A Day Out At The Bizarre And Brilliant Covent Garden Rent Ceremony

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 9 months ago
A Day Out At The Bizarre And Brilliant Covent Garden Rent Ceremony

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Hear ye! Hear ye!

That cry rings out around Covent Garden on a balmy Thursday afternoon, alerting people that it's time for one of London's strangest annual traditions; The Covent Garden Rent Ceremony.

The historical Rent Ceremony is held each summer, as a merry band of misfits — the Lord Mayor of Westminster, the Deputy Mayor of Camden, Covent Garden Area trustees, musicians, street entertainers, and a town crier — march around Covent Garden Piazza. Their every step is followed by a determined group of photographers, and bemused but gleeful tourists.

Unicyclist and a juggler on stilts
Because every parade needs a man on a unicorn unicycle.

But what is the Rent Ceremony? It's an event where the trustees pay the "peppercorn rent" of five rosy red apples and five posies of flowers — a callback to the fruit and flower market on which Covent Garden was founded — to the landlords of the five properties of the 'Protected Lands'. The trust has a 150 year lease on the properties and this is the 31st edition of the ceremony, meaning there's another 119 years of it left to go.

The Lord Mayor of Westminster with The Deputy Mayor of Camden and some of Covent Garden's trustees behind.

The parade winds its way around Covent Garden, occasionally stopping for the excellent town crier to make a booming speech explaining what's happening, usually followed by a musical interlude from the string quartet, before heading off again. Most impressively the quartet includes a man marching with a massive double bass, often for brilliant comic effect. (As someone who played the instrument, abysmally, at school, I cannot stress enough how physically impressive a feat this is.)

One of the rosy red apples being handed over.

Then at two different points, the peppercorn rent is exchanged. The first time comes reasonably early in the parade for the lease on the St James's buildings, and then the second at the end of the parade, for the lease on the main Covent Garden Piazza building. After that, there are a few speeches thanking all involved in the merry day out, before the parade marches out of the piazza and dissipates.

Town crier marching

Take a look at some photos we captured at 2019's edition of the parade, and then below, watch the video we made of the 2017 ceremony.

Not the traditional way to play a double bass.
Festivities come to an end and the trade is made.

The 2017 ceremony:

Last Updated 01 July 2019