Curators of London style since 1819
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Lord George Cavendish, who lived in Burlington House (now the Royal Academy) commissioned his architect, Samuel Ware, to design a covered promenade of shops – unofficially to stop ruffians from throwing quantities of rubbish, in particular oyster shells, onto his property and officially “for the gratification of the public and to give employment to industrious females”.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, a hand bell was rung by the Beadles to announce the close of trading – in the 1880s the curfew was 8pm.
Reputed to have cost £49,000 to build, the early annual rents were £52 for a double site and £12.2.3d for a single – inclusive of rates.
One of the early leaseholders was patronised by the Prince Regent to supply gold lace for his uniforms.
The arcade installs the first public electric lamps in Britain
First Arcade Opens
Lord George Cavendish, who lived in Burlington House (now the Royal Academy) commissioned his architect, Samuel Ware, to design a covered promenade of shops – unofficially to stop ruffians from throwing quantities of rubbish, in particular oyster shells, onto his property and officially “for the gratification of the public and to give employment to industrious females”.The Burlington Arcade consisted of a single straight top-lit walkway lined with seventy-two small two storey units.
Originally, there were 47 leaseholders, six of whom were ‘industrious females’ but, in accordance with the rules of the day, even the male milliners and corsetières were addressed as ‘Madame’. Many of the tenants and their families lived under very cramped conditions above and below their shops, sharing the space with their stock.
A Royal Affair
James Drew at No. 3 was the first retailer to receive the Royal Warrant in the Arcade. He was responsible for Gladstone’s celebrated high collars specially made to the latter’s designs. Until the late 60s, he offered a stiff collar that was named specifically after Gladstone. Drew was also the instigator of the Piccadilly collar and the Horse Shoe knot-tie. His final claim to sartorial fame was to invent the soft collar.
During the Crimean war, Lord Panmure, Minister for War, requested designs from Hancocks – the highly respected jeweller – for a new award. Prototypes were submitted to Queen Victoria and in March 1856, Her Majesty finally approved on design: the Victoria Cross. The first presentation took place on 26th June 1857 when Queen Victoria decorated 62 soldiers and sailors. Since the inception of the unique awards, Hancocks have produced every one of the 1,350 VCs that have been issued.
In 1879 the Arcade came into the possession of the Chesham family whose Coat of Arms still dominates the Piccadilly Arch while their family motto ‘Cavendo Tutus’ (Secure in Caution) is blazoned across the Arch of Burlington Gardens.
Fred Astaire was the recipient of nine pairs of unique gold and striped slippers purchased in the Arcade by an admirer. Some time later the designer spotted Astaire checking the window displays in the Arcade and guessed what he was looking for. “I stood in the doorway and as he approached, I cast my eyes down to where the slippers were displayed.” Astaire roared with laughter and bought several more pairs.
March 1936 saw chaos in the Arcade when a fire broke out and both tenants and visitors caused havoc by panicking and looting occurred. More seriously, there was considerable architectural damage to the Piccadilly end during the war when the Arcade was struck by bombs: restoration work was required and completed in the 1950s.
In 1953 Percy, the poltergeist, made his first official appearance in the Arcade and left his mark by rearranging briefcases and handbags in a perfect semi-circle on the floor of No. 42 – The Unicorn Leather Company. This resulted in Percy’s notoriety being featured in a BBC TV programme.
A Speedy Getaway
Drama erupted in the Arcade in June 1964 when a spectacular robbery took place. A Jaguar Mark 10 charged down the Arcade at high speed – (the first and only four wheels ever to enter the Arcade) and six masked men, armed with axe handles and iron bars smashed the windows of the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Association shop and stole jewellery valued at £35,000. They made their escape by reversing back up the Arcade and were never caught! The bollards at the Burlington Gardens entrance were subsequently introduced.
The 150th anniversary celebrations were only the third social function in the Arcade’s history. The first was to mark the passing of the Parliamentary Reform Bill in 1832; the second, in 1954, to celebrate the rebuilding of the north end of the Arcade destroyed by war damage. On 21 May 1969, at an evening reception, the Guest of Honour Princess Alexandra unveiled a commemorative plaque designed and moulded by Joshua Wedgwood studios to mark the 150th milestone.
The film star, Ann Todd, telephoned Richard Ogden – old established jeweller in the Arcade – to ask if he would consider closing his shop for a brief visit by Ingrid Bergman who did not wish to attract any publicity. He immediately agreed and positioned one of his staff outside the door to deter any would-be customers. When an elderly lady approached he explained, as instructed, that the shop was temporarily closed but could not restrain himself from adding, “Have a look, can you see who is in there?” Peering through her pince-nez she said delightedly, “of course I can see, it is dear Mr. Ogden.”
