This is an alley in Covent Garden I suspect many readers will know when they see it, even if they never noticed its name — as it runs alongside the London Transport Museum.
The alley’s name and the local streets come from the land acquired by John Russell, an important government minister in the time of King Henry VIII, and following the dissolution of the monasteries, he was granted the land around Covent Garden as well as the Abbey and town of Tavistock in Devon.
Also granted the title of the Earl of Bedford, his successor, the 4th Earl, developed Covent Garden as we know it today. The 5th Earl, having played both sides during the English Civil War, dropped out of public life until the restoration and later played a role in the Glorious Revolution. His role in overthrowing King James II in favour of William and Mary saw him elevated from an Earl to a Duke, and granted the title of Marquess of Tavistock.
Hence, the cluster of Tavistock Street, row and court in this corner of the Duke’s Covent Garden.
Tavistock Court shows up in R Horwood’s map of 1799 as a narrow alley between two blocks of housing, linking Tavistock Street, which still exists, and the since demolished Tavistock Row of houses that faced into Covent Garden.
A notable building was on the corner of the alley and the street – the Salutation pub, which was a noted tavern in the early 18th century. The celebrity signer, Richard Leveridge, became the landlord of the pub after he retired from the stage, and here he brought out his Collection of Songs with music in 1727. However, one customer gave the pub unexpected fame, as William Cussans, from Barbados who apparently lived off the income from his family, was a regular in the pub and reputedly not only never smiled but could drown considerable quantities of wine without getting drunk.
When the houses (visible on the left side in this painting) were demolished in the 1870s, they were replaced with the Flower Market on the eastern side in 1871 and the Foreign Flower or Jubilee Market on the western side in 1904, retaining the alley as to divide them.
Today, the Flower Market is now the London Transport Museum, but sitting next to the flower market was the “open market”, a covered passage that was built in 1861 and later included as part of the museum — it’s the shop and cafe. You can see the covered walkway before conversion in this sketch.
After the markets had moved out, the building was refurbished as a new home for the London Transport Museum to replace the old Syon Park site and the converted building opened in March 1980.
On the other side of the alley, the Foreign Flower or Jubilee Market is a space filled with general market traders’ stalls, and if you only ever visit on weekends, you might not know they have a less touristy feel during the week. There’s an antiques market on Mondays, a general market Tuesday to Friday, and then the more touristy stuff on weekends.
The vegetable market was built in 1904, but after the markets left in 1974, the buildings were nearly demolished before finally being restored in 1985 and reopened as the Jubilee Market.
These days, the alley is mainly a side link between the main Coven Garden piazza and the side street behind it, but it is of note for the two accessible loos, which reused two of the original goods delivery entrances.