As I explained in my previous post on Covent Garden,it has no set boundary as such, but most people head for the piazza at the former fruit and veg market, which is where most of the action is.
Just north of the piazza on the other side of Long Acre at Shelton Street, Covent Garden passes from Westminster into the Borough of Camden and the Seven Dials district of St. Giles, which has quite a different feel to it, especially around Neal’s Yard.
Seven Dials was a concept dreamt up by Thomas Neale MP in the early 1690s. The idea was to have streets radiating out from a sundial pillar in the centre, and it wasn’t just to make it look good, but also to maximize his profits from the venture by charging rents on per foot of frontage rather than per square foot of interior space.
He commissioned the respected stonemason Edward Pierce to design the pillar with six sundial faces, but he added a seventh road to the scheme after the pillar was constructed in 1694. His aim was to make the area the most fashionable in London, but by the 19th century it had ended up as one of the most notorious slum areas in the city and renowned for its gin palaces: At one point, each of the seven apexes around the monument consisted of pubs, only one of which still remains – The Crown, on the apex of Monmouth Street and Short’s Gardens.
These days, the area is a prosperous commercial district with an air of respectability about it, but the original pillar was removed to Weybridge (Surrey) in 1773. In 1989 a replacement was erected at Seven Dials following the original design, with each of the sundials being accurate within ten seconds – apparently.
Right from the beginning, the sundial pillar and symbolic star layout of the streets, attracted astrologers, followers of the occult, and people who believed in alternative medicine to Neal’s Yard – a triangular courtyard that is sandwiched between Neal Street, Monmouth Street and Shorts Gardens.
The ‘Alternative’ idea was resurrected again in the 1970s by Nick Saunders who bought up a derelict warehouse to sell whole foods; which then spawned other establishments such as Neal’s Yard Dairy and Neal’s Yard Remedies.
Organic produce and holistic remedies are the order of the day here, and although it’s probably too late for me to change my ways and become a vegan now, I really don’t mind eating vegetarian food, and so I thought I’d give a pizzeria called Homeslice a try.
I really liked this rustic little place with its wood-fired oven and convivial atmosphere: For example, I could have ordered a 20 inch Mushroom, Ricotta, Pumpkin Seed & Chilli pizza for twenty quid, but in the end chickened out (sorry about that), and opted for a slice of Caramelized Onion, Olives, Anchovy and Chorizo for £4 (current prices in Nov 2020 are £22 and £5 respectively).
These offerings may not quite hit the spot in Naples perhaps, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and wouldn’t hesitate to drop back in here again if ever I was in the area.
Neals’ Yard and Seven Dials are near to where Shaftesbury Avenue meets Charing Cross Road, so if you fancy a taste (vegetarian or otherwise) of Alternative London, then come and take a butchers look at this different part of Covent Garden the next time you’re in the West End.