Victorian London - Shops and Shopping - Shopping Arcades

see also Bazaars - click here

The Opera Arcade is approached either from Pall Mall or Charles Street, and is in the rear of Her Majesty's Theatre, one of the walls of which has been ingeniously taken advantage of in order to introduce the upright beams, and hold-fasts which constitute the strength of the structure ... One side is perfectly flat, and though this evenness of surface does not exist in the shops, the perfect flatness of the occupants entirely makes up for any irregularity in their tenements. The roof is of a concave form, and keeps up the happy idea of a vault, though the character of the building has been in some degree interfered with by injudicious openings, which let in here and there a few mouthfuls of air, and a few eyefuls of light, though not sufficiently to disturb the mournful solemnity of the structure.
    A few years ago a very tasteless attempt was made to alter the tone of the Arcade by whitewashing the interior, and some admirers of the dark and Gothic school of architecture were afraid that the hand of innovation would have given an unsightly lightness to the place ; but it happily soon resumed its black and imposing hue which it retains to this hour. The Arcade has been further desecrated by the introduction of gas, though the inhabitants, still fondly attached to their native darkness, are found for the most part burning tallow candles in their sequestered dwellings.
    The place is tenanted by a proud race of merchants, who are chiefly above their business - for they live in the little cavities over their shops; and it is supposed that they prefer this spot that they may carry on their trade without being publicly seen, - for if an article happens to be purchased in these dark recesses, it is impossible for the features of the vendor to be recognised by the purchaser.
    The mysterious ceremony of buying a bottle of ginger-beer, which is the chief article of commerce in these sombre parts, is thus described by a recent traveller:- "Feeling parched with thirst, we turned to the left, and found ourselves in a low dark apartment, and we immediately struck against some hard substance, which we afterwards believed must have been the counter. We now raised a loud cry of 'Shop!' and a voice exclaiming 'What's your pleasure, gentlemen,' our attention was drawn to the place the sound proceeded from, and we distinctly observed that the dim and shadowy outline of a human form, apparently a female, was standing a few paces from us. We now raised a loud cry of 'Ginger-beer!' and, receiving no reply, we began to grow impatient, when the sound of an explosion rang through the vaulted roof, and echoed through the place with thrilling and chilling intensity. We were about to leave the place, when a voice exclaimed, 'There's your ginger beer, gentlemen;' and, upon close inspection, we perceived a tumbler before us containing the refreshing liquid. Having exhausted its contents, and held out the price of it between our fingers, the coin was mysteriously taken from them, and we left the spot in a state of much excitement at the adventure that had befallen us."
    This graphic narrative forcibly describes the darkness of the spot and indeed the Opera Arcade is chiefly resorted to during showers by the temporary houseless, and by those who are caught in the rain while labouring under utter destitution of umbrella or Mackintosh.

