There is a significants in the name of The Punch & Judy Pub in Covent Garden.
If you stand on it’s balcony and look towards the church and to the left, you will see a plaque on the wall commemorating the arrival of Mr Punch, of Punch and Judy fame, in this country in 1662.
In that year, shortly after the restoration of the monarchy, Covent Garden was a new development done by the Duke of Bedford and the market buildings of which the pub forms a part, had yet to be built. It was a large open square with a tree in the centre and a few wooden buildings. The boundary of the market was marked by railings. The current buildings all fall within this area. So it is entirely possible that as you sip your beer or wine, you are standing on the very spot where Samuel Pepys saw, and later recorded the first appearance of Punch in this country.
May 9th 1662
“Thence to see an Italian puppet play, that is within the rails there, which is very pretty, the best that ever I saw and a great resort of gallants”
On May 26th, three hundred years after Pepys wrote down those words, a significant moment came when the plaque you see today was unveiled, not by humans, but by a bunch or rowdy puppets emerging from a giant booth outside the church. It was a blaze of colour on a grey afternoon. They heralded a change that few people would have predicted…
In 1962 Covent Garden was still a market and it became increasingly difficult for the lorries to navigate the small streets so a “New Covent Garden” was built at Nine Elms. The traders moved out, and for a while the market buildings were boarded up. At one stage they were even considered for demolition.
A local community group (the Covent Garden community association) was formed by residents that lived in the area. These were people who worked in the theatres nearby and the market itself. They combined with a company run by Maggie Pinhorn called “Alternative Arts” and together they used Street theatre to draw attention to what was being planned for the market. The “powers that be” eventually saw sense and instead of being demolished, the buildings were developed into what you see today.
If you stand on the same balcony and turn your gaze towards the piazza, that busker you see is there as a direct result of “Alternative Arts” and the battles to preserve the space.
Today it seems inconceivable that anyone would consider destroying these 18th century buildings. When the market went, it was as if the heart had been ripped out of the area. But a new heart was beating – not a heart that lived on commerce or trade, but on something more ephemeral: laughter.
This may seem a piece of whimsy, but Covent Garden is now a destination for people from all over the world. The mix of theatre, but outdoors and in, history and that strange anarchic, yet compelling, exchange that is busking, all form a part of the Covent Garden experience. These are also qualities intrinsic to the Punch and Judy Show. So when you stand as a spectator and make your donation, you are participating in a three hundred year old game.