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Shopping in style – Part 5: An art deco gem Princes Arcade

The Princes Arcade is an 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 five historic arcades of Mayfair and St James, 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.


For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, 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 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 five 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

A hidden garden in the City: The ruins of St Dunstan-in-the-East

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Ruins: One of the Gothic-style windows on the north wall on the remains of St-Dunstan-in-the-East

The City Of London is a bustling, noisy place, especially on weekdays. For hundreds of years, the City’s churches have always been a place of solitude for those seeking quiet and today that is no different. However, not all churches consist of four walls and a ceiling thanks to the damage ravaged by the Nazis during World War II. Located just north of Lower Thames Street is a hidden garden in the ruins of a former church.  Although the steeple and tower and some of the walls now remain, the roof and interiors are long gone, having been replaced by a peaceful garden.

St Dunstan-in-the-East is located in the south-east corner of the City of London, a short walk from the Tower of London. The original St Dunstan church was originally built in 1100, but like many in the City, was damaged in the Great Fire Of London in 1666. Sir Christopher Wren (1632–1723) was given the responsibility of repairing and renovating the church. The building was patched up between 1668 and 1671 with Wren adding a needle spire during 1696 and 1701. Inside, the church contained carvings by Dutch-born carver Grinling Gibbons (1648–1721), whose work also features in St Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

With the roof gone, what remains of the wall encloses a public garden

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Wren’s needle spire and clock tower managed to survive the World War II bombings

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The grand Gothic doorways remain intact, but are covered in vines

In 1817, the church was in a sorry state so it was rebuilt in a perpendicular style to a design by architect David Laing (1774-1856), who designed the New Custom House and was a former apprentice of Sir John Soane. Laing was assisted by architect William Tite (1798–1873), who went on to design the Royal Exchange, West Norwood Cemetery and various train stations, including Vauxhall, Barnes, Chiswick and Kew Bridge. The heavy weight of the roof of the nave had been pushing the walls out seven inches, so it was decided the whole structure – bar Wren’s tower – should be rebuilt. The new design was built with Portland Stone, cost £36,000 and spanned 115 feet by 65 feet. The makeover was revealed to the congregation on January 1821 and could accommodate up to 600-700 parishioners. (For a photo of the church interior, click here or exterior in 1910, click here.)

However, Laing’s redesign was not to last either, with the Nazi bombing campaign of World War II wreaking havoc on St Dunstan’s 120 years later. On 10 May 1941, the bomb destroyed the nave and roof and blew out the stained glass windows. In 1960, St Dunstan was linked with All Hallows by the Tower. The City of London Corporation decided not to rebuild and instead turn the ruins into a public garden, which opened in 1971. The tower’s eight bells were transferred to the Sterling Winery in California’s Napa Valley.

Today, the garden contain lots of plants, trees, a fountain and benches, while the tower is home to a wellbeing foundation. Occasional religious services are held in the open air in the garden, such as Palm Sunday, organised by All Hallows.

  • St Dunstan-in-the-East, St Dunstan’s Hill, off Lower Thames Street, City of London, EC3R 8DX. Nearest stations: Tower Hill or Monument.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The eastern wall (right) of the church has been largely destroyed, while the south wall managed to stay standing


For other posts on Sir Christopher Wren’s life and buildings read…

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Derelict beauty: A visit to Caroline Gardens Chapel with Open House London

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Caroline Gardens Chapel stands near the Old Kent Road in Peckham and was built in the 1820s

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The old creaky doors to the chapel

As Open House London took place this weekend (20-21 September 2014), I joined thousands of Londoners going through the doors of usually private or iconic buildings which are often off-limits to the public, or cost to visit. While some of the buildings I visited this year were more well-known, such as Westminster Hall and Lambeth Palace, I also stepped away from the Open House hotspots of Westminster and the City of London to visit the little-known Caroline Gardens Chapel in Peckham.

Now known as ‘Asylum’, the part-ruined Georgian chapel is now a flexible project space which hosts art exhibitions, concerts and is used for weddings and other functions. The chapel is sandwiched between the almshouses located in Caroline Gardens, on Asylum Road – named for the buildings’ original name Licenced Victuallers’ Benevolent Institution Asylum. Although named an asylum, which immediately makes you assume of a residence for the mentally ill, the site was actually a retirement home for former pub landlords.

The chapel was built in 1827 and 1833, with 10,000 people coming to the opening ceremony of the asylum site. As well as an organ by Messrs Bovington and Sons, the chapel featured stone and marble tablets honouring donors and supporters, most of which still exist today. The Asylum estate was visited by Prince Albert (1819-1861) in 1858 to open the Albert Wing, which added 31 further homes.

