Shopping in Regency London by Elaine Golden
The modern day shopping mall has its origins in Regency London. In a time when all clothing and accessories were custom made by hand, proprietors set up shops close to their customers –which for the Beau Monde of Regency London, meant as close to Mayfair as possible.
As the trendy new Mayfair neighborhood was developed in the 18th century, the eastern border became the location for the choicest of shops –and the legend of Bond Street as a shopping mecca was born. It quickly became not only a popular place to shop, but also a place to stroll –to see and be seen about town.
However, as popular as Bond Street and its shops were, it wasn’t without its downsides. It wasn’t uncommon for the street to become so packed with pedestrians, that people were forced to walk in the street, as depicted by this c1796 caricature “High-Change in Bond Street –or—the Politesse of du Grande Monde”. So much for high manners, if the local papers scorned the lack of courtesy, where women were forced to walk in the streets!
Then, there’s the weather. In a place known for rain, fog and cold winters, it wasn’t always prudent or convenient to go to Bond Street, or at least to linger there. Between the wet and the mud, I’m sure many a retail sale was lost because shoppers just couldn’t browse without getting wet and cold.
So, when Lord George Cavendish, fed up with people dumping oyster shells in a passage bordering his town home, decided to put the area to good use and commissioned the Burlington Arcade, it was an immediate success when it opened in 1819, situated as it was on the corner of Bond and Piccadilly.
The first stroke of genius in the design was to cover the entire pedestrian boulevard with a glazed roof to protect customers as they visited the shops there. It also spoke to the Regency sense of uniformity of design and housed 2 rows of neat shops –a total of 72 enclosed shops of milliners, shoemakers, jewelers –just about anything the Regency shopper could imagine in a single, convenient location. Beadles, originally staffed from Cavendish’s old regiment of Hussars, were stationed at the Arcade to watch over the customers and to keep vagrants and thieves at bay.
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Posted with permission of the author.