Arcade Life (and Fortnum’s)

Before Shopping Malls there were Arcades – a long row of shops with a glass canopy over a central ‘stree'”, and security at either end. Given there were no modern air-conditioning systems, an arcade was a nice way of balancing ventilation with security; it also gave shelter from the rain, noise and rough kids. And it was also a welcome refuge from the mountains of horse dung which filled the ordinary streets.

These days any arcades that survive tend to be very up-market, with expensive little specialist shops serving very wealthy clientele. They naturally cluster around the moneyed parts of town – meaning Piccadilly, Bond Street, St James’s – and in that vein I’ve added a shot of Fortnum & Mason’s while we’re here.

Burlington Arcade is awfully grand, with beautiful but very expensive accessory stores. Security is provided by a fearsome looking ‘beadle’, who stops you wheeling your bike through, and also guards one of London’s most wonderful pen shops. I’m pleased to say I bought a bottle of ink there.

The Royal Arcade is less showy but I suspect even more geared to the wealthy. Most art shops sell prints; these ones sell the real thing – for instance this painting by Joan Miro.

As for Fortnum & Mason’s, they claim to be ‘The Queen’s Grocer. It’s certainly close to Buck House, but I think she’d be mad to shop there: the Tesco Express at Victoria Station must be closer, and I suspect the quality is better.