In 1868, a Design Competition was held for the design of the Royal Arcade. The winning entry was by Charles Webb, a C19th architect from Suffolk. His successful design was in the Italianate style, drawing somewhat on influential French and English models. Construction of the Royal Arcade began in June 1869 and finished in May 1870, officially opened by the Lord Mayor. The Royal Arcade was proudly the first arcade in Melbourne and is the longest-standing arcade in Australia. Melbourne also has other special Charles Webb’s buildings including Melbourne Grammar School, South Melbourne Town Hall, Banks & Co. Warehouse, Windsor Hotel and Tasma Terrace.All the shop fronts were made into bow fronted windows in 1890-1894 and central kiosks were added. In 1902 an annex was added, to link the arcade to Elizabeth St, allowing more businesses to open. The main alteration was in 1934 when the wooden floor was replaced by the black & white tiles which still remain. From then the arcade stayed in the Spenseley and Staughton families until 1955, when the arcade was auctioned and sold to a company formed by its tenants. In 1958 the Royal Arcade set a record for the highest price ever paid for CBD real estate when it was sold at auction for £541,000.
Gog & Magog
Several myths surround Gog and Magog, including one where they were guards of the underworld and gods of dark spirits. Many visitors come to the Royal arcade to see the big statues of Gog and Magog, which have graced the southern end of the arcade since 1892. Gog and Magog are 7’ tall statues which were installed by clock and instrument maker Thomas Gaunt (1829–90) around an enormous clock.
Gog and Magog briefly featured in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament, as invaders. And later references assumed an important place in apocalyptic literature and medieval legend. In London The Guildhall statues of Gog and Magog probably represented two giants who were taken to London to serve as porters at the gate of the royal palace after their race was destroyed by Brutus the Trojan, the “founder” of London/New Troy. The Guildhall had been built in Saxon times, the place to pay taxes.The two 9’ wooden Gog and Magog figures existed in London from Henry V’s rule (early C15th). The first figures were destroyed in Great Fire (1666) and were replaced in 1708. That second pair was destroyed in a German air raid in 1940 and not replaced until 1953. The current Guildhall, completed 1440, is still used for officials now.
In Melbourne, Thomas Gaunt had the two statues in the Royal Arcade carved in pine by Mortimer Godfrey, modelled on London’s Guildhall figures. Gaunt may have done this because he had his work-shop at the south end of the Arcade; the large clock had T. Gaunt & Co written across its face. Clearly it was very good advertising for his business and a good demonstration of his instrument-making!
Scientific instruments produced by the Gaunt Co. included instruments to both measure and record temperature and humidity, mercury-in-glass barometers and thermometers, ten of the Caulfield race Cups, and gold/silver religious jewellery and ornaments, notably for St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne.
Gaunt had many clockmakers working for him, some for decades. It was German-born Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Ziegeler who made the clock in the Royal Arcade for Thomas Gaunt. His meticulous clock making skills ensured that Gog and Magog still perform their ritual every hour, just as they have since 1892. Every hour Gog and Magog strike the bells with their arms and people gather in the Royal Arcade to see this spectacle.