The first historical record of Covent Garden dates back to 1200, when it consisted of fields. Owned by Westminster Abbey, the land where the Market Building and the Piazza now stand was referred to as ‘the garden of the Abbey and Convent’, hence its name.
In 1540, the land was granted to John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, whose descendant was to transform it into an innovative new London neighbourhood a century later.
With the support of King Charles I, the 5th Earl of Bedford set about converting his estate into the first ever experiment in urban planning in London. In 1630, he commissioned Inigo Jones, the most important architect of the day, to create the first public square in the country at Covent Garden.
The Piazza was a watershed in English architecture and wealthy families moved into the arcaded houses he designed to the north and east.
After the Great Fire of London in 1666, the entire square was devoted to the selling of fresh fruit and vegetables and Covent Garden became London's largest market.
In 1828 the architect Charles Fowler was commissioned to design the neo-classical Market Building but a century and a half later it was evident that the market had outgrown its magnificent venue.
In the 1970s, plans to demolish and redevelop Covent Garden were stopped following a vigorous campaign by local residents and in 1980 Covent Garden re-opened as Europe's first speciality shopping centre following a five-year renovation.
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