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A taste of luxury

London’s Burlington Arcade, the UK’s first shopping centre, is coming to the end of a six- year rolling refurbishment that has cemented its place as a top luxury retail destination

The two hundred yard-long arcade linking Piccadilly with Burlington Gardens in Mayfair was developed in 1819 by Lord Cavendish, partly to form a barrier between his house and the rowdy pubs and clubs that then lined Old Bond Street, and partly to give Lady Cavendish somewhere to shop without having to encounter the great unwashed.

Cavendish had seen shopping arcades in Paris and in Italy on his travels during the Napoleonic Wars which had just finished. He became the first to import the concept into the UK. And the wars also shaped the original tenant mix: many of the shops were let to widows of soldiers from Cavendish’s regiment the 10th Hussars. In a 19th century mission statement,

the arcade was described as being “for the gratification of the public and to give employment to industrious females”. Ex-soldiers were also given jobs as

beadles: the Arcade’s own private police force. As recently as 60 years ago they were all recruited from the 10th Hussars and its successor regiments, and to this day many come from a military background. Their role is officially to make sure that Burlington Arcade remains the sort of place where Lady Cavendish would feel comfortable shopping, and they have a long list of rules to enforce, including: no whistling; no running; no bicycles or prams; no carrying of large parcels, and no open umbrellas. But Mark Lord, head beadle for the past

eight years, makes it clear that first and foremost their role is about customer service. In their distinctive uniforms with top hats and frock coats, the beadles act as ambassadors for the arcade and its retailers. “You don’t have to buy anything. Anyone who walks through the arcade is our customer,” he says. The arcade is approaching the end of a

rolling refurbishment, reinstating some of its original attributes. The scheme’s architects, Osel, drilled through 28 layers of paint to discover which colours had been used in the past, before selecting a rich green for the walls.

The London Stock brickwork at the upper

levels has been cleaned and the fibrous plaster rosettes that decorate the ceiling

have been repainted and, in some cases, replaced with new versions. All that remains to be done is to install

floral planters, bay trees, new signage (restating ‘the rules’) and magazine racks. The aim was for the look and feel of the

arcade to reflect changes that have been made to the tenant mix since the current owner, a private family trust, bought it from the Prudential six years ago. Although voids are rare, consultant CWM

drew up a strategy to drive the tenant mix up-market, focusing on independent luxury retailers and resisting multiples. The small unit sizes mean the centre is strong in jewellers, including one specialising in Faberge eggs, but it has also attracted some niche fashion

brands and shoe retailers. The aim has been to emphasise points of

difference. London has plenty of luxury retail destinations, with the traditional clusters in Bond Street to Sloane Street joined by newer arrivals in the form of the Royal Exchange in the City and The Village at Westfield London. But Burlington Arcade has remained slightly idiosyncratic. “It’s a unique environment,” concludes


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