True love took on a new meaning when Lord George Cavendish, Earl of Burlington, commissioned Samuel Ware to build Burlington Arcade as a safe place for his wife and other genteel folk to shop – though it was also alleged that the Earl wanted to oust his neighbours who kept throwing discarded oyster shells (London’s most popular ‘fast food’) into his garden.
Burlington Arcade opened in 1819 ‘for the sale of jewellery and fancy articles of fashionable demand, for the gratification of the public’. It had 51 independent boutiques across 72 units, selling luxuries like hats, gloves and jewellery – it was notably the place to go for a bonnet. At 196 yards long, the beautiful covered shopping arcade was – and remains – one of the longest in Britain.
Today there are 46 boutiques and the Arcade, described as ‘the jewel in Mayfair’, welcomes four million visitors a year. In 2019 seven new boutiques opened alongside long-established retailers like N. Peal, whose cashmere shop has been in the Arcade for 83 years. Several boutiques are exclusive to the Arcade – the Manolo Blahnik men’s shoe boutique is the only one in the world. It stands alongside other prestigious shoe brands like Baudoin & Lange, Mou and Royal Warrant holders, Crockett & Jones.
Its eclectic and quirky mix of boutiques gives Burlington Arcade such a quintessentially British feel – plus it’s dog-friendly, always a bonus for the pet-loving Brits
Another popular and unique feature of the Arcade is its Beadles, originally recruited as guards by Lord Cavendish’s regiment, the 10th Hussars. The Beadles still wear Regency-inspired uniforms and comprise the oldest and smallest police force in Britain.
They continue to impose rules laid down by the original Beadles, so singing, humming, whistling, riding a bicycle or ‘behaving boisterously’ are all banned. The only two people granted special permission to whistle are Sir Paul McCartney and Jayden, an East End schoolboy who had the ban lifted by the Beadles for obtaining a good school report.
In 2019 Burlington Arcade celebrated its 200th anniversary and is looking forward with optimism to another two centuries of being the world’s most historically rich, elegant and superbly curated covered emporium.