London Architecture: The Burlington Arcade

This is my second piece on London Architectural excellence. See my previous piece on Woburn Walk HERE. Today we look at the Burlington Arcade. 

A new look for Burlington Arcade - Telegraph Burlington Arcade's Beadles wear new Regency-inspired uniforms

A new look for Burlington Arcade – Telegraph
Burlington Arcade’s Beadles wear new Regency-inspired uniforms

Located in the heart of Mayfair, we find the Burlington Arcade, a Grade II shopping center dating from 1819. The arcade is the longest shopping street in Britain. It is considered an historic and architectural masterpiece. Favored by royalty and the elite of British Society, the arcade had its own rules of conduct, many of which are still upheld by the infamous Beadles, the smallest private police force in existence.

Lord George Cavendish lived in Burlington House (now the Royal Academy) while Ware worked on the arcade. The covered promenade held several purposes: offered employment to “industrious” females; provided gratification to the customers for the shops; and stopped ruffians from littering Cavendish’s property with raw garbage. The Burlington Arcade was a single straight top-lit walkway lined with 72 small two story shops.

Historically, the covered alley known as an “arcade” was an architectural wonder of the early Regency period, and the Burlington Arcade’s popularity has remained in tact. Lord George Cavendish remodeled Burlington House beginning in 1815 and continued until 1819. The Burlington Arcade, designed by Samuel Ware, was part of that remodeling. 

The appearance of shops changed dramatically over the years of commerce. Early on, the shops of London were nothing more than an open marketplace upon the streets. Food stalls offered everything for the taking. Think upon the spectacle: Butchers killed and gutted animals before the purchaser’s eyes, before dumping the entrails into the gutter. 

In early 18th Century Paris, the shops opened upon the street, which meant customers had the opportunity to view items before entering the shop, and the design of the three walled shop (open on the fourth wall) provided some protection from the elements. It also meant the shopkeeper had to remove all his merchandise from the open area EVERY day. 

England perfected this idea. The open front wall from the Parisian shops were closed up at night by two horizontal wooden shutters. The top shutter provided an awning during the day, while the bottom one was propped up on legs to create a table, upon which to display the shop’s merchandise. The shoppers on the street could view the wares easily. A narrow door off to the side was used by the shopkeeper and his family for entrance into the shop area and living quarters. Customers did not enter through this door. When the price of glass became more reasonable, shopkeepers replaced the shutters with a welcoming window display. Customers came inside to make their purchases. The use of glass fronted shops was a mark of the English shops long before glass was used upon the Continent.

The Burlington arcade as it appeared about 1827, Thomas Hosmer Shepherd

The Burlington arcade as it appeared about 1827, Thomas Hosmer Shepherd

In 17th Century England, enclosed shopping centers, known as “exchanges” came into being. These exchanges were covered arcades that catered to luxury goods. The New Exchange opened in 1667 (after the Great Fire of 1666. The Middle Exchange followed in 1672 and the Exeter Exchange in 1676. Buyers could make purchases in all types of weather, and sellers did not worry over damage to their wares. With the insertion of iron grilles at the ends of the passages, the shops were more secure. “Window shopping” became a pleasant activity. The Burlington Arcade is a single street covered by a peaked glass roof, which lights the whole arcade. 

Speirs + Major show London's Burlington Arcade in a new light ...

Speirs + Major show London’s Burlington Arcade in a new light …





About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
This entry was posted in British history, Great Britain, Living in the Regency, real life tales, Regency era, Victorian era and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to London Architecture: The Burlington Arcade

  1. You forgot to mention ‘Burlington Bertie from Bow’ 😀 🙄 😈

    • I was not familiar with this song, Brian. I had to look it up. I learned something new today, so my day was not wasted.

      • It was still a popular music hall song when I was a boy growing up in the east end of London Regina. It was always a great treat to be taken to the East Ham Palace, I recall going there in 1944 and half way through the proceedings the MC came on stage and announced that the Italians had surrendered to the allied forces and a great cheer went up from all of us present. Happy days indeed.

  2. kfield2 says:

    I believe I have been there. It was beautiful and so fun to peer into the windows. I want to go back!

Comments are closed.