Punch, Jan.-Jun. 1842



This celebrated Museum of the products of foreign industry is open to the public every day, Sundays excepted, from eight in the morning to an uncertain hour of the evening, varying according to the commercial inclinations of the inhabitants. Admittance is readily obtained at either end, from the West Strand or Adelaide Street; the entrance being guarded in both cases by beadles of imposing aspect, whose chief business is to strike awe into the souls of vagrant boys, and protect the pass from brigands, to do which they are each empowered to carry the standard of the brazen knob. Their jurisdiction extends over the pavement immediately before the entrance, but not beyond the kerb; from which position they may be insulted with impunity, as is frequently the case. The first idea that strikes the visitor upon entering is, most probably, that the houses have been turned out of window; and the contents of their shops shot upon the ground by some architectural avalanche. Indeed, the greatest caution is necessary in threading your way amongst the labyrinth of goods on every side, the most fragile generally being placed where they can be readily kicked over and broken. Like the entanglement of the fly in the cobweb, which caused the spider to dart from his abode, this accident generally produces the owner of the property, who lies in wait in some secret corner, and upon hearing the fracture pounces out with inconceivable rapidity upon the thoughtless victim. Indeed, it is in the delicate arrangement of their wares that the merchants of the Lowther Arcade display the most extraordinary ingenuity and mechanical dexterity; for every article forms the keystone to an elaborate arrangement of its companions, and you cannot move it without bringing all the rest down at the same time.
    Up to the present time there has been no proper catalogue of the objects exhibited, and so, in some cases, the visitor must rely upon his imagination to define them. This is sometimes difficult,-perhaps very much so, - in the Dutch toy-boxes of bouquets and feasts, on some of the plates of which are viands of singularly obscure character, more especially amongst the wooden pastry. It is also no easy task to make out the exact regiments to which the various horse and foot soldiers belong, several hundred of which are nightly bivouacked in the Lowther Arcade, who would doubtless be found useful in putting down any revolt of the Noah's Arks, did such an event occur. The proximity of the drawing classes, however, at Exeter Hall, renders these magazines of some value in furnishing models for the compositions of the pupils, on the plan formerly put forward in PUNCH.
    The stranger will not fail to be struck by the representation of two headless gentlemen in a hunting-coat and dressing-gown at an adjacent tailor's. They are placed behind a brass barrier, and have something very awful in their appearance. The legend attached to them is unknown; but they possibly represent the guillotined victims of some revolution - probably the same in which fell the decapitated ladies at the staymaker's in Berners'-street, whose heads are supposed to have migrated to the hair-dresser's in the covered passage of Burlington, which is somewhat similar in its features to that of Lowther  - arcades ambo.
A singular procession of rampant rocking-horses, who appear galloping up the side of the house, one after another, leaving the common Dutch nags of various dimensions upon the dull earth below, conducts the eye of the visitor to the window of Mr. Pask, the musician, wherein, amidst a crowd of horns and trumpets, Taglioni may be seen descending from aerial regions, and gracefully presenting a cornet-a-piston of immature growth and diminutive proportions to some ideal personage. And occasionally strange sounds and pealing blasts of defiance are heard from the halls of Pask, given forth by daring youths, who pour their whole soul into the tubes of the shining instruments, from the bugle to the ophycliede in the ardour of their enthusiasm. A soft and gentle instrument too is the ophycliede, and well adapted to be studied in small houses by young gentlemen of delicate temperament. Pask boasts several of these brazen leviathans, who when disturbed from their repose by mortal breath, give a sullen roar that reverberates along the arcade like thunder, and drowns the accordionic strains which issue from a neighbouring depot for the sale of those musical bellows. The ophycliedes get bigger and bigger each day, and it is impossible to tell at what pitch of monstrous magnitude they will ultimately arrive. We shall not be surprised it they finally form the abodes of the men who play them: an accommodation which will be very valuable to perambulating musicians at the seasons of the various Festivals.
    Towards evening the Lowther Arcade is blocked up with company, and here several of the foreign gentlemen, lately alluded to, finish their diurnal promenade: so that, in fact, a visit to this favoured spot embraces two exhibitions at once; for the foreign gentlemen love everything that is gratuitous; and there is moreover a Frenchy look about the arcade and its shops, which reminds the majority of them of their father-land - both the Burlington and Lowther Arcades being the Passage Colbert at Paris, translated into English.
    The Adelaide Gallery, which opens from the Lowther Arcade, is not a gratuitous exhibition. This the visitor will soon discover, from being attacked for a shilling by an individual lying in ambush about four feet from the entrance, on his right hand. He can, however, see several statues for nothing, in the passage, by remaining in the Arcade, as well as part of the stick and umbrella stand, with a transparent blind at the extreme end, which is scarcely perceptible from the distance, but nevertheless deserving of notice.
    One word, in conclusion, to the proprietors. We are well aware that, when the gates are shut and the porters on the watch, the interior of the Arcade is considered impregnable. But we would point out the possibility of an enemy, at any time, forcing an entrance through the postern of the pastry-cook's shop at the Strand end (which communicates with both thoroughfares), were the premises at a future period to be occupied by a less respectable tenant. This is the weakest point of the passage, and might be soon carried by a handful of resolute assailants bent upon taking any of the Dutch villages, or storming any of the encampments which abound in the interior; to which assault the whole of the cavalry at present in the Arcade, including the rocking-horses, could offer but a feeble resistance. We merely throw out these hints by way of caution - we leave the owners of the above-mentioned property to act upon them.

