Situated in the heart of Covent Garden and next to both the Bow Street Magistrates Court and The Royal Opera House, The Fielding stands proudly as one of London's most historically rich hotels.
Covent Garden and local history
The area is dominated by shopping, street performers and entertainment facilities and contains an entrance to the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, which is also widely known simply as "Covent Garden", and the bustling Seven Dials area.
The area is bounded by High Holborn to the north, Kingsway to the east, the Strand to the south and Charing Cross Road to the west. Covent Garden Piazza is located in the geographical centre of the area and was the site of a flower, fruit and vegetable market from the 1500s until 1974, when the wholesale market relocated to New Covent Garden Market in Nine Elms. Nearby areas include Soho, St James's, Bloomsbury and Holborn.
Roman times to the 1500s
A settlement has existed in the area since the Roman times of Londinium. "Convent Garden" (later becoming Covent Garden as we know it today) was the name given, during the reign of King John (1199-1216), to a 40-acre (16 ha) patch in the county of Middlesex, bordered west and east by what is now St. Martin's Lane and Drury Lane, and north and south by Floral Street and a line drawn from Chandos Place, along Maiden Lane and Exeter Street to the Aldwych.
In this quadrangle the Abbey or Convent of St. Peter, Westminster, maintained a large kitchen garden throughout the Middle Ages to provide its daily food. Over the next three centuries, the monks' old "convent garden" became a major source of fruit and vegetables in London and was managed by a succession of leaseholders by grant from the Abbot of Westminster.
This type of lease eventually led to property disputes throughout the kingdom, which Henry VIII solved in 1540 by the stroke of a pen when he dissolved the monasteries and appropriated their land.
King Henry VIII granted part of the land to Baron Russell, Lord High Admiral and, later, Earl of Bedford. In fulfilment of his father's dying wish, King Edward VI bestowed the remainder of the convent garden in 1547 to his maternal uncle, Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset who began building Somerset House on the south side of Strand the next year. When Seymour was beheaded for treason in 1552, the land once again came into royal gift, and was awarded four months later to one of those who had contributed to Seymour's downfall. Forty acres (16 ha), known as "le Covent Garden" plus "the long acre", were granted by royal patent in perpetuity to the Earl of Bedford.
1600s to 1800s
The modern-day Covent Garden has its roots in the early 17th century when land ("the Convent's Garden") was redeveloped by Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford. The area was designed by Inigo Jones, the first and greatest of English Renaissance architects. He was inspired by late 15th century and early 16th century planned market towns known as bastides (themselves modelled on Roman colonial towns by way of nearby monasteries, of which "Convent" Garden was one). The centrepiece of the project was an arcaded piazza. The church of St Paul's, Covent Garden stood at the centre of the western side of the piazza. A market, which was originally open air, occupied the centre of the piazza.
The area rapidly became a base for market traders, and following the Great Fire of London of 1666 which destroyed 'rival' markets towards the east of the city, the market became the most important in the country. Exotic items from around the world were carried on boats up the River Thames and sold on from Covent Garden. The first mention of a Punch and Judy show in Britain was recorded by diarist Samuel Pepys, who saw such a show in the square in May 1662. Today Covent Garden is the only part of London licensed for street entertainment with performers having to undertake auditions for the Market's management and representatives of the performers' union and signing up to timetabled slots. In 1830 a grand building reminiscent of the Roman baths such as those found in Bath was built to provide a more permanent trading centre.
On 7 April 1779, the pavement outside the Covent Garden playhouse was the scene of the notorious murder of Martha Ray, mistress of the Earl of Sandwich, by her admirer the Rev. James Hackman, who was hanged twelve days later.
Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies
Covent Garden was a well-known red-light district in the 18th Century. The activities in Covent Garden were documented in Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies, a titillating list providing the addresses of prostitutes and whore houses, as well as details of their "specialities". During its heyday (1757 to 1795) Harris's List was the "essential guide and accessory for any serious gentleman of pleasure".
