While I was in the Piccadilly area for the market I also did some serious window shopping. There are so many lovely stores and window displays in this posh neighborhood! I didn’t really have anything in mind, but as soon as I spied the Burlington Arcade I had to take a stroll down this lovely little pedestrian thoroughfare. I am not sure if it was all the shiny watches glinting at me from across the street, or the top-hatted man in the portico, but I had a feeling I would find something relevant there for my Steampunk wanderings.
I was surprised when I entered to find a high ceiling complete with beautiful skylights hidden behind the curving façade. The natural light was great for looking at the new and vintage jewelry and watches, but terrible for taking pictures due to the glare on the almost unbroken string of glass display cases that line the lane, which means I don’t have much to illustrate this post. So here is a little history instead. (Adapted from http://www.burlington-arcade.co.uk/the-arcade)
Lord George Cavendish was a prominent politician during the late 1700s and early 1800s, and he had a garbage problem. Ruffians were always throwing trash like oyster shells and other refuse over the wall to the grounds of Burlington House where he lived, so he decided to finance the building of a shopping arcade to fill the alleyway. Officially, his reasoning was to offer “gratification to the public” as well as “work to industrious females” but really he was just tired of all the rubbish. When it opened in 1820 only 4 of the 47 leaseholders were women, but the prevailing convention at the time was to address even male shopkeepers as “madame”, so I guess he sort of kept his word.
There are several shops of note that still have their polished doors open to the public even now. For instance, Hancocks is a fabulous jewelry store, and back in 1856 was commissioned to design the Victoria Cross, the highest award given in the commonwealth military.
If you are in the Piccadilly area, I would definitely suggest a stroll down this historical pedestrian street.
One of the defining parts of the Industrial Revolution was the rise of ready-made fashions and pre-packaged foodstuffs, and on the forefront of the trend was the posh department store, Fortnum and Mason. When the first steam-powered factories were just starting the churn out their wares F&M was already in business, and it continues to be a mainstay of the stores on Piccadilly today.
They made a splash at the Great Exhibition in 1851 where they won first prize for their imported delectable desserts and dried fruits. In addition, when Henry Heinz (best known nowadays for ketchup) wanted to market his canned baked beans in the UK, he took his wares there. Within a few years, baked beans had become an important part of the British diet.
In literature, F&M are best known for their picnic hampers and several Victorian authors including Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins made mention of their characters enjoying a luxurious feast. I am also reading The Difference Engine right now, and the day after snapping shots of the whimsical window displays below I read a passage where the protagonist passed by this prestigious store on his way to buy a wedding gift for his sister. Today, you can still visit and stroll through the heaps of lovely packages tied with bright ribbons and peruse the fanciful fudge of the dessert counter.
As with many luxury goods stores, the prices are steeper for things such as tea and cookies than at a normal grocer, but the ambience alone is worth a stop in at the store, or at least a meander by the window displays!