During the 18th and 19th centuries, Covent Garden - though principally London’s chief market for fruit, vegetables and flowers - was also an important epicentre of national political life. Located within the constituency of Westminster and populated by hundreds of eligible voters (by dint of their property qualifications) Covent Garden formed a focus for national political campaigns during all parliamentary elections.

Political electioneering conducted at Covent Garden was often a raucous affair that lasted days at a time, drawing hundreds of bystanders to listen to speeches and election promises. Pictured here is the wooden stage of the hustings positioned in front of the portico of St Paul’s church, on which candidates were allowed to broadcast their election pledges to the eager crowd. While many spectators observe with keen interest from the purpose-built grandstand (many of whom almost certainly had no entitlement to vote), elsewhere the crowd is filled with the porters, costermongers and idle bystanders who usually constituted the vibrant market scene.

Background to the Microcosm of London collection of prints

The Microcosm of London was published in three volumes between 1808 and 1810 as a result of an ongoing collaboration between publisher Rudolph Ackermann, cartoonist and illustrator Thomas Rowlandson and architectural draughtsman Auguste Charles Pugin. The image shown here was first issued as a loose leaf number that was collated later into separate volumes, all of which proved highly successful as a commercial publishing enterprise. 

The Microcosm of London tapped into the demand for highly-coloured prints of real-life subjects that proved something of a publishing sensation during the Regency period. As such, the prints stand as a fascinating historical record of London life in the early years of the 19th century. While Pugin’s fine architectural drawings capture the size and shape of the capital’s principal buildings (both externally and from within) Thomas Rowlandson’s keenly observed figures depict the sheer colour and vitality of late Georgian society, rich and poor alike.