Blog Archives

Egyptian Hall | The story behind Piccadilly’s lost hall of wonders

Long demolished, this West End venue was home to a museum, art exhibitions, Victorian ‘freak shows’ and magic shows.

Egyptian Hall A. McClatchy, 1828 Wellcome Images

The Egyptian Hall on Piccadilly in 1828.
Engraving by A. McClatchy, 1828. Wellcome Images

Over the centuries, many London landmarks have come and gone. Sometimes bombs or fire were to blame, but others have fallen victim to changing tastes. One these lost London buildings was the Egyptian Hall, a piece of architectural pastiche that was home to many attractions and exhibitions during its 93 year history.

The Egyptian hall was originally a museum on Piccadilly, built in 1811-1812 on the site of the original Hatchards book shop (now at 187 Piccadilly) and the White Horse Inn. Following Horatio Nelson’s (1758-1805) victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile in 1799, public interest in Egypt began to grow. By the early 19th century, wealthy Europeans were desperate for a genuine piece of Egyptian history. For those who couldn’t afford it, seeing millennia-old antiquities in an exhibition would have to suffice. English traveller and naturalist William Bullock (1773-1849) commissioned architect Peter Fredrick Robinson (1776-1858) to design a museum to house his collection. Erected on a budget of £16,000, the Egyptian Hall was the first English building to be influenced by Egypt architecture. It took inspiration from the Egyptian room at collector Thomas Hope’s (1769-1831) house in Marylebone. He filled his Georgian terrace in Duchess Street with antiquities from ancient Greece, Egypt, Italy and Turkey and opened it to the public.

The Egyptian Hall’s Great Hall in 1819.
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The hall’s grand façade outshone the simple Georgian terraces surrounding it. Many of its details were copied from the Dendera Temple complex in Egypt, such as the winged mundus, scarabreus, columns and hieroglyphics. Above the entrance were two huge Coade stone figures of Isis and Osiris by either sculptor Lawrence Gahagan or his son Sebastian (1778-1838). Inside, was a Grand Hall, lecture rooms, a bazaar and a large central room called ‘the Waterloo Gallery’. Over its lifetime, the hall was also known as Bullock’s Museum or the London Museum. In 1816, an exhibition of Napoleonic relics was a big success. Bullock made £35,000 from the 220,000 visitors to the display, which included Napoleon’s field carriage from the Battle of Waterloo. In 1819, Bullock sold off his collection of objects in an auction lasting 26 days and embarked on more adventures.

The building was then converted into an exhibition hall. Italian adventurer and strongman Giovanni Battista Belzoni, aka ‘The Great Belzoni’, (1778-1823) showcased his collection from May 1821, acquired from his extensive travels. Four years previously he had taken the white sarcophagus of Seti I from his tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. A year later, Belzoni put up his collection for auction. English architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837) bought the sarcophagus (now found in the Sir John Soane Museum) for £2,000 – the most expensive item in his collection. Over the next few years, the hall was used for exhibiting art by the Old Water-Colour Society and the Society of Painters in Water Colours, costing only a shilling to enter. Paintings by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) were among those displayed in the early 1820s. Read the rest of this entry

The Swan & Edgar building in Piccadilly Circus | One of London’s lost department stores

The history of the Swan & Edgar department store in Piccadilly Circus.

The former Swan & Edgar building at Piccadilly Circus

The decline of the department store is a frequently mentioned casualty of the ever-changing retail industry. A host of department stores in London have been closed down over the decades, with the buildings left behind leaving little trace of the retail giants which one inhabited them. Once household names such as Pontings, Pratts, Bourne & Hollingsworth, and Gamages, have been consigned to the history books. Among these lost London department stores was Swan & Edgar, whose flagship building still exists, looming large over Piccadilly Circus.

Cumbrian-born William Edgar (1791-1869) met George Swan (d.1821) in the early 19th century. At the time, Edgar was running a haberdashery stall in St James Market, while Swan had a shop on Ludgate Hill in the City of London. They went into business together in Ludgate Hill, before moving to 20 Piccadilly in 1812. Business was soon booming and they made over £80,000 in their first year. Nine years later, Swan sadly died, but his business partner Edgar honoured his memory by continuing to trade in their joint name. Swan & Edgar moved to 49 Regent Street in 1841. By 1848, business was going so well, the store expanded to numbers 45-51 Regent Street and the corner of Piccadilly Circus.

