Covent Garden's name originates from 1200, when the area was the kitchen garden, or 'convent
garden' for Westminster Abbey
. In around 1550, after the dissolution of the monasteries, the land was sold off to the Bedford family. In 1630, the then Earl of Bedford received a licence to develop the land, and commissioned new public buildings - including St Paul's
Church and the Piazza - from the royal architect, Inigo Jones
Later the area around the public market fell into disrepute, being one of the worst slums in London. The Seven Dials area was notorious for crime in the 19th century.
Slum clearance in the 50s and 60s and the relocation of the fruit-and-veg market has given Covent Garden a very different reputation these days: it's now mainly a place for entertainment, full of theatres, bars and restaurants. The old marketplace is now filled with cheesy, overpriced craft stalls and an achingly expensive and uncomfortable coffee area. Head away from there, young traveller, to Long Acre (where the tube station is) - the locus of the best shopping area in London, especially for shoes and urban casual wear. Long Acre, Neal St and the surrounding area are packed with boutiques and beautiful shoe shops, specialist bookshops, and damn fine record shops, including Rough Trade, one of the best record shops in London.
The area is also handily near the cheap hardware shops and electronic music shops of the Tottenham Court Road, and just across the road from Soho.