BEFORE SHOPPING MALLS CAME THE HISTORIC ARCADES, WHICH TODAY HOUSE LONDON’S ELITE BOUTIQUES, WRITES ALEXANDRA GOSS
London’s historic arcades are a unique part of the capital’s shopping heritage. Every year, millions of visitors come to browse the luxurious boutiques, safe in the knowledge they’re sheltered from the famously changeable British weather. Here are four of the most iconic…
Lord George Cavendish, Earl of Burlington, commissioned the architect Samuel Ware to build Burlington Arcade as a safe place for his wife and other genteel folk to shop and the arcade opened in 1819 “for the sale of jewellery and fancy articles of fashionable demand”.
These 196 yards in the heart of Mayfair, running between Piccadilly and Burlington Gardens, continue to be a world-renowned destination for luxury shopping, with 47 boutiques all carefully guarded by the Beadles, Britain’s oldest and smallest police force.
The officers still wear Regency– inspired uniforms and impose the original rules – whistling, running, riding a bicycle or “behaving boisterously” are all banned. Visitors can shop for fashion, footwear and accessories at N.Peal, Vilebrequin and Manolo Blahnik.
Lalage Beaumont opened its first standalone boutique here in July 2022, selling iconic Italian calf leather handbags, which are sported by the likes of Zara Tindall and Amanda Holden. You can also create a personalised scent at Roja Parfums, buy macarons at French patisserie Ladurée or have shoes beautifully shined.
Professional service is everything at Burlington Arcade, according to Steve Murdoch, head of retail operations for Crockett & Jones, makers of fine handmade shoes. “Our Burlington Arcade store and its historic location have such a variety of customers visiting, from rock legends to Hollywood A-listers to those buying their first pair,” he says. “All receive great care and attention.”
The Vintage Watch Company has the largest collection of pre-owned Rolexes in the world, while the arcade also offers all the ingredients for a perfect wedding, from Thomas Goode, which has a long history of providing tableware for prestigious gift registry lists, to jewellers such as Susannah Lovis, Michael Rose and new addition, the Dubai-based Cara Jewellers.
“Our prime location in the heart of London’s luxury shopping district offers excellent security measures and a magnificent shopping experience,” says Cara Jewellers’ director, Anil Pethani.
The shopping experience in Burlington Arcade now has added fizz. In September 2021, the world’s only Champagne Bollinger Bar opened here, offering the finest selection of Bollinger champagnes by the glass or bottle, as well as Delamain cognac.
THE ROYAL ARCADE
Constructed in 1879 and connecting Old Bond Street with Albemarle Street, the Royal Arcade’s saddled glass roof, ornately decorated stucco arches, curved glass window bays and Ionic columns are as show-stopping today as they were in their Victorian heyday.
Originally called The Arcade, the Mayfair location acquired its royal prefix when the shirtmaker H. W. Brettell was patronised by Queen Victoria in the early 1880s. Today, it features luxury brands including the jewellers Browns and Beards, and Ormonde Jayne perfume house, while the regal connection continues with the chocolatier Charbonnel et Walker, a royal warrant holder.
Luxury Australian jewellery brand Calleija keeps the Royal Arcade’s tradition for craftsmanship alive – and allows visitors to witness its master jewellers in action in their workshop as they transform rare Argyle pink diamonds into masterpieces.
“Calleija is the only Australian jeweller to have a boutique in London,” says the firm’s founder, John Calleija. “We’re honoured to be part of the legacy that is The Royal Arcade.”
THE ROYAL EXCHANGE
Officially opened in 1571 by Elizabeth I, with a royal title and a licence to sell alcohol, The Royal Exchange has a colourful history. Destroyed in the Great Fire of London and then again by fire in 1838, the current building, designed by Sir William Tite and featuring an eight-column entrance inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, was unveiled by Queen Victoria in 1844. After being home to traders and brokers for centuries, the Grade I listed building was extensively remodelled in 2001 and transformed into the City of London’s only destination for luxury shopping and dining.
The arcade features a mix of prestigious British brands, such as Aspinal and Boodles and world-renowned retailers including Tiffany & Co, Bremont, Hermès and Jo Malone.
Fortnum & Mason’s bar and restaurant in the spectacular central courtyard was voted the “most Instagrammable restaurant in London” by the London Evening Standard and the Libertine restaurant, which opened in the vaults last November, pays tribute
to the home of Britain’s first royal alcohol licence, according to its marketing director, Anthony Knight.
Situated within Princes House, previously known as Princes Hall, the building originally opened in 1883 and was the home of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours.
The arcade itself was constructed between 1929 and 1933 to connect Piccadilly with Jermyn Street. Today, it offers a blend of traditional and modern brands, from Loake Shoemakers to SIRPLUS, which makes quality menswear from offcuts and surplus fabric.
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