Three generations of Covent Garden market trading

An interview conducted by Patrick Preston

Photo:Harry stands on the far right of his families barrow

Harry stands on the far right of his families barrow

Harry Goodey

Photo:Covent Garden market in its heyday

Covent Garden market in its heyday

Lyn Baker

Photo:Harry working on his stall

Harry working on his stall

Harry Goodey

Today’s pristine shopping precincts and streets crowded with tourists are a far cry from Harry’s memories of racing along Lollipop Hill – the local name for Mercer Street when it was home to a sweetshop – on scooters made at home from ball bearings and bolts salvaged from the local ironmongers. Harry’s Covent Garden memories go back to his own childhood, his school days at St Joseph’s on Macklin Street, and have also been passed down from the two previous generations of his family who lived in Seven Dials and sold fruit and vegetables at Covent Garden market: ‘It had such a bad reputation, this area: slums. They pulled ‘em all down’, says Harry, of the area that his grandparents came to live in after arriving from Ireland. 

Harry now lives at Endell Street, just around the corner from his grandparent’s original home on Shorts Gardens, above what is now Neal’s Yard cheese shop: ‘ that was Johnny Maybank’s rag and bone shop when I was a kid.’ The building housed six families. ‘Every morning she left a big jug of cocoa on the doorstep for the dossers at Johnny Farmer’s kip house’, the homeless shelter next door. ‘If you didn’t have three happenies, you had to sleep on the rope’, standing up and leaning on a rope which was supplied by Harry’s grandfather who kept a stable and two horses in Seven Dials.

Harry also tells me about the cat meat stall in Seven Dials, during his grandparent’s time in the area, which supplied food for the wild cats, helping to keep the numbers of rats down. ‘Rats used to come out every night with top hat and tails on. Everywhere you went was rats. These girls used to come up every day with a basket and a hook, buying the cats meat to take down to the market’, throwing meat over the baskets of fruit and vegetables.

It wasn’t only the cats that disappeared when the market was moved to Battersea in 1974, and at several moments in our conversation Harry seems saddened by the changes caused by the move, which rendered the atmosphere ‘dead as a doornail, it was a desert.’ Prior to this, ‘It was fantastic. All the boys bought their flowers and the old girls went down Oxford Street selling flowers. All gone. Shame.’

The changes since Harry grew up in Covent Garden are ‘unbelievable’, and Harry sometimes has to search hard to find the ‘soul’ of Covent Garden, ‘There’s hardly anybody here now.’ Nonetheless, there are signals that the community Harry knows has not disappeared; six of his friends were in a pub around the corner on the evening that we met,  ‘all local boys.’ And it is people like Harry, who drops newspapers through the letterbox of his elderly neighbour, who help to keep it alive. And Harry is grateful for the successes of the campaign to curb redevelopments of Covent Garden in the 70s, ‘Thank god they didn’t succeed. Can you imagine office blocks all up here? A bypass and all this rubbish.’ He sees some of the developments as being good for the area, ‘Better than pulling it down and putting up an office block.’ Although the market might since have moved to Battersea, and the shops and piazza are now a source of frustration rather than convenience, Harry and his memories remain in Covent Garden, and he laughs as he tells me, ‘I could tell you loads of stories.’


This interview was conducted as part of the Lottery Heritage Fund project, ‘Gentleman We’ve Had Enough: The Story of the Battle to Save Covent Garden ’. On Friday 10 May 2013, King’s College London students, supported by Westminster Archives, the Covent Garden Community Association, and the Centre for Life-Writing Research at King’s College London, interviewed Covent Garden residents about their memories of the area. Students’ accounts of their interviews have been added to this Covent Garden Memories website. For more information see: www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/ahri/centres/lifewriting/gentlemen.aspx.






This page was added by Patrick Preston on 17/07/2013.

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