Royal Arcade in Bourke St Melbourne was built in 1870. This was long before the bottom fell out of the property market, and so money was still plentiful. Charles Webb was a good choice of architect, for the classical Renaissance-style building. He had a very successful practice during the mid-Victorian decades and many of Melbourne’s most famous buildings had his special touch: Wesley College in 1864, the (old) Alfred Hospital 1869, South Melbourne Town Hall and Melbourne Orphan Asylum in 1878, and the Grand Hotel/now Windsor in 1884.
The arcade is not as long as some of the arcades in London, Paris, Milan and Sydney, but in some ways it is more beautiful. In 1892 the figures of Gog and Magog were installed at the southern end of the main walkway. Carved by Mortimer Godfrey, they were modelled on statues in London’s Guildhall which were built in 1708 to replace those lost in the Great Fire a generation earlier. They probably represented survivors of a race of giants destroyed by Brutus the Trojan, the mythical founder of London. Soon after Gog and Magog were introduced to Melbourne, Gaunt’s clock was installed in between.
Gog, Magog and Gaunt's Clock
Despite many changes over the time since 1870, Royal Arcade still maintains its airy, graceful elegance. It may not have the range of consumer goods that modern shopping centres have, but it is classy, as you can see in My Sandbox's excited text and Froth and Bubble's delightful photos.
When the Strand Arcade in Pitt St Sydney opened in 1892, it was the last of five glass roofed arcades built in that city in the late Victorian era. Until the crash of the mid 1890s, Sydney architects were expected to create grand buildings that were grand in their own right AND reminded citizens of London’s most grand designs. Naming this arcade after the Strand in London could not have made the link any clearer. Even better, the chosen architect John B Spencer was himself English educated and trained.
Strand Arcade, Sydney
Facilities and decorative elements were all chosen to continue the tradition of fashionable shopping: three storeys of boutique shopping, gas and electric lighting, ornate cedar staircases, elegant bathroom facilities and hydraulic lifts.
The building was partly destroyed in 1976 in a serious fire. You might have expected the developers to tear down this Victorian gem to build a concrete car park, but it was actually renovated and restored to its original loveliness.
You can see in Sydney – City and Suburbs that the overhanging gallery is supported independently of the columns, to gain an unobstructed view of the full length of the interior. And the fabulous Christmas decorations that make the arcade even more impressive.