evans's,'we heard standard music, English, German, and Italian, performed with admirable spirit, precision, and delicacy. The performances commence at eight o'clock; and we recommend 'Evans's' to the notice of steady young men who admire a high class of music, see no harm in a good supper, but avoid theatres and the ordinary run of musichalls. The so-called café is a spacious room, supported by pillars, and hung round with portraits of actresses. Previous to the erection of the new hall, the chamber thus adorned was used as the singing-room."
The present hall, to which the café forms a sort of vestibule, is on a level with the cellars in front, and runs out at the rear of the house, occupying a plot of ground which was formerly the garden of Sir Kenelm Digby. At a later period it contained a cottage in which the Kemble family occasionally resided, when in the full tide of their popularity. According to tradition, it was in this cottage that their talented daughter, Miss Fanny Kemble, was born. The hall is about 33 feet high, and as many wide; it is about 72 feet long from end to end; and with the old room, through which it is approached, the entire length is 113 feet. The carved ceiling, richly painted in panels, is supported on either side by a row of substantial columns with ornamental capitals, from which spring bold and massive arches; these columns help also to support the gallery, which extends along the two sides and one end of the hall, and in which are the private screened boxes alluded to above. The hall is well lighted by sun-light burners; it is also well ventilated, well conducted, well served, and therefore well patronised. A numerous army-corps of waiters, including a battalion of boys in buttons, flit noiselessly about, attending to the creature comforts of the visitors, who, between the hours of ten and twelve, are continually dropping in to enjoy a hot supper and listen at the same time to the charming melodies provided for their delectation.
Sir William Alexander, Earl of Stirling, the poet, resided in 1637 in a house in the north-west corner of Covent Garden; here also Thomas Killigrew, the wit, was living between the years 1637 and 1662. The site was afterwards occupied by Denzil Holles, Sir Harry Vane, Sir Kenelm Digby; Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham; and Russell, Earl of Orford. The house was subsequently taken by Lord Archer, who married Sarah, the daughter of Mr. West, some time President of the Royal Society. Mr. West's. library and collection of prints, coins, and medals, were sold in this house, and occupied the auctioneer six weeks in the disposal of it. After the above sale in 1773, the mansion was converted into a family hotel, by a person named David Low, and is said to be the first of the kind established in London. About 1790, a Mrs. Hudson became proprietor. Her advertisements were curious; one ends thus—"Accommodation, with stabling, for one hundred noblemen and horses." After one or two more changes in the proprietorship, the hotel came into the hands of Mr. W. C. Evans, of Covent Garden Theatre, whose name has ever since been associated with it. In 1844 he retired, and Mr. John Green became proprietor and manager. This gentleman, who was well known in the musical profession as "Paddy Green," was a man of rather eccentric character; he died in December, 1874. The new music-hall was built in 1856.
It was in the north-western angle of the Piazza that Sir Peter Lely resided for many years. It is well known that names were sometimes adopted from sign-boards. That of Rothschild, the "Red Shield," is an example. Another instance is to be found in Sir Peter Lely. "His grandfather," says Mr. Larwood, "was a perfumer, named Van der Vaas, and lived at the sign of the 'Lily'—possibly a 'vase' of lilies. When his son entered the English army, he discarded his Dutch name, and for the paternal sign adopted the more euphonious name of Lilly or Lely." He died at the age of sixty-three, in 1680.
To the above list of notables who have resided here must be added the name of Dr. Berkeley, the philosopher, Bishop of Cloyne. Zoffany's house was the same which afterwards became the auctionroom of George Robins, and Peter Cunningham identifies "the second house eastward from James Street" as the abode of Sir James Thornhill.
The auction-rooms of George Robins were for many years one of the celebrities of London. They were formerly known as "Langford's and Cox's," and formed part of the mansion originally tenanted by Sir Peter Lely; but more recently they were used by the owner of the Tavistock Hotel as breakfast-rooms. In these rooms, says Mr. Peter Cunningham, "Hogarth exhibited his 'Marriage à la Mode' gratis to the public." These are the same rooms which we have mentioned as subsequently tenanted by Richard Wilson, the landscape painter, if we may believe Mr. J. T. Smith, in his "Life of Nollekens."
It may be worth a passing note to record the fact that Covent Garden was the first place in London where a balcony or "belconey," as it was at first styled, was set up; it was said to be an invention of the Lord Arundel of the time.