In 1913, responding to political feeling against large holdings of real property, and wishing to diversify his investment portfolio into less politically sensitive fields, the Duke of Bedford agreed to sell the Covent Garden Estate to the MP and land speculator Harry Mallaby-Deeley for £2 million. The following year Mallaby-Deeley sold his option to buy to the pill manufacturer Sir Joseph Beecham for £250,000. After delays caused by the First World War and the death of Sir Joseph, the sale was finalised in 1918, the purchasers being Sir Joseph's two sons, Sir Thomas and Henry. The transaction included the market, 231 other properties, and sundry other rights. The property was part of Beecham Estates and Pills Limited from 1924 to 1928 and from 1928 it was owned by a successor company called Covent Garden Properties Company Limited, owned by the Beechams and other private investors. This new company sold some properties at Covent Garden, while becoming active in property investment in other parts of London. In 1962 the bulk of the remaining properties in the Covent Garden area, including the market, were sold to the newly established government-owned Covent Garden Authority for £3,925,000.
By the end of the 1960s, traffic congestion in the surrounding area had reached such a level that the use of the square as a market, which required increasingly large lorries for deliveries and distribution, was becoming unsustainable. The whole area was threatened with complete redevelopment. Following a public outcry, in 1973 the Home Secretary, Robert Carr, gave dozens of buildings around the square listed building status, preventing redevelopment. The following year the market finally moved to a new site (called the New Covent Garden Market) about three miles (5 km) south-west at Nine Elms. The square languished until its central building re-opened as a shopping centre and tourist attraction in 1980. Today the shops largely sell novelty items, though street performers can be seen almost every day of the year, both on the pitches within the market, and on the West and East Piazza's/James Street outside. More serious shoppers gravitate to Long Acre, which has a range of clothes shops and boutiques, and Neal Street, noted for its large number of shoe shops. London's Transport Museum and the side entrance to the Royal Opera House box office and other facilities are also located on the Piazza.
Covent Garden Market
In August 2007, Covent Garden launched the UK's first food Night Market. Fresh produce from over 35 different stalls included Neal's Yard's specialist cheeses, Spore Boys' mushroom sandwiches, Gourmet Candy Company, Ginger Pig sausages and Burnt Sugar fudge. The aim of the Night Market was to bring Covent Garden back to its roots as the "Larder of London". Organisers are hoping to make it a permanent event in 2008 as part of a wider initiative to regenerate interest in the Covent Garden area.
Covent Garden Market and Piazza was bought by Capital and Counties in August 2006 for £421 million. In March 2007 Capco also acquired the shops located under the Royal Opera House. The complete Covent Garden Estate owned by Capital and Counties consists of 550,000 sq ft (51,000 m2). and has a market value of £650 million.
Covent Garden Market re-opened as a retail centre in 1980, after the produce market was moved to its current location in Nine Elms. Currently one of the most famous and popular parts of the covered Covent Garden market is Apple Market, a small subsection of the main market. Street entertainment at Covent Garden was first mentioned in Samuel Pepys' diary in 1662. Today Covent Garden is the only part of London licensed for street entertainment with performers having to undertake auditions for the Market's management and representatives of the performers' union and signing up to timetabled slots.
Currently performers operate in a number of venues around the market, including the North Hall, West Piazza, and South Hall Courtyard. The courtyard space is dedicated to classical music only. There are street performances at Covent Garden Market every day of the year, except Christmas Day. Shows run throughout the day and are 30-40 minutes in length.
Bow Street Magistrates' Court
Bow Street Magistrates' Court was the most famous magistrates' court in England for much of its existence, and was located in various buildings on Bow Street in central London close to Covent Garden throughout its history.
The first court at Bow Street was established in 1740, when Colonel Sir Thomas de Veil, a Westminster justice, sat as a magistrate in his home at Number 4. De Veil was succeeded by novelist and playwright Henry Fielding in 1747, when he became a Justice of the Peace. He was appointed a magistrate for the City of Westminster in 1748, at a time when the problem of gin consumption and resultant crime was at its height. There were eight licensed premises in the street and Fielding reported that every fourth house in Covent Garden was a gin shop. In 1749, as a response to the call to find an effective means to tackle the increasing crime and disorder, Fielding brought together eight reliable constables, known as "Mr Fielding's People",who soon gained a reputation for honesty and efficiency in their pursuit of criminals. The constables came to be known as the Bow Street Runners.
The early 1800s saw a dramatic increase in number and scope of the police based at Bow Street with the 1805 formation of the Bow Street Horse Patrole, which covered edge of London and was the first uniformed police unit in Britain, and in 1821 the Dismounted Horse Patrol which covered suburban areas.
