A Slice of Alternative London

A Slice of Alternative London

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.

The Crown

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.

The Seven Dials - or should that be Six
The Seven Dials - or should that be Six

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.

Entry to Neal's Yard

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.

Neal's Yard Dairy in Short's Gardens
Neal's Yard
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.

Homeslice Pizza Cafe

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.

The Neal's Yard Waterclock
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32 thoughts on “A Slice of Alternative London

    1. Easymalc Post author

      What is ‘alternative’ one minute becomes mainstream and the norm the next. Thanks for visiting AOC

      Reply
  1. Alli Templeton

    Nice to see a different aspect of London, Malc. I like the idea of ‘alternative’ London, and I reckon I’d feel more at home in these places than I would in many parts of the capital. Love the sound of Homeslice too! Yum… 😀

    Reply
        1. Easymalc Post author

          I reckon you would make a killing with all those scrumptious dishes, not to mention a Sticky Rogers to swill it all down with

          Reply
          1. Alli Templeton

            If the recipes I’ve tried out so far are anything to go by, that’s absolutely right! And, of course, everything’s better with a glass of mead – especially of the Sticky Rogers variety!

            Reply
  2. TheRamblingWombat

    Another fascinating insight into a lesser known spot in London. You may recall I wrote about a Metropolitan Police coat hook and early traffic lights at a similar intersection (six roads), less than 500 metres directly south of seven dials. I love these insights and they are what makes London great, for me.

    Reply
  3. Toonsarah

    I’m a big fan of Neal’s Yard Dairy (and they make much-appreciated regular donations of surplus food through Plan Zheroes at Borough Market), but I’ve never tried the pizza place there – added to my list 🙂 Nice to see the Crown feature too – I’ve had many a drink in there!

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      I assume that it’s the Neal’s Yard Dairy near Borough Market that contributes to Chris’s worthwhile cause.

      Reply
      1. John

        We would have been Michelin rated and AA Rosetted for the food quality on Lundy Malc. Probably still would even though I’m no longer there. But to get an inspection the inspectors would have had to stay over for as many nights as between boats/helicopters. Neal’s Yard is all about clever marketing.

        Reply
          1. John

            Tell you what we did get. We had Petroc college queing up to offer us all sorts of courses. Jolly for them and free accomadation and reasonable (HA!) expenses. Amanda was rather cute but alas about 30 years too young ;-HIC!

            Reply
  4. scooj

    My old manor! When I was about 19, my folks moved to Montague Place in Bedford Square, so this area was about fifteen minutes walk away. I spent a lot of time in Covent Garden and even had a temporary job there for a few weeks. A wonderful area of London.

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      Nobody could ever accuse London of being dull, and Covent Garden is a good example. I’m glad to see it’s brought back some good memories again Stephen.

      Reply
  5. Francisco Bravo Cabrera

    Totally fab my friend and great pictures I say, lovely Malc, and all the best, may you enjoy a wonderful week. Great weather in Valencia now, rain has stopped, though it’s a trifle cool at 6 degrees…take good care,
    Francesc

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      Always ‘fab’ to hear from you Francesc and thanks again for your smashing comments. I can’t imagine Valencia in the rain somehow, so I’m pleased to hear that it’s stopped 🙂 I should try and get round to doing a post on it, but all the pictures I’ve got would need to be digitalised. Have a great week and keep up your brilliant work.

      Reply
  6. Nemorino

    I don’t think I’ve ever been to Seven Dials — one more place to add to my list, for some future time when travel might again be possible.

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      We got to keep sticking in there Don. I wonder if the hotspots will be quite so busy when this is all over. Thanks for visiting Seven Dials, virtually at least.

      Reply

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