Victorian London - Directories - Dickens's Dictionary of London, by Charles Dickens, Jr., 1879 - "Covent Garden"

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Covent Garden — No visitor to London should miss paying at least two visits to Covent-garden: one at early morning. Say at 6am.— the hour is an untimely one, but no one will regret the effort that the early rising involves—to see the vegetable market; the other, later on, to see the fruits and flowers. All night long on the great main roads the rumble of the heavy waggons seldom ceases, and before daylight the "market" is crowded. The very loading of these waggons is in itself a wonder, and the wall-like regularity with which cabbages, cauliflowers, turnips, are built up to a height of some 12ft. is nothing short of marvellous. Between 5 and 6 o'clock the light traps of the green- grocers of the metropolis rattle up, and all the streets around the market become thronged with their carts, while the costermongers come in in immense numbers. By 6o'clock the market is fairly open, and the din and bustle are surprising indeed. Gradually the large piles of vegetables melt away. If it be summer-time flowers as well as fruits are sold at the early markets. Then there are hundreds of women and girls among the crowd, pur- chasing bunches of roses, violets, and other flowers, and then sitting down on the steps of the church, or of the houses round the market, dividing the large bunches into smaller ones, or making those pretty button-hole bouquets in which our London flower-girls can now fairly hold their own in point of taste with those of France or Italy. Even in winter flower-girls find materials for their little bouquets; for, thanks to steam, violets are brought from the Scilly and Channel Isles, and even from the South of France, and there is always a certain supply of hothouse flowers; so that there are many flower-girls who ply their trade at all seasons of the year. After 8 o'clock the market becomes quiet. The great waggons have moved off; the debris of cabbage-leaves and other vegetable matter has been swept up, and Covent-garden assumes its everyday aspect. And a very pretty aspect it is. The avenue as at all times of the year a sight, the shops competing with each other in a display of flowers and fruit such as can scarcely, if at all, be rivalled in any capital of Europe. In winter the aspect of the fruit shops changes somewhat, but not so much as might have been expected, for steam and heat have made it possible for the rich to eat many fruits, which formerly were in season but a month or two, all the year round. On each side of the main avenue are enclosed squares, and here the wholesale fruit market is carried on. In winter there are thousands of boxes of oranges, hundreds of sacks of nuts, boxes of Hamburg grapes and of French winter pears, barrels of bright American apples. At ten o'clock the sale begins; auctioneers stand on boxes, and while the more ex- pensive fruits are purchased by the West-end fruiterers, the cheaper are briskly bid for by the costermonger. Listen to the prices at which the fruit sells, and you will wonder no longer at the marvellous bargains at which these itinerant vendors are able to retail their fruits, although, perhaps, you may be astonished when you remember the prices at which you have seen the contents of some of these boxes marked in fruiterers' shops. Outside the market there is almost always something to see. In winter a score of men are opening orange boxes and sorting their contents; in autumn dozens of women and girls are extracting walnuts from juicy green outside cases; in spring-time the side facing the church is occupied by dealers in spring and bedding flowers, and the pavement is aglow with colour of flower and leaf, and in the early summer hundreds of women and girls are busily occupied in shelling peas. Country visitors will go away from Covent Garden with the conviction that to see flowers and fruits in perfection it is necessary to come to London. NEAREST Railway Stations, Charing-cross, S.E. & Dist.); Omnibus Routes Strand, St. Martin's-lane, and Holborn. Cab Ranks, Bedford-street and Catherine-street.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879