When the Metropolitan Police Service was established in 1829, a station house was sited at numbers 25 and 27. In 1876 the Duke of Bedford leased a site on the eastern side of Bow Street to the Commissioners of HM Works and Public Buildings for an annual rent of £100. Work began in 1878 and was completed in 1881-the date of 1879 in the stonework above the door of the present building is the date on which it had been hoped that work would finish.
In its later years, the court housed the office of the Senior District Judge (Magistrates' Courts), who heard high profile matters, such as extradition cases or those involving eminent public figures.
Throughout the years many famous defendants have had there cases heard at the courthouse. A couple of the more romantic (and less macabre) figures include Oscar Wilde and Giacomo Casonova.
The Royal Opera House.
Home of the home of The Royal Opera, The Royal Ballet and the Royal Orchestra, the Royal Opera House is Britain's premier centre for classical performing arts.
The current building is the third theatre on the site. The façade, foyer and auditorium date from 1858, but almost every other element of the present complex dates from an extensive reconstruction in the 1990s.
The main auditorium is a Grade 1 listed building.
The Davenant Patent
The foundation of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden lies in the letters patent awarded by Charles II to Sir William Davenant in 1660, allowing Davenant to operate one of only two patent theatre companies (The Duke's Company) in London. The letters patent remained in the possession of the Opera House until shortly after the First World War, when the document was sold to an American university library.
The first theatre
In 1728, John Rich, actor-manager of the Duke's Company at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre, commissioned The Beggar's Opera from John Gay. The success of this venture provided him with the capital to build the Theatre Royal (designed by Edward Shepherd) at the site of an ancient convent garden, part of which had been developed by Jack Moore in the 1630s with a piazza and church. In addition, a Royal Charter had created a fruit and vegetable market in the area, a market which survived in that location until 1974. At its opening on December 7, 1732, Rich was carried by his actors in processional triumph into the theatre for its opening production of William Congreve's The Way of the World.
During the first hundred years or so of its history, the theatre was primarily a playhouse, with the Letters Patent granted by Charles II giving Covent Garden and Theatre Royal, Drury Lane exclusive rights to present spoken drama in London. Despite the frequent interchangeability between the Covent Garden and Drury Lane companies, competition was intense, often presenting the same plays at the same time. Rich introduced pantomime to the repertoire, himself performing (under the stage name John Lun, as Harlequin) and a tradition of seasonal pantomime continued at the modern theatre, until 1939.
In 1734, Covent Garden presented its first ballet, Pygmalion. Marie Sallé discarded tradition and her corset and danced in diaphanous robes. George Frideric Handel was named musical director of the company, at Lincoln's Inn Fields, in 1719, but his first season of opera, at Covent garden, was not presented until 1735. His first opera was Il pastor fido followed by Ariodante (1735), the première of Alcina, and Atalanta the following year. There was a royal performance of the Messiah in 1743, which was a success and began a tradition of Lenten oratorio performances. From 1735 until his death in 1759 he gave regular seasons there, and many of his operas and oratorios were written for Covent Garden or had their first London performances there. He bequeathed his organ to John Rich, and it was placed in a prominent position on the stage, but was among many valuable items lost in a fire that destroyed the theatre in 1808.
In 1775, Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Duenna premièred at Covent Garden.
The second theatre
Rebuilding began in December 1808, and the second Theatre Royal, Covent Garden (designed by Robert Smirke) opened on September 18, 1809 with a performance of Macbeth followed by a musical entertainment called The Quaker. The actor-manager John Philip Kemble, raised seat prices to help recoup the cost of rebuilding, but the move was so unpopular that audiences disrupted performances by beating sticks, hissing, booing and dancing. The Old Price Riots lasted over two months, and the management was finally forced to accede to the audience's demands.
During this time, entertainment was varied; opera and ballet were presented, but not exclusively. Kemble engaged a variety of acts, including the child performer Master Betty; the great clown Joseph Grimaldi made his name at Covent Garden. Many famous actors of the day appeared at the theatre, including the tragediennes Sarah Siddons and Eliza O'Neill, the Shakespearean actors William Charles Macready, Edmund Kean and his son Charles. On March 25, 1833 Edmund Kean collapsed on stage while playing Othello, and died two months later.
In 1806, the pantomime clown Joseph Grimaldi (The Garrick of Clowns) had performed his greatest success in Harlequin and Mother Goose; or the Golden Egg at Covent Garden, and this was subsequently revived, at the new theatre. Grimaldi was an innovator: his performance as Joey introduced the clown to the world, building on the existing role of Harlequin derived from the Commedia dell'arte. His father had been ballet-master at Drury Lane, and his physical comedy, his ability to invent visual tricks and buffoonery, and his ability to poke fun at the audience were extraordinary.
