In medieval times, Covent Garden was owned by Westminster Abbey – hence the original name, Convent Garden. But skip forward to the seventeenth century and Inigo Jones's original plans for fancy homes for the wealthy had become a place of gambling dens, brothels – and a fruit and veg market. Despite it now being a bit of a tourist trap, here are five curiosities you may not have noticed in the area before.
1. Punch and Judy plaque, Covent Garden Piazza
Look directly at St Paul's Church and you'll spot a plaque that commemorates what Samuel Pepys saw – an 'Italian puppet play' – on this spot in 1662. The authentic Neapolitan characters were Pulcinella and Joan (who morphed into the famous Punch and Judy) but before we get too nostalgic, like most fairytales, the original story was horribly violent. The show was an endless series of Punch beating up Judy – so not exactly family-friendly entertainment.
2. Mysterious ears, Floral Street
The next time you're at a loose end on Floral Street, have a look for one of Tim Fishlock's Covent Garden Ears. Several are rumoured to be dotted around the area, but there are definitely two to be found on this street. They're perfect casts of the artist's own ears but other than that very little is known why they're there – presumably so people can make the same 'the walls have ears' gag on repeat.
3. Bridge, Floral Street
Built in 2003 by Wilkinson Eyre Architects, this sculptural bit of architecture is called the 'Bridge of Aspiration'. It connects the Royal Ballet School with the Royal Opera House, the idea being that every ballet student aspires to one day make the jump to work professionally and make their debut on the ROH stage.
4. Mercers' Maidens
Look up almost anywhere around Covent Garden and you're sure to find one of these ladies staring down at you. They're the emblem of the thirteenth-century Mercers' Company, a London guild that got hugely wealthy from the fine cloth trade. Today they mark property still owned by the company and there's loads to be found around Long Acre, where they owned a large building from 1530.
5. Policeman's hook, Great Newport Street
One of London's most curious relics (and supposedly something that all London cabbies get taught), this policeman's coat hook was put up in the 1930s as somewhere for the bobbies on the beat to rest their heavy woollen coats in hot weather. This junction was – and still is – a congested area, so it was a key spot where police were stationed to help direct traffic.