16 September 2023

Australia's oldest, most beautiful Royal Arcade: Melbourne

I was not only the first grandchild for my grandparents; I was also a girl followed by my brothers and male first cousins. One of my fondest memories of the mid-late 1950s was going with my grandmother to a tea-shop in the City. Naturally both of us wore hats and gloves :)

The land on which the Royal Arcade was built was prime land when Melb­ourne was first settled. It was the first land pur­chase by Mr Joseph Moore in 1837 for the princely sum of £20. In 1855 it was purchased for £650 by Simon Staughton.

Beautiful shops
in the Royal Arcade

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
The ar­cade’s most memorable feature is the magnificent Gaunt’s Cl­ock, flanked either side by two giant statues of the my­th­ical Gog & Magog fig­ures. Since 1892, the statues have struck chimes at every hour, and are still heard today gonging throughout the arcade.
Gog and Magog, and Gaunt's Clock
High above the arcade shops

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.

Front entrance

Modern Melbourne
In 2002-4 the Royal Arcade was refurbished and restored to its for­m­er glory, with heaps of work on skylights and storefronts. The high glass roof allows daylight to come streaming into the original Victorian-era glass shopfronts. The beauty of the Royal Arcade is it remains largely unchanged today; its Ren­aissance Revival style has high arches and gold trimming. The Royal Arcade, connecting Bourke St Mall to Little Collins St with a side opening to Elizab­eth St, is full of boutiques, tearooms and chocolatiers. Due to its historical and architectural import­ance, the Arcade is listed on the Victorian Her­itage Reg­ister and the National Trust Australia.


Jo-Anne's Ramblings said...

I am pretty sure I have seen this amazing arcade while in Melbourne as I have been to Melbourne and it looks familiar, it is beautiful

roentare said...

Thank you for such a wonderful post of Royal Arcade. I do street candid there a lot. I never made the attempt to read about the history lol. If I come across my new candid photos in the area, I will link this post for information.

Luiz Gomes said...

Boa noite de quinta-feira. Obrigado pela visita e comentário. Que vontade de conhecer, obrigado por dividir a matéria conosco.

Andrew said...

Thanks for the detail about one of our very special Melbourne buildings. In the distant past I did film Gog and Magog striking the hour. I should return and take better footage.

Student, for Helen said...


you must come again. Helen says the arcade is open from 7 AM - 7 PM each weekday, plenty of time for you to tour, shop and drink tea. You will have a fun time.

Student, for Helen said...


the links will be very welcome.

Student, for Helen said...


if you are keen to read more, start with Sightseeing Tours Australia:
and Culture Trip:
You will also enjoy the photos.

Student, for Helen said...


I couldn't find any quality Utube footage of Gog and Magog striking on the hour. But Helen would be very pleased to add a reference acknowledging your work in this blog post. Very pleased :)

Heritage Precincts Statements said...

Important 19th century buildings such as the Royal Arcade and the GPO are now intermingled with the commercial gothic and art-deco characteristics of the 20th century shops and emporia to create a precinct characterised by glamour and variety. The precinct also contains sub-areas of great cultural value.

Within this precinct may be found the heart of Victorian Melbourne’s most fashionable retail area. ‘Doing the Block’, a term coined to describe the popular pastime amongst Melbourne’s middle classes of promenading outside the plush retail and accessory stores, reached its height in the boom years of the 1880s. The tradition of arcaded shopping was borrowed from nearby Royal Arcade and became a marked feature of this precinct. Block Arcade (1891-93), Centreway Arcade (1913), Block Court (1930), Manchester Unity Arcade (1932) and the Century Arcade (1938-40) testify to the continued popularity of this form.

Student, for Helen said...

Heritage Precincts Statements

thank you for this reference. It suggests Helen should not focus her thinking entirely to Royal Arcade. I personally am not as familiar with the history of Block, Centreway, Manchester Unity and Century Arcades as I should be, but Helen probably is.

jabblog said...

That is a beautiful arcade, a lovely place to browse and enjoy.

Student, for Helen said...


Most cities are so rushed and crowded, to be able to stroll leisurely in an arcade is a unexpected pleasure. Then sit inside one of the tearooms to eat a luscious afternoon tea in comfort.

My name is Erika. said...

In a way it is one of the first malls. But much prettier than any I have ever visited. I do remember as a child having to dress up to go into our local downtown to go shopping. Times have really changed, haven't they? Happy rest of your weekend.

Student, for Helen said...


Because there were no take-away food places until relatively recently, families really only had two choices. People could eat at home or in their family's homes, or they could eat in nice restaurants and tea rooms. The idea of teenagers turning up to attractive tea rooms, with holes in their jeans, would have spoiled the atmosphere for everyone.

Fun60 said...

I remember seeing the arcade when I visited Melbourne in 2012. I was surprised to see Gog and Magog there knowing of their existence and prominence in the Guildhall. The post has brought back lovely memories of my time in Melbourne. Thank you.

Tripadvisor said...

Its single most interesting feature is above the south entrance: a clock, made by the well known Melbourne clockmaker Thomas Gaunt, with two figures at both sides, which strike bells always at the top of the hour. The 7' wooden figures represent the giants Gog and Magog, and two information boards tell their meaning in British mythology. They had been modelled after the Gog and Magog sculptures from the early 18th century at London's Guildhall, where they were looked upon as the guardians of London.

Hels said...


High 5! Spouse and I lived in Europe for 5 years (3 in Israel and 2 years in Britain), but I don't remember every single place we explored. However some places stood out as beautiful or architecturally significant, and I only have to re-examine the old photos for the memories to come flooding back.

When guests come to visit us in Melbourne, I take them to very special places like Royal Arcade, National Gallery of Victoria, The Great Ocean Road and 12 Apostles, Melbourne Cricket Ground or Shrine of Remembrance - for the very same reason :)

Hels said...


I read your comments about Gog and Magog, and was very pleased to see that there are information boards that tell the meaning of the two mythological creatures in British mythology.

Despite having visited the arcade many times, I have never seen those two information boards! Examining your two photos of the boards was as easy as anything, even though I have old age vision. So we should bring the two boards down a bit, and make them bigger.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, Happy New Year! May it be a sweet and healthy one for you and your family. I too love old arcades, and the Royal Arcade sounds like a prize winner. I do admire modern architecture, but sometimes human qualities such as color, warmth and detail have been bled out of the designs, making older buildings that much more precious. W.C. Fields, the comedian, used to use "Gog and Magog!" as an oath or exclamation. I don't know if his movies penetrated to Australia, but they are among my favorites.

hels said...

I also hope the New Year is a happy, healthy one, and that no one has to suffer from wars or earthquakes ever again.
Having a colourful, warm and welcoming site was always important, agreed. So I would love to know why Gog and Magog were placed in the centre of families' vision. The two giants looked rather thuggish to me, not warm and welcoming.

Margaret D said...

Very interesting to read about the Royal Arcade in Melbourne and it's history. It's pleasing to read that's been put back to it's former glory and it certainly is a beautiful building and one I've never seen on visits to Melbourne, if I did I didn't take any notice of it back then but certainly would now.
The clock and it's history is intersting also.

Hels said...


drop me a note before you visit Melbourne next time :) In the meantime, I am going to write another post on a famous Melbourne arcade and its stunning restaurant, Hopetoun Tea Rooms, which first opened in 1892. It is due to reopen in December 2023.