Burlington Arcade — England's Avenue of Fantasies

Time & Tide — July 1979

Shopping by Chris Long

By Christopher Long

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Think of England's quintessence and somewhere down the list, along with Ascot and Henley, marmalade and cricket, someone will say "And Burlington Arcade, of course!".

If we begin to doubt ourselves or think that things just aren't what they were in days gone by, then a gentle stroll down London's most famous shopping arcade will soon restore composure and remind us that here, in the best of all possible worlds, are the best of all possible goods, at the best of all possible prices – in the most stylish and elegant surroundings, English to the core!

Built by Lord George Cavendish a hundred and sixty years ago, Burlington Arcade in Piccadilly still retains all its Regency charm, lovingly restored and jealously protected, with its own special rules that forbid 'whistling, singing or hurrying' – as if you'd want to do any of these things as you browse through the 38 unique little shops that form a sort of 'fantasy avenue'.

First, to my favourite: The Unicorn Leather Co which combines a delicious smell of leather with probably some of the finest leather goods on the market. There's something for everyone from beautiful briefcases to wallets, handbags and leather-bound jotters.

Quite unique is a large, superbly made briefcase with a complete index file built into the back of it at £131. But just as nice are calf-skin cases at £84.50 or pigskin at £106.

I recommend, too, their credit card cases at £6.25 in a variety of colours, or the pocket-size jotters and loose-leaf leather-bound note pads at £7.45 and £16.75 respectively. Pay about £7 more and they come with rolled gold corners. Unicorn is a must for courtesy, craftsmanship and quality.

Also at the top end of the Arcade us the Irish Linen Co with its rather attractive window display of embroidered linen and intricate lace.

Linen and lace handkerchiefs are their main sellers, manageress Mrs Singleton tells me, and just as popular as ever. The Arcade is just the sort of place where ladies should accidentally drop a handkerchief, too, but not at today's prices. Hand embroidered are from £1.95 to £15.50 and in lace from £3.50 to about £9.00.

They make an unusual and, I'm told, very acceptable present to the lady in one's life – unless of course she's worth a set of Irish linen king-size bed-sheets at £99.50. She might also be the sort of girl who'd like a small boudoir pillow-case at prices ranging upwards from £4.95 depending on the amount of decoration – on the pillow-case, that is.

Turning to poor, neglected men for a moment, I don't think you should pass by Sullivan & Powell, whose world famous cigarette business has its only retail outlet for smokers' requisites near the linen shop.

Renowned for their pipe tobaccos and Turkish and Egyptian cigarettes, they also have a good range of straight-grained meerschaum and hand-made English briar pipes. Mr Novitt also drew my attention to the hand-rolled Havana and Jamaican cigars at around £33.60 for 25. But the biggest sellers are the cigarettes at £4.80 for 100 Turkish and £5.60 for 100 Egyptian.

Men need gifts. How about cashmere socks? Totally impractical, of course, but Mr Levene at N. Peal (No 54) assures me he does brisk business in cashmere clothes of all sorts for men. Burlington Arcade is known far and wide for its several shops specialising in cashmere.

Peal's also have a shop for ladies, but I was intrigued by plain, navy, cashmere dressing-gowns at £40; cashmere shirts (as worn by golfers) in a variety of colours at about £41.50. I even saw cashmere blankets – in beige only, and as supplied to Buckingham Palace – at £250 for double-bed size and £180 for single beds.

Definitely for the person who has everything! (Except perhaps those socks, at £6.00 a pair in a wide range of plain colours.)

Back to the ladies. Burlington Arcade is also famous for its jewellery. Perhaps most exciting is Ken Lane who has recently introduced a new range of necklets, chokers and other costume jewellery using a combination of vivid and pastel-coloured glass set in gilt mounts.

Taking the young assistant's advice, I agreed that a cluster of blue glass forget-me-nots would hang very prettily on a maiden's breast, suspended on a string of blue, ground-glass beads – at £95. Ken Lane is certainly adventurous even if classic tastes in silver, gold and precious stones are better catered for at a shop such as Richard Ogden.

Also worth a visit, by the visiting tourist at least, is Hummel where 'better-than-yer-average knick-knacks' are easily found to fill odd corners in a suitcase, without adding much to the weight. Hummel specialises in military models and miniatures and has a good selection of books on Britain, history, the Royals and guide-books. And, yes, dolls too.


Don't miss Church's shoe shop for men where I can recommend excellent English, hand-made brogues at £48.95, while Wetherall's (at No 1) have a special offer on a reversible, plain camel, full coat at £59.95 among their range of very stylish over-coats for ladies. All in pure wool, pale colours and grey, and nearly all are reversible.

If you've just been or are just going to visit the Derby 200 exhibition at Burlington House, round the corner, have a look at Chinacraft's collection of china and glass which includes a limited edition, commemorative Derby plate, at £39.95 among many others.

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© (1979) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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