Punch, Jan.-Jun. 1843

see also The Burlington Arcade Beadle - click here

The Burlington Arcade is a covered avenue, situate upon the west side of Burlington House; it extends from Piccadilly to Burlington Gardens; it is 630 feet in length, and is lined with small neat dwellings on each side. The business here transacted is conducted in a style of great respectability, and the Burlington Arcade consequently experiences its full share of public patronage.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

BURLINGTON ARCADE. A covered street or avenue of shops between Piccadilly and Burlington House gardens, built 1819, by Samuel Ware, an architect of reputation in his day. The noble family of Cavendish, to whom the property belongs, receive, it is said, about 4000l. a year from the rental of the houses in the Arcade - though the actual produce (from numerous sub-leases) amount, I am told, to 8640l. Mr. Perry, the hairdresser, pays 175l. a year for his two shops, and the owner of the two shops immediately opposite, 195l.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

The Lowther arcade, I must tell the little girls who have never been further than their own county town, is a long passage roofed in between two streets. On each side of it are shops and stalls filled with everything gay and cheap, a very pretty, bright sight it is to look along it, I must confess, though I do like good solid things better than cheap ones. It is like a perpetual fair under cover. Here are piles of crockery, sets of cups and saucers wondrously cheap, whose ranks of little china dogs, shepherds and shepherdesses, or little figures of the great Duke, whom every one likes to look at and honour. Here is a mountain of glittering glass, the background of useful decanters, tumblers and wine-glasses, the front of bright red or green chimney ornaments, candlesticks and flower vases, and before them pretty little dolls' wine-glasses, of all the colours of the rainbow, or salt cellars, or cups for night-lights, or those wondrous things, Venetian weights, with the strange patterns inside them. And here is <384> a cushion, as large as a pillow, covered literally "as thick as it can stick," with shawl pins with glass heads, marbled in every variety of colour and pattern. I must say, that though I think those pins by themselves frightful, and like nothing but the eye of a dead cod, yet there the numbers are arranged with so much taste, that I could not help stopping to admire them.
    Don't let this spoil the taste of any of you, for nothing is so good for a shawl pin as a plain black or bone head, it was only the multitude of these that looked pretty.
Then come the toy-shops, the regiments of dolls, their faces of various complexions peeping out of their paper swaddling clothes, the wax babies all so pink and fat-cheeked, and their hair so wavy and curly, whether black-eyed or blue, the papier mach? ladies with their very black unalterable heads, and the little Dutch-jointed creatures, with the very same yellow comb on the top of their heads, and the same spiral curl in the middle of their foreheads that they have worn every since---
    "The children of Holland took pleasure in making
    What the children of England took pleasure in breaking."
Or those mysterious chip boxes, full of wonders unknown, perhaps a regiment of soldiers, or it may be a flock of geese, or of sheep, all intended to sit upon a queer red creaking stand of cross-bars; or, perhaps, the dinner for a whole family of dolls, or the furniture for a house, or, best of all, certain delicate little tiny cups and saucers; or the empty boxes, that take half hour' puzzling before you can open them.
    Yes, the Lowther Arcade is a choice place for <385> any one who wishes to cover a Christmas tree with prizes, or to put some treasure into an endless number of bags, or best of all, who has had a five-shilling piece committed to her charge, with orders to bring home "a present for every body."

Yonge, Charlotte M.,  "Mrs . Elderney's School",  in The Magazine for the Young (London: John and Charles Mozley)  1850

ARCADES AND BAZAARS. Of these agreeable semi-promenades, semi-depots, the most aristocratic is the Burlington Arcade, Piccadilly. Its shops are chiefly patronised by the wealthier classes, and deal in knick-knackery and hosiery, walking canes, and Paris gants, rather than in the "utilities" which distinguish the glittering "stores" of its plebeian sister, the Lowther Arcade, Strand. The latter, to the uninitiated stranger, will probably appear a perfect labyrinth of "toys," through which it would be an Herculean feat to pass uninjuring or uninjured. But the "passage" is accomplished by thousands daily, much to the edification of juvenile Rothschilds, who find here an arena worthy of their abilities.
    Favourite resorts, - with the mothers of London, - are the Pantheon, Oxford Street, with its gay stalls, tiny conservatory, and miniature fountain; the demure and respectable Bazaar, Soho Square; the German Bazaar, Regent Street; and the London Crystal Palace, 108 Oxford Street.
    The Opera Floral Arcade, for the sale and exhibition of flowers, is opened during the season, in connexion with Covent Garden Theatre. It has two entrances; one in Bow Street, near the Theatre, and another from the Piazza of Covent Garden. Length of the main arcade, 228 ft., width 75 ft., with side aisles of 13 ft. each. The Covent Garden Arcade is 100 ft. long, and 75 ft. wide. The height to the top of the arched roof is 57 ft.; to the summit of the dome, 80 ft. The diameter of the dome at the base is 50 ft. This graceful structure, an arcade of glass and iron of peculiarly light and picturesque design, was erected in 1859-60, from the drawings of Mr. Edward Barry. It is intended by Mr. Gye, its proprietor, as a suitable Flower Mart for London.

Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865 

Burlington Arcade, Piccadilly, near Old Bond-street.? A double row of shops, like a Parisian passage, principally tenanted by bonnet-makers, ladies? boot. makers, and sellers of knicknacks. NEAREST Railway Station, St. James?s-park; Omnibus Routes Regent-street, Oxford-street and Piccadilly; Cab Rank, Piccadilly.   

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

see also George Sala in Twice Round the Clock - click here

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - Burlington Arcade, Piccadilly

Burlington Arcade, Piccadilly - photograph


Burlington Arcade, a covered walk between a double row of shops, connecting Piccadilly with the Street known as Burlington Gardens, was built in 1819 for Lord George Cavendish, afterwards Earl of Burlington, and part of the gardens of old Burlington House was taken for the site A bit of the new Burlington House appears in our picture to the right of the Piccadilly entrance to the Arcade. From the first, many of the shops have been occupied by foreigners (who are more familiar in their own countries with Arcades than are Englishmen) and the goods displayed are chiefly articles of wearing apparel. Burlington Arcade once a more fashionable haunt then it is now, is closed in the evenings and ill-behaved persons are occasionally astonished to find themselves summarily ejected therefrom into the public roads.

The Lowther Arcade is an avenue of great elegance, it is 245 feet in length, 20 feet in breadth, and 30 feet in height and consists of 25 small but very neat dwellings, the interior of whch are, from the want of sufficient light, extremely dark and gloomy, it is opposite Buckingham Street, in the Strand, from which it leads to the National Gallery. The Lowther Arcade, from the excessive rents demanded for the dwellings, has, in consequence, it is believed proved to the proprietor a very unsuccessful speculation. The Adelaide Gallery of Practical Science is at its western extremity

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

LOWTHER ARCADE. A covered walk or arcade, surmounted with glass domes of elegant design, leading from West Strand to St. Martin's churchyard, chiefly inhabited by German toymen, who deal in children's toys, cheap brooches, pins, cast glass articles, &c. It derives its name from Lord Lowther, who was Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests when the improvements in the West Strand were made, 1829-30.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

see also George Sala in Gaslight and Daylight - click here

Lowther Arcade, 437, Strand, opposite Charing-cross Station and Hotel.?A bazaar principally for cheap toys, and mosaic jewellery. NEAREST Railway Stations, Charing-cross (S.E. and Dist.); Omnibus Routes, Parliament-street and Strand; Cab Rank, Charing-cross.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

And the changes in the Adelphi suggest the changes that have taken place in other historical resorts, than which nothing has been more marked than in the Burlington Arcade. Here every afternoon, between six and seven, throngs composed of all that made up the pomp and vanity of this wicked world disported themselves. Here Baby Jordan and "Shoes" - since become the mother of a present-day baronet - Nelly Fowler and Nelly Clifton held court with their attendant squires and lords of every degree. Here at seven the entire mass surged towards the Blue Posts in Cork street and indulged in champagne and caviare toast.

'One of the Old Brigade' (Donald Shaw), London in the Sixties, 1908 

Lowther Arcade - it closed in '98 - went from Adelaide Street to the Strand, and it was a kind of preparatory school for the Burlington. The stalls were filled with dolls and games, and sometimes now, as I go by Coutts's Bank of an evening, I fancy I hear the tinkling sounds of a musical box.

W. Pett Ridge, A Story Teller : Forty Years in London, 1923