Close to Covent Garden, London, and yet hidden away, Neal’s Yard is one of those places that if you didn’t know it was there, you might well pass by it loads of times and simply never come across it.
There are only two alleyways leading into the Yard, both of which are fairly unassuming, and give little hint of what lies beyond. Neal’s Yard is almost like a secret garden in the center of London, well off the main drag, and visited only by those who know exactly where they are going.
I had walked up and down Neal Street loads of times before I became aware of the existence of nearby Neal’s Yard, but by happy chance discovered it when I went there to do a student job with a company that had its offices right on the Yard itself, and there I found the gorgeous Neal’s Yard Bakery, the delicious yogurt ice cream, the New Age bookshop, and the Remedy Shop.
So how did this discreet little haven in the center of London come about? Well, the late Nicholas Saunders was a well-known figure in the
trip traveling around England and Wales in a van, he produced the amazing book “Alternative England and Wales” which was a cornucopia of advice aimed at those attempting to live some sort of alternative lifestyle, and included advice on how to squat empty houses, how to live on a low income, and incorporated a clear emphasis on communal living and spiritual development.
It was in 1976 that Saunders moved into an old warehouse in Neal’s Yard, which at the time really was just a scruffy backyard behind warehouses and other buildings. With his emphasis upon alternative and healthy living, Saunders set about opening up a wholefood shop, and the enterprise proceeded to be a huge success. Going from strength to strength Saunders then set up a dairy, a cafe, and an apothecary specializing in alternative remedies and healing.
The whole Yard was also brought to life by sculptures from Tim Hunkin, a Cambridge graduate who first made his name by producing the informative cartoon “The Rudiments of Wisdom” in the Observer newspaper. Hunkin created the magnificent water clock that is on the outside of the wholefood shop, and the animated sculpture of people standing in line at a baker’s within the Yard itself.
Since its debut, this cosy backwater and its shops have simply gone from strength to strength, so if you happen to find yourself in Covent Garden, be sure to visit Neal’s Yard, as you will be in for a real treat. It is the perfect place to have lunch outdoors in the summer, and in winter you can warm yourself up with a massage in the Therapy Rooms followed by tea and a healthy snack in the Bakery and Tearoom.
Neal’s Yard is three minutes from Covent Garden tube station, and five minutes from Leicester Square tube station.
Photo of Neal’s Yard, London, UK, by Okinawa Steve