During the last decade, the Arcade has provided the location for major films such as “Patriot Games” (with Harrison Ford), “101 Dalmatians”, and “Scandal” (the Profumo affair)
Sadly, today’s Beadles can no longer enjoy the luxury of resting in the armchairs originally positioned at either end of the Arcade and designated for their use.
Around and about
Named after the annual fortnight-long May Fair that took place on the site, the Mayfair area is full of history. Mayfair is close to many beautiful parks and historic squares, and the area's exclusive residents have attracted the world’s finest shops and the most exclusive businesses. Explore our charming local attractions and luxury partner hotels below.
Hyde Park AttractionHyde Park
One of the largest parks in Central London and one of the Royal Parks of London, famous for its Speakers' Corner.Show on Map
Buckingham Palace AttractionBuckingham Palace
The official London residence and principal workplace of the British monarch. The palace is a setting for state occasions and royal hospitality.Show on Map
Savile Row SHOPPINGSavile Row
Savile Row is a street in Mayfair known principally for its traditional bespoke tailoring for men.Show on Map
Piccadilly Circus AttractionPiccadilly Circus
A road junction and public space of London's West End, built in 1819 to connect Regent Street with the major shopping street of Piccadilly. It now links directly to the theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue.Show on Map
New Bond Street AttractionNew Bond Street
A major shopping street in the West End of London that runs north-south through Mayfair between Oxford Street and Piccadilly.Show on Map
The Stafford HOTELThe Stafford
The Stafford London, by Kempinski has an air of timelessness, where elegance and tradition create a haven of calm away from London's busy streets.Show on Map
The May Fair HOTELThe May Fair
Luxury London hotel, The May Fair is a legendary 5 star hotel in the heart of the Capital.Show on Map
The Lancaster HOTELThe Lancaster
4 Star luxury hotel with breath taking views over London's Hyde Park.Show on Map
The Ritz HOTELThe Ritz
The Ritz London is a 5-star hotel located in Piccadilly. Opened on 24 May 1906, the building is neoclassical in the Louis XVI manner.Show on Map
The Goring HOTELThe Goring
The Goring is an historic luxury hotel in London's central Belgravia district, famed for its independent style and modern British cuisine.Show on Map
Dukes, St James HOTELDukes, St James
Dukes, in London's St James's, is a five-star hotel with inviting bars, tranquil restaurant and a sanctuary-like location.Show on Map
The Westbury HOTELThe Westbury
5 star luxury hotel in Mayfair, London, The Westbury offers exceptional quality bedrooms and suites along with unrivalled fine dining cuisine.Show on Map
Intercontinental Park Lane HOTELIntercontinental Park Lane
Steeped in history, this London hotel was once the site of a royal residence. Now the epitome of contemporary elegance.Show on Map
The Chesterfield HOTELThe Chesterfield
The Chesterfield Mayfair, where old-fashioned values of service and courtesy meet 21st-century standards of comfort and technology.Show on Map
The Langham HOTELThe Langham
One of the largest and best known traditional style grand hotels in London and a member of the Leading Hotels of the World marketing consortium.Show on Map
K West HOTELK West
K West is the couture hotel of West London and is a staunch favourite of music and media types who swear by its blend of facilities and style.Show on Map
St James's HOTELSt James's
One of the best luxury hotels in London, located in a quiet cul-de-sac that is only moments from Mayfair.Show on Map
Millennium Mayfair HOTELMillennium Mayfair
The Millennium Mayfair is an impressive 18th century London mansion, combining traditional charm and luxury with an outstanding location.Show on Map
Flemings Mayfair HOTELFlemings Mayfair
Flemings boutique London hotel, in the luxurious borrough of Mayfair, is just a few steps away from Bond Street and Green Park.Show on Map
The Pelham HOTELThe Pelham
A luxury hotel in the heart of South Kensington with iconic locations such as The Royal Albert Hall & Burlington Arcade on your doorstep.Show on Map
The Corinthia HOTELThe Corinthia
The luxurious Corinthia Hotel is located in one of London’s most prestigious areas, moments from Trafalgar Square and Whitehall.Show on Map
The Wellesley HOTELThe Wellesley
Discover contemporary luxury and traditional glamour in the heart of London at The Wellesley.Show on Map
Grosvenor House HOTELGrosvenor House
Plan your luxury getaway at the historic Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel.Show on Map