When My Regency Heroines Go Shopping
By Maggi Andersen
Burlington Arcade opened to great acclaim in 1819. Situated between Piccadilly and Old Burlington in the heart of Mayfair, London, Burlington Arcade was originally a covered mall of small exclusive shops. And unique to the mall, they had the oldest and smallest police force in the world, the Burlington Beadles.
Lord George Cavendish, younger brother of the 5th Duke of Devonshire, later Earl of Burlington, built one of Britain’s earliest shopping arcades after he inherited the adjacent Burlington House. The mall was erected on what had been the side garden of Burlington House, reputedly to prevent passers-by throwing oyster shells and other rubbish over the wall of his home, ‘for the sale of jewelry and fancy articles of fashionable demand, for the gratification of the public’. Since then, it has been patrolled by the Burlington Beadles who uphold a strict code of conduct dating from Regency times.
Originally recruited by Lord Cavendish from his regiment The Royal Hussars, the Beadles still wear their uniform of Victorian frock coats, gold buttons and gold-braided top hats.
The arcade originally housed seventy-two small two story shops, selling all kinds of hats, hosiery, gloves, linen, shoes jewelry, lace, walking sticks, cigars, flowers, glassware, wine and watches. Many of the shopkeepers lived either above or below their shops and in the early days, the upper level of the arcade had quite a reputation for prostitution.
Pimps used to burst into song or whistle to warn prostitutes who were soliciting in the arcade that the police or Beadles were about. The prostitutes working on the upper level would also whistle to the pickpockets below to warn them of approaching police.
The Burlington Beadles still enforce the rules and even today, singing and whistling are two activities banned from the arcade. Rumor has it, however, that Sir Paul McCartney is the only person currently exempt from the ban on whistling....
Above: Burlington Arcade today
Regency ladies must have been delighted with what Burlington Arcade had to offer:
“I must go,” Althea said, putting down her napkin and standing. “I promised to escort my aunt to the new Burlington Arcade in Piccadilly. She is keen to visit the shops. There’s so many of them!”
“It’s quite extraordinary,” Horatia said. “Everything one might need is there.”
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Coming next: Shopping in Oxford Street and an excerpt from THE EARL AND THE HIGHWAYMAN'S DAUGHTER Released July