Edgar ended up outliving with business partner by over four decades, passing away in 1869. He lived the last two decades of his life with his wife Frances and their five children at Eagle House on Clapham Common’s South Side. The Georgian building was mostly demolished after Frances’ death in 1889, although parts of the south wing exist today as mews housing. The couple are buried in one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries: West Norwood Cemetery in south London.

Swan & Edgar 1909 Wikimedia Commons

The Victorian Swan & Edgar store in 1909
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Although both founders had died, their names continued to live on through the department store as it continued trading. An 1883 advert boasted the huge range of articles offered for sale, billing the store as “wholesale and retail silk mercers, drapers, furriers/ Mantle and costume makers and seal skin merchants/ Novelty and economy in dress/ All articles of fashion of the latest styles and reliable quality”. The department store’s popularity was boosted by the opening of the nearby Piccadilly Circus tube station in 1906 and became a popular meeting place for friends and lovers to rendezvous. In December 1901, the managing director Walter Morford (who had been in the role since 1895), ended up in trouble with the police over the store. People complained his moving window displays were causing congestion on the pavement, with sometimes hundreds of people blocking the pavement to look at the action. Morford ignored several police summons, complaining he had spent over £100 on designing the windows to attract customers. Read the rest of this entry

A look at the Summer Exhibition 2019 at the Royal Academy of Arts

David Bowie reinvented as cabaret star Sven Ratzke plays Live at Zedel

Sven Ratzke

The music of Bowie by Sven Ratzke

This spring, hear the hits of David Bowie as you’ve never heard them before. International cabaret superstar Sven Ratzke is bringing his brand new show to London for three nights only.

Where Are We Now – Bowie Unravelled sees Ratzke showcasing his unique interpretations of Bowie tracks at the Crazy Coqs club with Live @ Zedel. Located in the same building as Brasserie Zedel and Bar Americain, Crazy Coqs is an intimate, vintage cabaret club which evokes the spirit of the 1930s and 1940s music scene.

Accompanied by pianist Christian Pabst, the show will feature Ratzke reinterpret Bowie’s hit songs with new arrangements. The cabaret star will use his special storytelling and improvisation talent to reveal a different side to tracks such as Heroes, Rock’n’Roll Suicide and Let’s Dance. You can also expect to hear new original material in the tradition of Bowie.

Ratzke’s new show comes three years after his previous critically-acclaimed Bowie production Starman was a huge hit on the festival circuit. He won Best Festival Show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016 and it was nominated for the Helpmann Award in Australia. His most recent production Homme Fatale was critically praised when it was toured worldwide.

  • Sven Ratzke will perform ‘Where Are We Now – Bowie Unraveled’ from 30 May – 1 June 2019 at 7pm/9.15pm. Live At Zedel takes place at Crazy Coqs, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, W1F 7ED. Nearest station: Piccadilly Circus. For more information and tickets, visit the Brasserie Zedel website.

For a guide to what’s on in London in April, click here.

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PsychoBarn at the Royal Academy: A slice of Hollywood horror on Piccadilly

PsychoBarn © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

PsychoBarn in the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts

Standing in the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts this winter is a piece of Hollywood horror. Transitional Object (PsychoBarn) is an architectural installation by English artist Cornelia Parker. The 30ft high structure is inspired by the Bates Motel in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho. The house in the movie, where Norman Bates lived with his mother Norma, was modelled on Edward Hopper’s 1925 painting, the House By The Railroad.

Parker’s scaled-down structure was first exhibited on the roof of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2016. It was erected in London in September 2018 and will remain in situ until March 2019. Transitional Object is not a real building, but a façade. While it looks like a traditional, all-American red barn, the dark windows, distressed paintwork and little signs of ‘life’ give it a creepy vibe – much like the house in the film.

  • Transitional Object (PsychoBarn), The Annenberg Courtyard, Burlington House, Royal Academy of Arts, 49-50 Piccadilly, Mayfair, W1J 9ER. Nearest station: Green Park or Bond Street. Will remain in place until March 2019. Open Sat-Thu 10am–6pm, Fri 10am–10pm. Free to view. For more information, visit the Royal Academy Of Arts website.
PsychoBarn © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The piece was first exhibited in New York

For a guide to what’s on in London in March, click here.

