What does Neal’s Yard mean to you? Read what other people think is, for them, the ‘real Neal’s Yard’, and add your own thoughts, memories and impressions at the bottom of this page…
Judith Rowley: “Neal’s Yard, at its inception in autumn 1976 was a seedbed for ideas around the ethics of EF Schumacher and his Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered. It has always had at its heart, a holistic ethos. When a company becomes too large, ‘the centre cannot hold’. If it is small enough for everyone to know each other and appreciate the work that each does to keep the business fruitful, solidarity and trust become the norm, a caring community becomes established – it is not simply a money-making machine but a living and thriving group of self-support.
An early principle was that if a job could be done by hand rather than by a machine, use the hand, thus guaranteeing greater employment and creating a working community.
Neal’s Yard was an original 70s ‘green’ concept and those seeds have produced a green and pleasant oasis to work and meet. This continues the old London tradition of small villages connected to each other but complete in themselves that was in danger of being swallowed up by the architecture of big business during recent decades. Close by is Lincoln Inn Fields, Spitalfields, Smithfields and a host of other market areas that still have managed to retain their own distinct identity.
The fruits of those seeds are seen in the realm of ideas and now Neal’s Yard stands for the cultivation of fresh ideas in relation to creative expression of the individual within the community and within the framework of the collective awareness of the 21st century – the all-importance of the environment and how society effects that environment with its patterns of consumption. One could say its time has come.
Neal’s Yard shows how small human-scale businesses, with an emphasis on community structures, relationship of the individual to the business where they work and personal responsibility to the Yard produces a successful and positive atmosphere which helps all to thrive.
The success of the whole is not measured by vast profits for faceless shareholders but by personal happiness gained from control and personal responsibility for one’s own immediate environment. “
What the People Say about Neal’s Yard
The comments below are taken from four books which were made available in the Yard for two weeks following Nicholas Saunders death in 1998. The books were open for visitors to the Yard to write whatever comments they wished.
However, comments can be broadly grouped into eight categories.
1. Keep Neal’s Yard as it is
This was mentioned 172 times. Examples of comments are:
To change Neal’s Yard in any way would be a crime against the community.
Please leave it as it is – don’t try to fix what’s not broken.
Please keep Neal’s Yard as it is – it has a good feeling and community spirit to it which keeps it separate from the rest of Covent Garden and makes it special.
2. Neal’s Yard has Unique Qualities
Amongst the qualities mentioned in the 71 comments in this category were: peaceful, exquisite, bohemian, unique, haven, unpretentious, special character, sanctuary, wonderful atmosphere, oasis, exciting, refuge, spiritual, lifeline.
Neal’s Yard, as it is, with its history and special beauty, is an important landmark in London, unique and irreplaceable, a place of charm, warm atmosphere, and a refuge in the heart of Covent Garden. It should be left as it is and maintained as it is, without gentrification and uniformity imposed. Do not destroy this place of spirit and vision.
Don’t change the Yard. It’s been a lifeline to me and, I guess, to others.
Please, please remember that central London does not only belong to financial institutions and businesses, there is also a large residential population who rely on areas of calm like Neal’s Yard. To that end I implore you to retain its character as Nick intended for my family and the many others who use the yard precisely because of its friendly local peacefulness.
3. Against Commercialising Neal’s Yard
There were 47 comments containing strong reactions to commercialisation of the Yard, such as:
Covent Garden is being killed by commercialism. Many of the small businesses that made the area what it is have been priced out. Neal’s Yard should remain a communal area – for everyone, not just people who can afford to pay outrageous prices to eat in outside cafe spaces. Camden Council is in danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
I’ve been coming here since I was ten and it’s always been a place to come and ‘chill’. Don’t turn it into a corporate hellhole.
Neal’s Yard should remain as it is – there are plenty of ‘gentrified’ shopping and eating areas in London, including Covent garden. The Council must cater for all types of social groups, not just those with a lot of money to spend. Neal’s Yard is one of a very few places where people of alternative views and interests can go. It is a peaceful, yet exciting place and must be preserved.