Early pantomimes were performed as mimes accompanied by music, but as Music hall became popular, Grimaldi introduced the pantomime dame to the theatre and was responsible for the tradition of audience singing. By 1821 dance and clowning had taken such a physical toll on Grimaldi that he could barely walk, and he retired from the theatre. By 1828, he was penniless, and Covent Garden held a benefit concert for him.
In 1817, bare flame gaslight had replaced the former candles and oil lamps that lighted the Covent Garden stage. This was an improvement, but in 1837 Macready employed limelight in the theatre for the first time, during a performance of a pantomime, Peeping Tom of Coventry. Limelight used a block of quicklime heated by an oxygen and hydrogen flame. This allowed the use of spotlights to highlight performers on the stage.
The Theatres Act 1843 broke the patent theatres' monopoly of drama. At that time Her Majesty's Theatre in the Haymarket was the main centre of ballet and opera but after a dispute with the management in 1846 Michael Costa, conductor at Her Majesty's, transferred his allegiance to Covent Garden, bringing most of the company with him. The auditorium was completely remodelled and the theatre reopened as the Royal Italian Opera on April 6, 1847 with a performance of Rossini's Semiramide.
In 1852, Louis Antoine Jullien the French eccentric composer of light music and conductor presented an opera of his own composition, Pietro il Grande. Five performances were given of the 'spectacular', including live horses on the stage and very loud music. Critics considered it a complete failure and Jullien was ruined and fled to America.
The third theatre
On March 5, 1856, the theatre was again destroyed by fire. Work on the third theatre, designed by Edward Middleton Barry, started in 1857 and the new building, which still remains as the nucleus of the present theatre, opened on May 15, 1858 with a performance of Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots.
The Royal English Opera company under the management of Louisa Pyne and Willia Harrison, made their last performance at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on December 11, 1858 and took up residence at the theatre on December 20, 1858 with a performance of Michael Balfe's Satanella and continued at the theatre until 1864.
The theatre became the Royal Opera House (ROH) in 1892, and the number of French and German works in the repertory increased. Winter and summer seasons of opera and ballet were given, and the building was also used for pantomime, recitals and political meetings.
During the First World War the theatre was requisitioned by the Ministry of Works for use as a furniture repository.
From 1934 to 1936 Geoffrey Toye was Managing Director, working alongside the Artistic Director, Sir Thomas Beecham. Despite early successes Toye and Beecham eventually fell out, and Toye resigned.
During the Second World War the ROH became a dance hall. There was a possibility that it would remain so after the war but, following lengthy negotiations, the music publishers Boosey & Hawkes acquired the lease of the building. David Webster was appointed General Administrator, and Sadler's Wells Ballet was invited to become the resident ballet company. The Covent Garden Opera Trust was created and laid out plans "to establish Covent Garden as the national centre of opera and ballet, employing British artists in all departments, wherever that is consistent with the maintenance of the best possible standards...
The Royal Opera House reopened on February 20, 1946 with a performance of The Sleeping Beauty in an extravagant new production designed by Oliver Messel. Webster, with his music director Karl Rankl, immediately began to build a resident company. In December, 1946 they shared their first production, Purcell's The Fairy-Queen, with the ballet company. On January 14, 1947 the Covent Garden Opera Company gave its first performance of Bizet's Carmen.
First performing together with the Royal Ballet in Giselle on February 21, 1962, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev would form what has been called the greatest ballet partnership of all time. The partnership would lead to both dancers being noted amongst the most famous ballet dancers of all time and came at the peak of what is now widely regarded as the most successful period in the Royal Ballet's history.
Reconstruction in the 1990s
Several renovations had taken place to parts of the house in the 1960s, including improvements to the amphitheatre and an extension in the rear, but the theatre clearly needed a major overhaul. In 1975 the Labour government gave land adjacent to the Royal Opera House for a long-overdue modernisation, refurbishment and extension. By 1995, sufficient funds had been raised to enable the company to embark upon a major reconstruction of the building by Carillion, which took place between 1996 and 2000, under the chairmanship of Sir Angus Stirling. This involved the demolition of almost the whole site including several adjacent buildings to make room for a major increase in the size of the complex. The auditorium itself remained, but well over half of the complex is new.