Covent Garden plans wither but Camden’s here! - Kevin Buckle

Stuck for something to watch on Christmas Day I spotted a programme on BBC iPlayer – The People’s Piazza: A History of Covent Garden. I knew it had a fascinating history and at a running time of 88 minutes it clearly went into some depth.

My abiding memory of Covent Garden is when I moved to the Grassmarket after the council’s pedestrianisation and it was widely reported that the council wanted the area to become Edinburgh’s answer to Covent Garden – a place I had visited and could see what they were thinking.

While Covent Garden doesn’t really need to promote itself and its history the Grassmarket certainly is not anywhere near as well known to visitors despite having a wealth of stories to tell.

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I despair of those organisations tasked to promote Edinburgh and of course while there was a Grassmarket Business Improvemennt District (BID) in my time there the attempt to have a wider Old Town BID failed.

This illustration by Rowlandson shows market stalls, shoppers, and deliveries, at London's Covent Garden Market, circa 1812

The Grassmarket benefits from being a defined area where things can actually happen and believe it or not if sealed off for an event in a manner similar to what happens at Hogmanay it has a health and safety capacity of 10,000 people. Other places such as Cockburn Street suffer from being a thoroughfare between Princes Street and The Royal Mile, which itself is often seen as just a means of getting to the castle.

While Covent Garden has changed and adapted over the centuries in a really quite fascinating way the Grassmarket to a large extent became just more and more run down and when I moved here in the late seventies was considered quite a dangerous place to walk through late at night.

The works that were done were certainly needed and a sizeable investment at more than £8 million and yet bizarrely after spending all that money and certainly having good ideas of what to do next it was then inexplicably abandoned by the council, with those tasked to follow through with the council’s plans all seemingly let go by the time Avalanche moved there.

The centre of the Grassmarket is really a massive space and was far better suited, for instance, to having the ice rink there this Christmas but with nobody to propose it and with the Essential Edinburgh BID having their hearts set on it being on George Street the outcome was never in doubt.

With things now almost back to normal. at least from a pandemic point of view, and with the Christmas and New Year celebrations over it is now time for the council to take a short time out from their next active travel plan to seriously consider how they move forward in the city centre.

When I moved into Waverley Mall as it was then I was told they were looking for a Camden Market feel and a while ago I had a couple in the shop who told me they lived and worked in Camden and my shop was the kind of place people expected there but went away disappointed – so I may never have got to be part of Edinburgh’s Covent Garden but at least maybe I’ve brought a little bit of Camden to Edinburgh!