4. We want to keep the Trees, Flower-Drums and Colour in Neal’s Yard
38 people spoke specifically about this aspect of the Yard:
I show the Yard off to all my visitors as a colourful oasis tucked behind Neal Street – so many lovely colours and trees in one mysterious triangle.
I feel the sense of holistic community in the Yard is of optimal importance. Trees could never be illegal and, if anything, more should be planted in such a dense city atmosphere. Neal’s Yard is a breath of fresh air which I support being sustained and continued to let be.
The trees in oil drums are part of what makes Neal’s Yard special. Please keep them and retain that special quality.
5. Camden Council should Support Residents and Workers of this area
There were 36 entries requesting that Camden Council should listen to the views those who actually live and work in Neal’s Yard:
Neal’s Yard has a special characteristic atmosphere that was created by Nicholas Saunders and all the other people who live and work here. The plants and flowers are an essential part of the unique charm. It feels paramount to let the people (who live and work here) continue to shape it and maintain it. The support of the Council would be very welcome by finally resurfacing the entire Yard which has never been done in the 20 years that I have known it and it is almost certainly 20 years overdue! So, please, Camden Council, co-operate but do not impose!
Dear Camden Council,
I live in your borough and pay my council tax for your inept street cleaners not to sweep my street and your insane traffic wardens to move my car and cover it with tickets. I don’t want to pay for you to ruin any more of this part of London. Leave Neal’s Yard to people who know how to manage communal space. You don’t.
6. Keep Neal’s Yard a Communal Area
33 comments related to the desire to see Neal’s Yard retain its communal aspect:
I think that most people come to Neal’s Yard because of its special atmosphere; the trees, plants and communal seating are a part of that atmosphere so please don’t disturb it.
For fifteen years I have used the Yard as a place of refuge and relative peace. I worked here for five years and for a while lived in the area. I believe it would be a great loss to the area to make the yard more commercial. At present, there seems to be a balance between the needs of business and the needs of the public. To cordon off areas of the Yard for the use of particular businesses will destroy what is left of a sense of community. The architectural structure of the Yard encourages the sharing, the overlapping of space. To rope off space would destroy the experience of sharing – people will become territorial and there will be little encouragement to work together.
The yard cannot and must not be changed! It will destroy the communal feeling and holistic culture that has become part of the essence of this magical place. Leave this the way it’s meant to be, for tourists, for customers, and for those of us that work here.
7. Maintain Neal’s Yard as a Living Monument
There were 23 comments concerned with preserving the spirit of the Yard for its historical, cultural and sociological value:
Neal’s yard is a piece of social/local history – to change it would make London, and Camden, poorer.
I have been coming here for 9 years – always a sanctuary in my visits to London. Some things must be culturally preserved, even if they become somewhat outdated by modern ‘tastes’, because these things have served as a catalyst to change our thinking and heighten our awareness. Neal’s yard should remain as it is to serve as a living monument to those with vision and a broader perspective on life.
Neal’s Yard should continue in the same spirit as Nick originally intended it, and as a memorial to him and his ideals.
8. Against Homogenisation of Neal’s Yard
19 entries emphasised the importance of diversity as a feature of the Yard:
Please leave Neal’s Yard as it is. Carrying out your planned improvements will leave it as soul-less as the main piazza in Covent garden has become. This is one of London’s real gems, many of which have already disappeared or become needlessly sanitised. This should be left as one of London’s quirks to be treasured by those who come to visit the capital.
Mark B. (London Tourist Board)
For those of us who actually live here, Neal’s Yard is just the way it should be – there’s quite enough ‘tidy shopping areas’ and ‘restaurant piazzas’ thank you. And if Camden are so worried about the atmosphere of the place, they should turn their attention to the mess and chaos that is Camden Town every weekend! Neal’s Yard is like this because citizens have made it this way for other citizens – the last thing we want is for it to be lining people’s pockets.
Neal’s Yard has been a haven for me for many years. It would be tragic for many people if this little pocket of calm, kindness, humour and humanity were sacrificed and a dismal tide of mediocrity were allowed to wash it away. It just mustn’t happen!