Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Place of the Week: Covent Garden, London
Samuel Pepys was the first to make written mention of Punch when he observed a puppet show offered by a “Professor” known as “Signor Bologna” on May 9, 1662. Pepys wrote in his diary on that date, “Thence with Mr. Salisbury, who I met there, into Covent Garden to an alehouse, to see a picture that hangs there, which is offered for 20s., and I offered fourteen—but it is worth much more money—but did not buy it, I having no mind to break my oath. Thence to see an Italian puppet play that is within the rayles there, which is very pretty, the best that ever I saw, and great resort of gallants.” The date of this first written mention of Mr. Punch was adopted as his birthday. So, on Monday, he’ll be embarking on his 349th birthday. Punch will forever be associated with Covent Garden. A plaque commemorates his birthplace, and his presence is evident everywhere from the performances in the square to the pub named in his honor.
By Queen Victoria’s reign, Parliament had vowed to clean up the area. Charles Fowler’s large neoclassical structure enclosed and organized the market and the theaters began to operate under Royal decree. From 1830 onward, Covent Garden thrived—regaining its status as a gathering place, but also affording a welcoming atmosphere for artists and street performers.