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Shopping in style – Part 5 | An art deco gem, the Princes Arcade

The Princes Arcade is a 1930s shopping arcade in St James.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The Princes Arcade was built in the 1930s in the Victorian Princes Hall

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 historic arcades of Westminster, Part 5 focuses on the youngest, the Princes Arcade, which unlike the others, wasn’t purpose built.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The Princes Arcade features a simple blue, white and grey colour scheme

Princes Arcade is part of Princes House at 190–195 Piccadilly which was originally built to house the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours. The building, designed by English architect Edward Robert Robson (1836-1917) and built by Messrs. Holland and Hannen, and Messrs. Peto Brothers of Pimlico, featured galleries, shops and a public hall. Robson was famous for his London state schools of the 1870s and early 1880s. The Piccadilly-facing ground floor featured six shops, with their own basements and mezzanine. On the façade of the building were eight portrait busts by sculptor Edward Onslow Ford (1852-1901). The building was in a prime location opposite the road from the Royal Academy and was opened by Prince and Princess of Wales (the future Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) in April 1883.

The main public gallery in the building was called the Prince’s Hall. However, by the turn of the 20th century, the Hall was joined with the Prince’s Hotel in the rear and it started being used as a restaurant. Between 1929 and 1933, the gallery building and the Prince’s Hotel underwent significant alterations, with the Princes Arcade being constructed at the time. The new arcade linked Jermyn Street and Piccadilly and opened in 1933. The Princes Arcade is roughly about 200ft long and features shopfronts projecting into the aisle on scrolled bracket. The southern part of the Arcade has a lower ceiling than the northern part, with the latter featuring decorative plasterwork with the Princes of Wales feathers.

In World War II, Princes Arcade fell prey to bomb damage in 1940, prompting repairs and alterations. The galleries of the Royal Institute were also damaged, reopening in July 1948. By 1972, the entire building was Grade II-listed – two years after the Royal Institute’s lease expired and they moved to the Mall Galleries near Trafalgar Square.

The Princes Arcade was renovated in 1983 and is now sporting a blue, grey and white colour scheme. The original lanterns were restored in 2011 and are now a dark grey colour. Today, the Arcade is home to Andy & Tuly, Barker Shoes, Bates Hatters, Christys’ Hats, Loake Shoemakers, Sage Brown, Segun Adelaja, Simply Gem, Smart Turnout, St Petersburg Collection, The Left Shoe Company and Prestat – Roald Dahl’s favourite chocolatier.

  • Princes Arcade, Piccadilly, St. James’s, SW1Y 6DS. Nearest station: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus. For more information, visit the Princes 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 3 on the Royal Arcade here or Part 4 on the Piccadilly Arcade here or Part 6 on the Lowther Arcade here.


To discover more retail history of London’s shopping arcades and department stores, click here.

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

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Shopping in style – Part 4 | Edwardian chic at the Piccadilly Arcade

The history of an Edwardian shopping arcade.

Piccadilly Arcade © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Piccadilly Arcade opened in 1910

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 4 will be focusing on the Edwardian of the quintet – the Piccadilly Arcade.

Arcade Piccadilly © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The façade of the Piccadilly Arcade on its namesake street

At the dawn of the 20th century, the St James area was a hangout for the capital’s gentry and royals with a host of gentlemen’s shops and businesses catering for the upper classes. St James’s Palace was in the area, as well as prestigious members’ clubs, such as The Athenaeum and The Carlton Club. Swiss hotelier César Ritz (1850-1918) had opened his ground-breaking Ritz Hotel on Piccadilly in 1906. Following the death of Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and the ascension of King Edward VII (1841-1910), the country was changing, with styles of fashion and architecture evolving into less gloomy and simpler designs.

When it came to London’s shopping arcades, by the early 20th century, it had been a while since any new ones had been built. The Royal Opera and Burlington Arcades were over eight decades old at this point, while the Lowther Arcade was demolished in 1904 after standing on The Strand for over 70 years. In 1909, work started on a new shopping mecca – the Piccadilly Arcade. The Edwardian arcade linked Piccadilly and Jermyn Street – famous as London’s retail destination for well-dressed gentlemen. Architect George Thrale Jell of Waterloo Place was brought in to design it. Throughout his career, Jell was a popular architect for retailers, having designed several stores in Oxford Street, including the Hanan-Gingell shoe shop in 1908 (now home to branches of Fossil watches and Sunglasses Hut), flats in Bury Street and converted the Georgian building, 138 Park Lane into offices and flats in the late 1920s.

