Burlington Arcade and the Burlington Beadles
by Ellen Castelow
Burlington Arcade is a covered mall of small exclusive shops, many with their original signs, situated between Piccadilly and Old Burlington in the heart of Mayfair, London. What makes Burlington Arcade unique is that here you will find the oldest and smallest police force in the world.
Opened to great acclaim in 1819, Burlington Arcade is one of Britain’s earliest shopping arcades and was built by Lord George Cavendish, later Earl of Burlington, ‘for the sale of jewellery and fancy articles of fashionable demand, for the gratification of the public’. Since then it has been patrolled by the Burlington Beadles who uphold a strict code of conduct dating from Regency times.
Originally recruited by Lord Cavendish from his regiment The Royal Hussars, the Beadles are easy to spot, dressed in their uniform of Victorian frock coats, gold buttons and gold-braided top hats.
The arcade originally housed seventy-two small two storey shops, selling all kinds of hats, hosiery, gloves, linen, shoes jewellery, lace, walking sticks, cigars, flowers, glassware, wine and watches. Many of the shopkeepers lived either above or below their shops and in the early days, the upper level of the arcade had quite a reputation for prostitution.
It was this connection with prostitution that lies behind some of the rules of the arcade. Pimps used to burst into song or whistle to warn prostitutes who were soliciting in the arcade that the police or Beadles were about. The prostitutes working on the upper level would also whistle to the pickpockets below to warn them of approaching police.
Not unsurprising therefore that singing and whistling are two of the activities banned in the arcade and rigorously enforced by the Beadles, even today. Rumour has it however that Sir Paul McCartney is the only person currently exempt from the ban on whistling…
Above: Burlington Arcade today
Other rules still enforced today by the Burlington Beadles include no humming, hurrying, riding bicycles or ‘behaving boisterously’ in the arcade.
At 196 yards long, this beautiful covered shopping street is one of the longest in Britain. Its shops remain some of the most exclusive in London and this has made it the target of thieves. In 1964 a Jaguar Mark X sports car was driven at great speed down the arcade. Six masked men leapt from the car, smashed the windows of the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Association shop and stole jewellery valued at the time at £35,000. They were never caught…
Easily accessible by both bus and rail, please try our London Transport Guide for help in getting around the capital.