February half-term in London: the best things to do
Get stuck into London’s many special half-term events with the whole family this 16 to 23 February 2019.
9th January 2018
Burlington Arcade is a grand, covered shopping strip that connects Piccadilly to Burlington Gardens. For pedestrians only, the regal arches, roof windows and pretty shopfronts make it a place to escape from the bustle of London.
Burlington Arcade was commissioned to be built by Lord George Cavendish, the younger brother of the 5th Duke of Devonshire, who was a nobleman, aristocrat and politician. The Duke of Devonshire inherited Burlington House next door. The patch of land now home to Burlington Arcade was originally the house’s garden, but passers-by had a habit of throwing oyster shells and other rubbish over the wall into it! So the primary aim of creating a covered arcade was initially to stop people bothering the family. The architect Samuel Ware was brought in for the important task, and the rest is history.
The arcade was designed with 72 double-storey shop units, to be filled with wares for the middle and upper classes. In those times, it was described as a destination “for the sale of jewellery and fancy articles of fashionable demand, for the gratification of the public”. Nowadays, we describe it more succinctly as a “shopping mall”!
Lord George Cavendish wanted the arcade to give employment to “industrious females” although only six of the original leaseholders were female. Despite this, even the male milliners and corset-makers were referred to as ‘Madame’, which was a common convention in the 1820s. Whoever they were, many of the leaseholders lived in the shop units with their families, in cramped conditions amid their stock. In these early days, Lord Cavendish had Burlington Arcade patrolled by ‘beadles’, who wore traditional top hats and knee-length frock coats. Beadles still keep a watchful eye over the arcade to this day.
Given the wealthy clientele Burlington Arcade attracted, many shopkeepers went on to gain great acclaim. Sartorial designer James Drew received a Royal Warrant after he became known for his high-collar fashions, while the jeweller Hancocks designed the Victoria Cross to decorate brave soldiers and sailors. Over the years that followed, celebrities such as Fred Astaire and Ingrid Bergman bought goods from the arcade, and many more notable people have been spotted there in more recent years too.
Burlington Arcade has also made its way to Hollywood, with scenes from Patriot Games, 101 Dalmatians and Scandal filmed there. Given its long history, there are many tales in circulation about Burlington Arcade too, including one about a poltergeist called Percy.
Over time, some of the shop units have been combined, so there are around 40 shops nowadays. These shops are currently home to a combination of watch and jewellery makers, high-end fashion houses, shoe makers, leather purveyors, beauty houses and original gift makers. Brands range from Chanel and Mulberry, to traditional French macarons by Ladurée and handbags by Kwanpen.
Burlington Arcade is just a short walk from The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences.
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