Wednesday, March 28, 2012

England's shopping arcades

click photo to enlarge
The forerunners of today's ubiquitous indoor shopping malls are the covered passages and arcades that began to be built in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and reached their greatest popularity during Victoria's reign. It is thought that the descriptions and enthusiasm of travellers for the bazaars of places such as Cairo and Constantinople triggered their growth. However, Britain had long had its own tradition of narrow shopping streets such as York's "Shambles", and small covered markets below the wooden columns that supported grammar schools or guildhalls are not difficult to find in market towns, nor are shopping areas built under grander buildings.

However, in terms of arcades proper, the Royal Opera Arcade at Haymarket in London, a development of 1817 by the architects John Nash and G.S. Repton is usually considered the first. It ran along one side of the Royal Opera House and managed to survive when the theatre burnt down in 1867. Perhaps the most acclaimed London arcade is the Burlington Arcade that opened in 1818. It is 585 feet long, specialised in expensive articles including jewellery, and enjoyed a prime location next to Old Bond Street. Interestingly, in a precursor to a widespread policy seen today, it had its own security staff to keep the behaviour of the public at a seemly level. The arcade shown in today's photographs, Leadenhall Market on Gracechurch Street, London, dates from 1881, a time when arcade building was rampant throughout the land. This was conceived by the architect, Sir Horace Jones, designer of Tower Bridge, Smithfield Market and Old Billingsgate Market, as well as much else. Leadenhall is a weekday market that specialises mainly in food. I came upon it late on Saturday afternoon when the only people present were those taking a shortcut down its echoing cobblestones. The arcade was extensively redecorated in 1990-91 and still presents a fine sight to the visitor.

As I took my photographs I couldn't help but think that it had something of the character of a cathedral with its columns, "nave/chancel", transepts and glazed crossing tower. Even the decorative scheme of the underside of the latter wouldn't look out of place in a cathedral.

photographs and text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
 F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec
ISO: 2000
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On