Covent Garden: Then & Now

Covent Garden after the Rain, 1982

Covent Garden after the Rain, 1982

I took the color transparency above in Covent Garden, London, one afternoon in 1982, just after a short rain shower. Even though the buildings were against the sun and mostly in darkness, the wet cobbles reflected the sunset and created a fantastic lighting effect. It really was a case of being in the right place at the right time, and with the right equipment.

I’d actually been inside the London Transport Museum, which was immediately behind me in the photograph. While in the museum, I heard the rain on the roof, but couldn’t see it because of the building’s high windows. Soon after the rain stopped, I noticed a brilliant orange glow reflecting onto the ceiling. Thinking that this might be a great opportunity, I rushed outside, and I wasn’t disappointed. Ever since then, I’ve been glad that I impetuously cut short my visit to the museum that afternoon!

Yesterday’s pointless atrocity in London brought to mind this photo, and the terrorist threats that always hung over us, even back when I lived there in the 1980s. In those days, most of the threats came from the IRA (or people claiming to represent them), but only a very small number were real.

As a student, I worked as a Sales Assistant at Selfridges store in Oxford Street during some of the university breaks, and sometimes on Saturdays. As part of our training, we received specific instructions as to what to do if we were notified of a bomb threat, because the store received such threats almost every day! Fortunately, while I lived in London, all the threats at Selfridges were hoaxes, but there was a car bomb at Harrods during Christmas 1983, and I had worked at Harrods only the previous Christmas.

Covent Garden in 2001

Covent Garden in 2001

In 2001, I returned to Covent Garden, and took the photo above from almost the same position as the 1982 photograph, but in obviously different weather conditions. (It’s true that a further 16 years have passed since I took the “Now” photograph!)

At first, everything seemed to be just the same as it had been in 1982, and it wasn’t until I compared the two photographs that I realized what had changed.

The building that was originally Covent Garden market hall is still visible on the right, and it’s as popular a destination now as it was then.

In the earlier photograph, there’s a multi-storey building on the left with many rooms obviously lit by fluorescent strip lights. By the time of the later photograph, this building had been completely replaced. Had that happened a couple of decades earlier, it’s likely that the entire street would have been razed and replaced with examples of “modern architecture”, but fortunately lessons have been learned since then. Many modern redevelopments at least attempt to blend with the surrounding architecture.

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