Piccadilly Arcade © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Piccadilly Arcade is home to tailors, shirtmakers, shoe shops, jewellers, hairdressers, womenswear, pharmacy and mustard and vinegar makers

The arcade was constructed by builders Messrs. Leslie and Co. of Kensington Square in 1910. The ground-floor arcade featured 28 shops, while the remaining upper floors were used as offices and chambers. The façade of the building is made of Portland stone and features four columns supporting a architrave with the words ‘Piccadilly Arcade’. Above, a wide wrought iron balcony spans the five windows of the 2nd floor, with further storeys of windows and smaller balconies above. The fifth floor features another wide balcony, while dormer windows stand out on the 6th floor slated roof. The upper storeys were converted into the Felix Hotel in 1915, but is now called Empire House and is mostly offices.

Among the first businesses to open in the arcade were the shirtmakers Budd, who are still trading today over a century later. Harold Budd established his shirt shop at No.4 in 1910, which was set over three floors. Meanwhile, tailors Hawes & Curtis, founded by Ralph Hawes and George Frederick Curtis, opened their first store at No.24 in February 1913. Over one hundred years later, they now have over 20 stores in the UK.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

A statue of Regency dandy Beau Brummell

The Piccadilly Arcade traded in peace for 20 years before World War II brought death and destruction to the streets of London. At 3.10am on 17 April 1941, the Jermyn Street end of the building was severely damaged by a 2,200lb parachute bomb. Twenty three people were killed, including the 1930s singer Al Bowlly (1898-1941), who lived on the corner of Jermyn Street. The Dunhill store on the corner of Jermyn Street took a direct hit, while Fortnum & Mason and the Cavendish Hotel were also damaged. Budd’s shop at No.4 in the arcade was burnt down so Harold Budd swiftly purchased the remaining leases on the only two intact stores in the arcade; 1A and 3, where Budd remains trading today. The Piccadilly Arcade was gradually restored, with work finishing in 1957.

Today, the Piccadilly Arcade is home to tailors, shirtmakers, shoe shops, jewellers, hairdressers, womenswear, pharmacy and mustard and vinegar makers. Meanwhile, those who enter or exit through the Arcade’s south entrance of Jermyn Street will be greeted by Irena Sedlecká’s sculpture of Beau Brummell (1778-1840), a Regency dandy who was famous for his dress sense.

  • Piccadilly Arcade, Piccadilly or Jermyn Street, St. James’s, SW1Y 6NH. Nearest station: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus. For more information, visit the Piccadilly 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 3 on the Royal 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.

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House of Q @ Crazy Coqs review | Cabaret, magic and burlesque at the West End’s intimate nightspot

House Of Q © Tigz Rice Studios 2016. http://www.tigzrice.com

House Of Q (L-R: Illusionist Neil Kelso, showgirl Felicity Furore and singer Mercury)
© Tigz Rice Studios 2016

While it looks like a chic French brasserie from street level, Zedel in Piccadilly is actually a multi-function venue, offering entertainment, dining and drinking. I’ve been a fan of Bar Americain at Zedel since I first discovered it last year and have been charmed by the Art Deco interiors. Halfway downstairs to the basement level – which features Bar Americain and Brasserie Zedel’s main dining room – is an intimate little club called the Crazy Coqs.

Earlier this year, the venue launches its Live at Zedel series, comprising a series of talks, performance and other entertainment across Crazy Coqs and Brasserie Zedel. Last week, I was invited to check out the House Of Q – a cabaret and variety act at the Crazy Coqs. Stepping inside, the CC (as I’m calling it) is a cosy little nightspot with a vintage style, black and white interiors. Small tables, individual lighting and curved chairs face the intimate stage. The menu features a mix of wines, bubbles, cocktails and a few bar snacks, such as chips, deep fried prawns and pork belly if you’re feeling peckish.

House Of Q perform monthly at the Crazy Coqs with their unique mix of magic, burlesque and music. The ‘House’ is comprised of singer Mercury, showgirl Felicity Furore and illusionist Neil Kelso. Each of the three acts have their own distinct personalities and talents. Felicity is confident and sexy, Mercury is the host with the most, but isn’t afraid to show his vulnerable side, while Neil initially comes across as bashful, before his quirkiness and humour shines through. Despite the limited space and props, the trio move seamlessly from one different segment to the next. Being in such a venue, it’s no surprise to see there is some audience participation, with guests invited to take part in magic tricks. While, admittedly the acts are very different, there’s certainly something for everyone and it’s not just for your typical cabaret fans. On the night in question, there were many big groups of friends celebrating birthdays or Christmas. Mercury veered off a traditional cabaret songbook with his own musical offering about life as a barista – a witty and humorous take on life behind the counter catering to the whim of London’s demanding coffee drinkers. By the end of the show, we left feeling humoured, entertained and slightly tipsy thanks to their delicious cocktails. The House of Q are preparing a new show for 2017, so I definitely recommend checking them out.

