In honor of Black Friday I’ve decided to write about shopping in the Edwardian era for this week’s Folly Friday. My protagonist of A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, Victoria Darling, is not much of a shopper. As Vicky tells us after her mother invites her to take a turn round the Royal Arcade, that “picking over ribbons and staring at hats was more than I could bear.” But Vicky does love to shop for some things, mainly gifts for friends and art supplies.
Shopping was very different from the beginning of the Edwardian era to the end. In 1909, Harry Selfridge, Chicagoan and Marshall Field’s partner, came to London and opened a very different type of department store on Oxford Street, one where the goods were on display and that encouraged people to browse. All classes could come in; no one was denied. It was a radical new thought, but one that people embraced wholeheartedly. Before Selfridge arrived to shake things up, British shop owners would keep their goods safely under lock and key and the customer had to request to see various things. Selfridge was very accepting of all kinds of people, even suffragettes, and he was the first one to promote their goods in the shop. Many suffragettes sold their hand-made jewelry (including my character Lucy Hawkins) at Selfridges. If you’re interested to know more, Selfridge’s story was adapted for a series, aired on Masterpiece Classic/PBS last year, called Mr. Selfridge. The series is based on a fabulous biography called SHOPPING, SEDUCTION & MR. SELFRIDGE by Lindy Woodhead (Random House).
The very first shopping centers in London came along in 1816, and they were known as arcades. They were essentially a line of shops nestled on either side of a beautiful arched walkway. All of them were centered in Piccadilly. Inside these sumptuous spaces were bespoke tailors, corsetieres, jewelers, perfumers, milliners, and chocolatiers. Four still exist today. Burlington Arcade (1819) next to the Royal Academy has an odd collection of rules. In fact, it has its own private police force, the smallest in the world, called beadles, to enforce said rules. For instance, you can’t run through the arcade, hum, play an instrument, ride a bike, or carry an open umbrella. It used to be a rule that unaccompanied women were not allowed, but that’s changed! Across the street you’ll find the Piccadilly Arcade (1909) and the Princes Arcade (1929). The Royal Arcade on Old Bond Street (1879) is where Vicky would have purchased her Charbonnel et Walker rose and violet creams for Will’s sister, Jane.
This type of shopping was all very posh and wonderful, but what about the children? Hamleys Toy Shop was established in 1760 by William Hamley, and it’s the oldest toy shop in the world. Vicky would have purchased her wooden policeman for Will’s nephew at its second location at 86-87 High Holborn. Today you’ll find the shop on Regent Street.
For more information: