Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Dead Cats and Commercialism - London Trivia #3

Today's tale of London trivia tells how the exclusive shopping venue, the Burlington Arcade, Piccadilly came into being.
The original triple arch entrance to the Burlington Arcade.
For those unfamiliar with London, the Burlington Arcade is a parade of high-end shops housed in Georgian splendour, beside the current home of the Royal Academy, Burlington House. However, did you know that in 1819 these Georgian shops came into existence to stop dead cats falling on Lord Cavendish when he sat in his garden?

Interior of the Burlington Arcade today.
 In the early 19th century Lord George Cavendish was the owner of Burlington House. But no matter how splendid his residence, Lord Cavendish derived little pleasure from sitting outside because of a constant rain of oyster shells, apple cores, bottles and even the odd dead animal. This was because an alleyway ran alongside his property and the passers-by liked to lob their rubbish over his garden wall.
The Burlington Arcade - interior.
Cavendish's solution was to commission Samuel Ware to design a arcade of small shops in the alleyway, and do away with the nuisance of the uncouth public dumping their rubbish over his wall. The result was the Burlington Arcade, which still exists as a retail mall to this day. Opened on 20th March, 1819, the mall reputedly cost 49,000 pounds to build, rent for a single unit was a little over 12 pounds a year. One of the first lease holders was patronised by the Prince Regent to supply gold lace for his uniforms.

The Burlington Arcade to the left and the edge of the Royal Academy to the right.
Originally a single storey building, an upper level was added in 1906 with apartments to let (as one wit put it, "To a better sort of courtesan".) The original triple arch entrance was removed in 1931 and a new design added, which was much disliked at the time. The shops are small but famous for selling expensive, luxury goods - hence quality over quantity.
Lord George Augustus Cavendish.
 A beadle (the Georgian equivalent of a security man) patrolled the mall in order to stop the 'wrong sort' entering. The first beadles were recruited from the Cavendish family regiment of the 10th Hussars to enforce a strict code of conduct within the arcade which included: no running, whistling or playing musical instruments, no carrying large parcels and no babies' prams. In the 19th century the beadle had a leather armchair at the entrance on which to sit whilst keeping an eye on visitors. It was also the beadle's job to ring a hand-bell to tell the shops to close. To this day there is still a team of four beadles(but no chair) and they have the authority to eject you from the arcade if behaving inappropriately.
Widget- because she's cute...and I wouldnt want her falling on my head!
So finally, if you visit the longest covered street in Britain, spare a thought for the Burlington Arcade's original reason for being - to stop dead cats falling on Lord Cavendish's head!


  1. Curious as to how you chose the name Grace Elliott. She was the woman I wrote about in My Lady Scandalous.
    Jo Manning

    1. How completely awesome that you visited, Jo!
      Indeed, I have a much worn copy of "My Lady Scandalous" and it's no co-incidence that I choose Grace Elliot for my pen name. My 'real' name is not much different from GE and I love Grace Dalrymple Elliot's love of life and how she wasnt afraid to take risks - she seemed the epitomy of what I aim for in my heroines and so was a natural choice for a pen name.
      Do drop by again, you are most welcome here and if ever you fancied writing a guest post about the real Grace Elliot I would be thrilled to host you,
      kind regards,
      Grace x

  2. Grace,

    A co-worker and I had a question.... maybe another post you could explain how beadles got their name? We have seen the term in books over the years but never an explination..... just an idea.
    I have always loved stories about the Cavendishes, they were a fascinating family. :-)

    1. What a great idea for a post - I will do some research and see what I can come up with. You are such a regular visitor that I had in mind to ask if you had any requests for blog topics - so it looks like you beat me to it!
      kindest regards,
      Grace x

  3. Hi Grace,

    What a fascinating post.

    I don't get up to London all that much, however, I obviously know of Burlington Arcade, but have never given any thought at all, as to why it came into being.

    I like the idea of there still being 'beadles' about, to stop any misbehaving, it's a pity more places didn't adopt the same approach.

    In these days of increasing fly tipping, perhaps a few more Burlington Arcades might be a good idea!


    1. It is an elegant solution to fly tipping!
      At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old woman, I wonder just how much notice people would take of an authority figure, like a beadle, these days. I'm inclined to think he'd just get abuse thrown back at him - there, that does sound cynical, doesnt it?
      thank you so much for commenting, Yvonne :-)
      G x


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