Shopping in style – Part 3: Retail therapy Victorian style at the Royal Arcade
The history of Mayfair’s striking Victorian shopping arcade.
Decades before the likes of Westfield and Brent Cross came to London, those who wanted to shop in comfort headed to one of the capital’s arcades. Like the mega malls of today, these arcades featured numerous shops under one roof, providing a sheltered retail experience whatever the weather. However, as well laid out as these modern fashion meccas are, they just can’t compare to the historic and upmarket designs of the late Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods. As part of Metro Girl’s series on the five historic arcades of Mayfair and St James, Part 3 will be focusing on the only surviving Victorian one – the Royal Arcade.
London’s first ever shopping arcade – the Royal Opera Arcade in St James opened in 1818, with the Burlington Arcade in Mayfair following a year later. The Lowther Arcade was established in The Strand in 1830, but unlike its contemporaries, it didn’t survive far into the 20th century when it was demolished in 1904. After the Lowther opened, it was a 49 years before another arcade joined the capital’s retail industry.
The Royal Arcade was originally known as simply The Arcade and was first envisioned in 1864 as a link between Old Bond Street and Regent Street. However, these proposals were rejected due to the required volume of demolition of existing buildings. However, the plans were revised into its current design by Victorian architects Thomas Archer and Arthur Green (1847-1904). Archer & Green shared a practice for over 15 years before going their separate ways in 1889, during which they designed Whitehall Court, No.1 Cambridge Gate and the Hyde Park Hotel (now the Mandarin Oriental). Green was the father of Leslie Green (1875-1908), who designed many of London’s tube stations, including Oxford Circus, Camden Town, Covent Garden, Holborn and South Kensington. His stations are recognisable due to their ox blood red tiling on the buildings’ exteriors.
The Clarendon Hotel on Albemarle Street was demolished in 1870, freeing up the space for construction of The Arcade, which opened in 1879. In contrast to the older shopping arcades of the capital, The Royal Arcade is a lot more ornate in design. The two-storey arcade features curved bay windows on the ground floor with Ionic columns separating the 16 shops. The first floor features cast iron balconies overlooking the walkway. Looking up, the aisle is covered by a saddled glazed roof and arches with stucco detailing. Meanwhile, the orange and white façade of the building features reliefs symbolising abundance and commerce, caryatids (sculpted female figures taking the place of a column) and a portrait of Queen Victoria.
In 1882, The Arcade was renamed The Royal Arcade after one of the shopkeepers, shirtmakers H.W. Bretell received the royal patronage by Queen Victoria (1819-1901). Hodgson William Brettell set up his shop at No.12 at the age of 24 in 1880. Aside from Her Majesty, Brettell’s customer list included many Dukes, Duchesses, Princes, a Czar and Sir Winston Churchill. Today, No.12 is home to luxury perfumery Ormande Jayne. Other businesses in the arcade at opening included hairdressers Hill & Co, confectioner Duclos Alfred, artificial florist Mrs Ellen Turner, Oriental dealer Sleight Chas, heraldic stationer Durrent Frederick, book maker John Latha, glass stainer/decorator Pitman & Son, umbrella makers Smith & Sons and court florist Edward Goodyear. Like Brettell, Goodyear at No.16 also received a Royal Warrant and is still in business today, although relocated to Brook Street after being bombed out during the Blitz in November 1940.
Today, The Royal Arcade is pretty much as it was in Victorian times, the interiors haven’t changed too dramatically. One current business, luxury chocolatiers Charbonnel et Walker at No.1 and 2, holds a Royal Warrant. Other stores include Simon Griffin Antiques, Watch Club, EB Meyrowitz Optician, William Weston Gallery, Camper, Camper, Cartujano, George Cleverley Shoemaker, Calleija Jewellery, Erskine, Hall & Coe Gallery and Paul Smith.
- Royal Arcade, 28 Old Bond Street or 12 Albemarle Street, Mayfair, W1S 4DR. Nearest station: Piccadilly Circus or Green Park. For more information, visit the Royal Arcade website.
‘Shopping In Style’ is a series of blog posts on the history of London’s oldest shopping arcades. Read Part 1 on the Burlington Arcade here, Part 2 on the Royal Opera Arcade here, Part 4 on the Piccadilly Arcade here, Part 5 on the Prince Arcade, click here or Part 6 on the Lowther Arcade here.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
To discover more retail history of London’s shopping arcades and department stores, click here.