Last Updated on 27th June 2017 by Sophie Nadeau
Deep in the heart of Zone 1, not far from Covent Garden, you’ll find the little courtyard of Neal’s Yard. Tucked away down a little side street, you’d never know it was there. Blink and you might miss it. That is, unless you know where to look…
Neal’s Garden is the kind of place you enter and immediately end up thinking to yourself: “Wow, I could totally stay here a while!” Hidden away in plain sight, it’s a world away from the hustle and bustle of busy Shaftesbury Avenue (where all the London theaters are based) and nearby Covent Garden.
Right in the middle of the Seven Dials District (famed for its chic eateries and independent boutiques), you’ll find this secret garden. But look closely because it’s only approachable via two cobbled alleyways; two strands of the winding Neal’s Yard lane.
Neal’s Yard: Hidden in Plain Sight
Head off Monmouth Street and walk down the narrow passageway that is Neal’s Yard. It’s cobbled and tall. Bricked buildings rise up on each side of you. So tall that you can barely see the skyline up above. Instead, all you can see is the curved walkway ahead of you. Behind, lies busy London life. Walk for a minute or two though, and the space opens up, revealing a hidden courtyard.
Sunlight pours into the little enclosure, illuminating a bright scene. Here, the walls are painted in vibrant colours, and covered in murals. Open air terraces spill out onto the paving stones, and a friendly atmosphere surrounds you.
The enclave contains the iconic Neal’s Yard Remedies Store, Neal’s Yard Dairy, and the wildly popular Wild Food Café. There are also several other retail spaces and cafés, all driven by committing to sustainable and ethical commercial practices.
What’s in a name? King’s Head Court
Once upon a time (okay, only about 40 years ago), you’d have seen rats scuttling around the area instead of finding this lovely London escape. Up until the 1970s, the area was used for bins and in need of some serious love and attention. The area was so forgotten about that it appeared on barely any maps, and even fewer people knew of its existence than they do today.
Around that time, Nicholas Saunders was looking to start the Whole Food Warehouse. He wanted his business to be ethical, sustainable and was looking for the perfect location. That was when he stumbled on Neal’s Yard (at the time known as King’s Head Court). Despite the derelict nature of the location, he could see the potential for his fledgling ethical business.
The entire area was scheduled for demolition and heavy refurbishments. Sanders was originally refused permission for his store but he persisted anyway. The small store was a hit and rapidly grew into a thriving community. Today, it is a village unto itself, tucked away in the most unsuspecting of places.
And the change of the name from King’s Head Court to Neal’s Yard? Well, Neal’s Yard takes its name from wealthy businessman Thomas Neale. Having received a large chunk of land from King William III in central London in the late 17th-Century, he created the Seven Dials (the district Neal’s Yard finds itself in). As an homage to Thomas Neale, Nicholas Saunders