Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Retail therapy

It constantly surprises me, walking around London today, how many relics of the retail world of the Regency still survive and strolling down Haymarket you can find two within minutes of each other.

At the northern end of the street is the oldest surviving shop-front in London dating from 1751. Until the 1970s it was the premises of Fribourg & Treyer, tobacconists, and inside, behind the counter are the original shelves.

Cross the road and walk down to Charles II Street and turn immediately left into The Royal Opera Arcade and you are in the oldest shopping arcade in Britain, built between 1816-18 and pre-dating the much more famous Burlington Arcade by a year. It takes little imagination to fill the windows with bonnets and reticules, waistcoats and walking sticks and imagine the delight of shoppers able to browse in this elegant row.

No-one who was anyone paid cash, of course, and the unfortunate shopkeepers often had to wait years for settlement of their accounts. Perhaps that was why so many of them had striking illustrated billheads so their final demand stood out from everyone else's. I have started collecting them and thought this one, from an Edinburgh linen draper, was particularly attractive. Mr Henderson was lucky - the receipt on the back shows his bill for table linen worth £29 was paid by return.

I satisfy my own need for retail therapy by taking my characters shopping. Virtually the first thing that Clemence Ravenhurst (The Piratical Miss Ravenhurst. September) does when she arrives back in England after a long sea voyage is to hit the shops of Weymouth - just what one needs after being on board a pirate vessel where one cannot obtain a good pair of stays for love nor money.

Louise Allen


kate tremayne said...

Like you Louise, I adore discovering the historical alleyways hidden in London's streets. They are so atmospheric. Thanks for a great post.

Jan Jones said...

Lovely post, Louise.