Covent Garden was not always the pleasant place that you see today – the area was once the site of London’s first leprosy hospital, and it was here that the Great Plague took hold in 1665. When Charles I came to power in 1625 he granted the Earl of Bedford a licence to build, and he hired Inigo Jones to create the piazza.
The church was always meant to be an integral part of the piazza, but the Earl didn’t fancy the flash columns and colonnades that dominated the wings – probably due to the extra expense. So he asked Jones for the simplest possible design—no more than a barn—to which Jones replied
you shall have the handsomest barn in England.
It was originally designed so that it opened onto the square, but the church men insisted that the altar be placed in its traditional setting – against the east wall. So the front door that you can see outside is actually a fake, and the altar stands behind it.
Inside you can see some of the plaques and memorials to long-gone thespians – people like Charlie Chaplin and Vivien Leigh. The artist J W Turner also has a plaque here, to mark his baptism in 1775. George Bernard Shaw famously set the opening scene of Pygmalion outside the entrance.
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