These tunnels partially survive now and Mark Lord took me to see one section. Stepping down the tight staircase from the showroom, we were suddenly back two centuries, walking on the original flagstones beside an iron kitchen range and peering out the basement bowed window into the gloom of the subterranean delivery passageway. It was then that I was told the other dark secrets of Burlington Arcade. Customers were not allowed to carry large parcels inside the

arcade. Anything more cumbersome than a small discreet purchase could not be taken directly out of the shop. It had to be brought to you and that came via one of the arcade’s great secrets. Beneath the main walkway on both sides of the arcade were underground passageways that ran the entire length. Boy and girls would run along these underground passages to bring the parcels to your servants at the entrance of the arcade or take them all the way to your London address. “It has always mirrored the prosperity of the city,” explains Lord. “If London’s booming, the arcade is booming, but when recession hits as it did in the past, some shopkeepers looked at the rooms above their shops for an alternative income.” Female and male prostitutes would not do anything as crass as

directly solicit among the shoppers in the arcade but there was a definite system of attracting clients. “Sometimes during the summer, they would lean out from the top windows making a clicking noise to interest passers-by,” reveals Lord. “A client would walk into the shop to make a purchase, take it upstairs to present it as a gift for the time of the lady or gentleman they desired and then they would sell it back to the shop to get their money. On other occasions they might hang a stocking from the upper windows.” The most infamous sexual entrepreneur was one Madame

Parsons who had lived her entire adult life as a woman. She died in her bonnet shop in Burlington Arcade and when a doctor arrived to process the death certificate she was identified as a man. In Victorian London homosexuality was illegal but the police would turn a blind eye if one of the parties dressed as a woman. In that way, homosexual couples could see each other. There was a notorious beadle, George Smith, who got the sack for allowing these activities. “The beadle that gave us eternal shame,” sighs Lord. A beadle for 16 years in Burlington Arcade, Mark

Lord is joined by four others during the week. “Technically the Metropolitan Police should ask permission to come through the arcade,” he says. “We’re not a real police force but we do enforce rules and regulations based around behaviour. You’re not supposed to whistle in the arcade as when it first opened there were criminal gangs of boys around who would whistle signals to alert each other.” Famously one of the exceptions to the rule is Sir Paul McCartney who once had his Apple Company around the corner

Today Burlington Arcade attracts over four

million visitors every year

in Savile Row. Other rules still applied include no running in the arcade, no bringing in an open umbrella, no bicycles, no playing musical instruments. “You are not allowed to show merriment,” says Lord, “which is a polite way of saying drunkenness”. Today Burlington Arcade attracts over four

million visitors a year. In May 2018 it was bought by property tycoons Simon and David Reuben for £300 million, who no doubt will only want to enhance the reputation of the arcade for top-end shopping. “For 75 years N.Peal has been selling cashmere and other luxury fashion,” says Lord. “Jewellers

Richard Ogden have been here since 1952, when the upper part of the arcade had just been rebuilt after bomb damage in the Second World War. His son Robert Ogden has been coming here all his life. When a shop comes here, they tend to stay.” A previous trader at the Ogden premises was the infamous Madame Parsons. Famous shoppers range from Fred Astaire and President

Clinton to Naomi Campbell and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has a particular passion for the arcade’s shoe shops. Like everywhere else, multinationals such as La Perla, Chanel

and Mulberry have also moved in alongside the independents. Burlington Arcade is also not just about shopping. Many nearby business people find it a quiet oasis off Piccadilly where they can have a relaxing 10 minutes having their shoes polished by long-time resident shoe shiner Romi Topi. Burlington Arcade looks perfectly set to entertain London visitors for at least another 200 years. Tim Newark is a historian and journalist and author of The In & Out: A history of the Naval and Military Club



1819 Burlington Arcade opens 1871 Fire causes extensive damage with some shops being gutted

1911 Piccadilly front altered to include an upper storey containing offices

1926 Descendant of Lord George Cavendish sells freehold of the arcade

1931 Piccadilly front has triple arches removed and entrance widened to street

1937 Burlington Gardens entrance gets new front also removing columns

1940 Wartime bombing destroys north part of arcade 1954 Restored arcade reopened 2015 New floor unveiled in arcade featuring intricate pattern of British stone

2019 Bicentennial celebrations

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