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Although the centrepiece of the chapel is gone, the old altar still forms a focal point in the charming derelict chapel

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This particular south-facing window has lost of its coloured panes

Sadly, like many homes and buildings in South East London during the war, the chapel was heavily damaged by a bomb in World War II, destroying the roof and west-facing back wall. Although the chapel was made water-tight by the addition of an asbestos-cement roof and filing the crypt with concrete, it soon fell into disuse. The Asylum relocated to Denham, Bucks in 1960 and the almshouses went into ownership of Southwark council. The chapel was briefly used over the decades, but was mostly left derelict. It was only in 2010 that Jo Dennis and Dido Hallett took over the chapel to be used as an arts and entertainment space.

A friend and I visited the chapel early in the morning on the Saturday of Open House. The gardens were a quiet, peaceful place and we were impressed by the chapel immediately upon entry. While I usually champion the restoration of old, historic buildings, the part-derelict state of Asylum is utterly charming. What remains of the altar contains several marble memorials and the lit candles sitting on the cracked and ravaged concrete floor certainly added to the romanticism. The stained glass windows are stunning and in varying states of condition, from good to decaying. Some of the original paintwork – blue and gold leaf still remains along the walls, as well as some inscriptions on the wall honouring some donors. The back wall includes stairs to nowhere… ghostly remnants of the stone steps heading up to where presumably a mezzanine where a choir or extra congregation may have sat. I loved the building and am looking forward to hopefully coming back one day for an exhibition, concert or wedding.

  • Asylum @ Caroline Garden’s Chapel, Asylum Road, Peckham, SE15 2SQ. Nearest station: Queens Road Peckham. For more information, visit the Asylum website.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The stained glass windows and marble memorial tablets fortunately survived the WWII bombing


Here’s some links to Metro Girl’s other blog posts on Open House London…

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

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Missing – One church: The lonely bell tower of St Alban

The history of the lone church tower in Wood Street in the City of London.

St Alban church tower © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Marooned: The church tower of St Alban stands in on a traffic island in the middle of Wood Street

St Alban church tower © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The original church window

World War II caused a lot of damage and destruction to Sir Christopher Wren‘s churches in the City of London. Some were completely destroyed by bombs, while some damage was repairable. In some cases, the main church buildings were beyond repair, while their towers were able to be saved. One such church tower now stands alone, stranded on a traffic island with cars and taxis weaving along tarmac roads in the very spot where the congregation used to sit and pray.

St Alban church tower stands on a traffic island on Wood Street, separating the north and southbound traffic. The road starts north of Cheapside and crosses London Wall. A church has stood on the site since at least 930AD, with some arguing it dates back to the 8th century, during the time of Offa, King Of Mercia (757-796AD). The Anglo-Saxon ruler was believed to have had a palace on the site which included a chapel. Offa founded a monastery and abbey dedicated to Saint Alban (the first English martyr, who died in the 3rd or 4th century) in what later became St Albans, Hertfordshire. Offa also dedicated several churches in the City to the martyr, hence the theory the church went back this far. However, later parish records date the church to 930AD. During King John’s (1166-1216) reign, the church was called St Alban Wuderstrate. Records in the 16th century show the Medieval church included five bells.

St Alban tower © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The tower was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in a late Perpendicular Gothic style

By 1633, the church was in a pretty bad state. Architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652), landowner/politician Sir Henry Spiller and others inspected the building and found it was beyond repair so it was demolished with a new one constructed on the site a year later. After designing the first 17th century St Alban, Jones went on to repair and remodel St Paul’s Cathedral. However, Jones’s replacement of St Alban’s Church didn’t stand long thanks to the Great Fire Of London in 1666, which destroyed great swathes of the City.

St Alban church London

A sketch of St Alban church in 1839 from the The Churches of London by George Godwin
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

St Alban became one of the many churches rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire. Construction was completed in 1685 and was fashioned in a late Perpendicular Gothic style at a cost of £3,165. The new building featured piers shaped as clustered columns separating the structure into naves and aisles. At the north end of the church was a bell tower, which stood tall at 92 foot (28 metres) and included two bells. In the 19th century, the church was restored by another acclaimed architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878). Sir George was famous for building St Pancras station and the Albert Memorial and had a fondness for a neo-Gothic style, which would have suited Wren’s original design. Scott added an apse (a semi-circular recess) to the structure during his restoration.

However, around 274 years after the Great Fire Of London destroyed the City of London, this time it was the Nazi bombing campaign. St Alban was hit by a bomb on 29 December 1940, which left the building burnt out and partially destroyed, with only the tower intact. The main church building was eventually demolished in 1955, but it was decided the tower should remain after being designated a Grade II-listed building in January 1950. Today, the bells have long since been removed and the tower was converted into a private building in the mid 1980s.

Other existing Wren church towers in London missing the main church building included Christ Church Greyfriars, St Dunstan-In-The-East, All Hallows Staining, St Augustine Watling Street, St Mary Somerset and St Olave Old Jewry.

  • St Alban church tower stands on Wood Street, City of London, EC2. Nearest stations: Moorgate, Barbican or St Paul’s.
St Alban church tower © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The church tower was listed in 1950


For other posts on Sir Christopher Wren’s life and buildings read…

For more Metro Girl posts on London history, click here.

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