Covent Garden Market: 1968-1974

Anyone who has visited Covent Garden Market in Central London in the last twenty-five years or more will be aware that it is now a place of street performers, trendy small shops, popular pubs and restaurants, and is normally packed full of tourists. But it was originally a market specialising in the wholesale of fruits and vegetables and fresh flowers. I found this series of photos online, all taken by a keen photographer, Clive Boursnell.

The main Market Hall.

‘Clive Boursnell’s photos of Old Covent Garden Market, captured between 1968 and 1974, are a marvel to behold, his beautifully observed reportage capturing the myriad sights, characters and details making up central London’s main market in its final years.’

All images © Clive Boursnell

A porter rushing by with a heavily laden barrow. Clive caught his speed by blurring the image.

A trader talking to his horse. The horse seems to like him.

Two female market workers.

A trendy young couple with boxes of flowers.

A dandy of a man with his Dalmatian dog.

This local nun was shopping for flowers.

A tired-looking woman sitting next to her wares.

This dapper trader reads his newspaper as he waits for the next customer.

Two women in identical cardigans tying heather into bunches. They are probably East European or Gypsies, and would sell the heather on the streets.

A smart modern woman ties up her flower boxes.

This dealer’s display was sure to catch the eye of shoppers.

61 thoughts on “Covent Garden Market: 1968-1974

            1. This is the actual dictionary definition, Jennie.
              ‘Excessively or affectedly quaint, pretty, or sentimental.’
              I used it in the context of the current Covent Garden area, as it deliberately seeks to recapture the charm of old street markets (at much higher prices though) and in my opinion, it fails to do that. 🙂
              Best wishes, Pete.

              Liked by 1 person

  1. I love Covent Garden, but I’ve only known it in its current form. It is wonderful to see it as it is. (The images remind me of Hitchcock’s Frenzy, set there as well). The two women workers are wonderful, and I think the horse is having a laugh. All of them are fantastic. Thanks, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ok. I feel silly asking what year this was in my previous comment. If I had only read the full title. Oops. Sorry.

    I am surprised a horse drawn carriage was used for delivery in the 1970’s. I thought that stopped after the 1950’s. Unless the horse was just there? Maybe somebody just rode their horse to the market? But why? If your horse is for recreational ridding, why would you take him or her to such a busy place? That’s why I assume there’s a carriage or wagon behind it…. So many things to think about and question in one picture.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The horse would have been used to pull a cart. You can tell that by the big collar and harness, and the wooden shaft of the cart is also visible in the photo. It would likely have been stabled further out in another part of London, and the cart driven in with the goods, or empty to collect goods. The market opened very early in the morning, usually before dawn. I’m sure nobody would have ridden to the market for recreation or even to use the horse as personal transport. But horses and carts were still common sights on many London streets until the 1980s.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you very much for a detailed explanation.

        I didn’t realize horse drawn carts were so recently. It’s an era that seems so environmentally friendly and nice. My mother remembers horse carts being used to deliver bread and milk when she was a child. She remembers petting the horses and giving them sugar cubes. In a way it saddens me that horses are not used anymore and that the whole era is gone, even though I wasn’t even alive at the time.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I have written about the use of horses and carts before on my blog, and posted some photos too. I was familiar with them being used to deliver milk and coal when I was a child in London in the 1950s. They were also used by breweries to deliver beer in the centre of the city until fairly recently.
          My grandad used to send us out with shovels to collect the horse manure from under the horses. He used it as fertilizer on the roses in his smal back garden.
          I didn’t leave London until 2012, and even then some local scrap dealers were still using horses. Very much in the style of the old TV show, ‘Steptoe and Son’.
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. The years are in the post title. Between 1968 and 1974. Some people would still have been using horses in the 1960s (and up to the 1980s) for various tasks, but I suspect most of the colour photos were taken after 1970.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. It is quite a ‘nasty’ film in some respects, Robbie. But Barry Foster is a good creepy killer, (against his usual type of role) and the rest of the cast support well. Its main interest is in the time and place, London changing in the 1970s.
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. (1) Covent Garden supervisor: “Check every box, and then mark it.”
    (2) Porter to Clive Boursnell: “I’ll walk slowly while you run by with your camera.”
    (3) Horse: “Here’s some free advice. Never look a gift horse in the mouth!”
    (4) Hot babes? Those female market workers are smokin’!
    (5) Nagging woman: “I use to be a fresh bloom until you had your way with me!”
    (6) “The flowers are for my mistress, Cruella de Vil.”
    (7) Overheard:
    Florist: “Who are the flowers for?”
    Nun: “They’re for me. Father O’Flanagan deflowered me last night!”
    (8) “Selling my wares really wears me out!”
    (9) “The shoeshine boy is late again!”
    (10) I’ve seen Heathers. I like that movie a bunch!
    (11) A smart modern woman ties up her flower boxes. A stupid woman does not.
    (12) Someone tossed a thorny rose at me. It caught my eye.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The two women with hands in coat pockets and fag stuck in mouth…that’s a classic! My mum used to always have a cigarette like that. Britain was a nation of smokers…it used to be awful till they instituted no-smoking which I guess must have been tough on those who smoked. You can see from these pics how hard life was for many of those people, though the chap wearing a suit seems OK. I remember gypsies…they got the blame for everything.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gypsies still get the blame here in Norfolk, and it is mostly deserved to be frank.
      I smoked until I was 60, and came from a heavy-smoking family where everyone over 16 smoked. It seemed completely normal to us. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.


  5. I think he found the real Nora Batty! 😀 I find it incredible that so many traders could manage to make a living in such a vast space; I wonder if that could be one of the reasons why it closed? Cheers, Jon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes it was, Gavin. This explains it.
      ‘The area was fields until briefly settled in the 7th century when it became the heart of the Anglo-Saxon trading town of Lundenwic, then abandoned at the end of the 9th century after which it returned to fields. By 1200 part of it had been walled off by the Abbot of Westminster Abbey for use as arable land and orchards, later referred to as “the garden of the Abbey and Convent”, and later “the Convent Garden”. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries it was granted in 1552 by the young King Edward VI to John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford (c.1485–1555), the trusted adviser to his father King Henry VIII. The 4th Earl commissioned Inigo Jones to build some fine houses to attract wealthy tenants. Jones designed the Italianate arcaded square along with the church of St Paul’s. The design of the square was new to London and had a significant influence on modern town planning, acting as the prototype for new estates as London grew’.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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