Burlington Arcade opened over 200 years ago.

Head beadle Mark Lord tells us its history.

Scroll to the end for a timeline of the Burlington Arcade.


Words by Sophia Charalambous


The kind of things you would have bought in those days were lace gloves, hats, bonnets and lace handkerchiefs.

Lord was a gentleman’s outfitters (no relation of mine), which spanned numbers 66, 67, 68, 69. You would have bought collars for shirts, gloves, canes, handkerchiefs.

Today, N. Peal is our oldest shop going back 76 years.



Shops sold vinaigrettes, which you would wear on a chain around your wrist.

In the late 1700s, men wore flamboyant cuffs. One of the reasons they did that was to hide the vinaigrette inside.

There were no sewage works in London at that time, and lots of horse and carts, so the air wasn’t as sweet as it is now.

You would hold the vinaigrette to your nose and it would have perfume inside.




There used to be a shop here called Sullivan Powell that used to do handmade cigarettes. You could have them wrapped in any colour you wanted.

So, if you wanted pink papers, you could have that. That was before World War II and it moved to number 60-61 and closed in the early 1990s.



In those days, homosexuality was illegal.

So the police would very often turn a blind eye if one of the two individuals involved dressed as the opposite gender when they entered the Arcade.



The way it would work is the ‘visitor’ would buy an item from the shop below, go upstairs, spend some wonderful time and then give them the present.

They would then sell the present back to the shop and that’s how they got their money.

The most famous of all our establishments was numbers 27, 28, 29 – a millinery run by Madam Parsons.

She died here on the premises and when the doctor came to give the death certificate, they discovered “she” was actually a he.



We didn’t allow ladies in without a chaperone because they were deemed to be not the right kind of women we wanted in  the Arcade.

Also groups of small children weren’t allowed. That's because, after the Napoleonic Wars, lots formed groups and did tend to be pickpockets.

You weren’t allowed to carry large purchases because it would be deemed unladylike or ungentlemanly.

You weren’t allowed to show merriment – that’s a polite way to say drunkenness.

The rules that we still try to enforce include no whistling, which is difficult as nowadays people are whistling to the song playing on their headphones; and no rushing – but everyone is in a rush nowadays!



We believe beadles originally sat inside the columns, saying who could or couldn’t come in.

It was undoubtedly for when they got tired.

I reckon that stopped when the columns went (at the top end after the World War II bombing and the Piccadilly end in about 1910).


George Eliot

Number 15 used to be a bookshop where George Eliot, who wrote under a male pseudonym, used to put notes inside books to her lover.

That’s how they allegedly planned their elopement together.


More stories about Burlington Arcade:

Meet Jamie Reuben, the man in charge of Burlington Arcade. 


Timeline of Burlington Arcade:


1818 The arcade installs the first public electric lamps in Britain.

March 1819  The arcade was built by Lord George Cavendish, later Earl of Burlington, for: “The sale of jewellery and fancy articles of fashionable demand, for the gratification of the public”.

1820 There were 47 leaseholders, including prostitutes. Many families lived above their shops, with their stock, in very cramped conditions.

1830 James Drew was the first stallholder to receive the Royal Warrant in the Arcade. His claim to fame was not only the Gladstone stiff collar but also the soft collar.

1856  Hancocks designed the Victoria Cross. It has since produced every one of the 1,350 crosses issued.

1879  The arcade came into possession of the Chesham family, whose Coat of Arms still sits on top of the Piccadilly Arch. Their family motto Cavendo Tutus is above the Arch of Burlington Gardens.

1936 A fire broke out and the panic caused looting. There was also architectural damage to the Piccadilly end during the war when it was hit by bombs.

DRDENA Burlington Arcade circa 1930

1953 Percy the poltergeist made his first appearance by rearranging briefcases and handbags in a semi-circle on the floor of number 42, The Unicorn Leather Company.

1964  A Jaguar Mark 10, the only four wheels ever to enter the Arcade, drove through. Six masked men armed with weapons smashed the windows of Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Association shop, stealing jewels at a value of £35,000. They were never caught.

1969  On May 21 1969, Princess Alexandra unveiled a plaque, moulded by Joshua Wedgwood, to mark the Arcade’s 150th anniversary.

1976  Ingrid Bergman visited jeweller Richard Ogden in the Arcade, who closed his shop for the visit.

1990s  The Arcade was featured in films such as Patriot Games, starring Harrison Ford, in 1992, and 101 Dalmatians, which starred Glenn Close, in 1996.

2019  The 200th anniversary of the Arcade.

More stories about Burlington Arcade:

Meet Jamie Reuben, the man in charge of Burlington Arcade. 

This article first appeared in the Mayfair Times which you can read here.