Friday, March 2, 2012

Feeding London -- The Market Gardens

In the spring, my thoughts always turn to gardening. I prefer flower gardening to vegetable gardening, but I've done my share of food production. As my gardening thoughts wandered to history and to the Regency, I began to wonder where all the vegetables and fruits that filled the Covent Garden markets were grown.
From The Gardener's Pocket Journal 1808

I discovered that they came from the market gardens that surrounded the original 'City' and its satellite communities. In the mid 17th century, Marylebone was home to several such gardens, as was Islington to the north. Those continued through the 18th century, and were augmented by those to the east around Dagenham.

By the time of the Regency, some 10,000 acres of market gardens supplied London's needs for fresh vegetables, and fruits. One of these gardens--of about 200 acres--was the Neat House Market Garden, just north of the Thames across from Vauxhall, the famous pleasure gardens.

From A-|Z of Regency London
The area had been known as the "Neat" for centuries, possibly named after an original owner. It now lies under Warwick Square and part of Chelsea.

There is a book, which I intend to read, called The Neat House Gardens: Early Market Gardening Around London by Malcolm Thick. It seems as if it might answer all one's questions about the process of this food supply.

But, in brief, the vegetable cultivation began shortly after Christmas, the crops rotating through radishes, spinach and onions, followed by cauliflowers, cabbages, and celery. Then the many other seed crops begun in January came ready for planting out. The crops were fertilized by manure from the streets of London.

In addition, many of the gardens grew fruit crops; they realized an income of 400,000 pounds per annum, only a little less than the 645,000 pounds that vegetables brought in.

The encroachment of the residential areas, and the incorporation of the villages surrounding London into the 'Greater' area pushed the market gardens further and further afield. Improved transportation methods facilitated this change, and the markets of New Covent Garden Market still overflow with produce.

The tidy fields of the Neat House Garden on the map above continue to fascinate me however. I wonder about the people who owned the land, grew the plants and operated this thriving industry. There are stories there...I just know it.

'Til next time,


Source: Much of the information in this post came from an excellent on-line article "London's Early Market Gardens" at

1 comment:

Anne Gallagher said...

What a fascinating subject. I had never thought about this so thanks for bringing it to my attention. It's funny what we know today, like a simple trip to the grocery store for things like mangoes and avocados, would never be found back then. Another great post Lesley-Anne. Always making me think!