  • Live At Zedel takes place at Crazy Coqs, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, W1F 7ED. Nearest station: Piccadilly Circus. For more information, visit the Brasserie Zedel website.

For a guide to what else is on in London in December, click here.

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When’s the Coca-Cola Christmas Truck visiting London?

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Find out when the Coca-Cola Christmas truck is rolling into London

Yes, it’s shamelessly commercial… but so much of Christmas is these days whether you like to admit it or not! However, there are many who delight in hearing that familiar theme song and the sight of the big red truck as the Coca-Cola lorry journeys around the UK spreading Christmas cheer. Last year, I spotted the truck in Leicester Square, complete with fake snow, which admittedly made me feel very festive indeed.

The Coca-Cola Christmas truck will be giving the public the chance to explore a ‘special winter wonderland’ and receive a free 150ml can of Coca-Cola Classic, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar or Diet Coke. There is also a chance to win a Santa’s sack full of goodies worth £5,000.

Here’s when the Coca-Cola truck will be making pit-stops in London:

  • 1 December : Watford High Street, Watford, WD17 2BD. Nearest station: Watford High Street. 1-9pm.
  • 3 – 4 December : The O2, Peninsula Square, North Greenwich, SE10 0DX. Nearest station: North Greenwich. 12-8pm.
  • 14 December : Asda Leyton Mills, Marshall Road, Leyton, E10 5NH. Nearest station: Leyton. 1-9pm.
  • 18 December : London Eye, South Bank, SE1 7PB. Nearest station: Waterloo. 1-9pm.
  • 20 December : Leicester Square, WC2H. Nearest station: Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus. 12-8pm.

For a guide to what else is on in London in December, click here.

To find out about London’s Christmas markets and fairs, click here or for the capital’s open-air ice rinks, click here.

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Shopping in style – Part 1 | The history of the Burlington Arcade

Delve into the history of London’s longest shopping arcade on Piccadilly.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

Burlington Arcade has been standing in Mayfair since 1819

Decades before the likes of Westfield 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 period. As part of Metro Girl’s series on the six historic arcades of Mayfair and St James, we will be starting with the Burlington Arcade – the longest and the 2nd oldest of the arcades.

In the early 19th century, the site of the arcade was owned by the wealthy aristocratic Cavendish family. The family had inherited neighbouring Burlington House through marriage when Richard, 3rd Earl of Burlington’s (1694-1753) daughter Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Boyle (1731-1754) wed William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire (1720-1764), who briefly served as Prime Minister. The couple’s son Lord George Cavendish, 1st Earl of Devonshire, (1754-1834) inherited Burlington House in 1815 and ended up using some of the side garden to erect the arcade. His apparent reasoning for building the mini mall was to prevent the passing public from lobbing oyster shells – a common and affordable food at the time – over the wall into his home. As well as give him more privacy, it would also be a tidy earner for the estate.

Lord George enlisted architect Samuel Ware (1781-1860) to design the arcade with building starting in February 1818. While it was being constructed, the world’s oldest existing shopping arcade, the Royal Opera Arcade opened on Pall Mall in 1818. While the Royal Opera only had shops on one side, the Burlington was a double-sided arcade. Opening on 20 March 1819, the Regency-style building featured a 196 yard long walkway lined by 72 two-storey shop units. The high ceiling covered the walkway featured windows letting in lots of light, with Palladian-style, Ionic columns bringing in some style from the classical world. The arcade cost £29,329, with all shops being occupied by the end of the year. Originally, there were 47 leaseholders, including some females, with tenants and their families residing in the cramped living quarters above their shops.

Wikimedia Commons

Burlington Arcade in 1828 by Thomas H Shepherd from ‘Metropolitan Improvements; or London in the Nineteenth Century’.
Image via Wikimedia Commons

By 1828, it appeared the arcade was certainly prospering, with milliners, hosiers, linen shops, shoemakers, hairdressers, jewellers, watchmakers, tobacconists, umbrella sellers and florists among the many businesses on site. In 1830, Burlington retailer James Drew was the first in the arcade to receive the Royal Warrant. He made the famous high collars for Prime Minister William Gladstone (1809-1898) and invented the soft collar. Read the rest of this entry