Place Management and the Victorian arcade?

Galerie Colbert, Paris. Image by Benh LIEU SONG – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3813548

by Prof Gary Warnaby

An arcade is “a glass covered passageway which connects two busy streets and is lined on both sides with shops”[1].  First developed in Paris in the late eighteenth century, arcades were a key element of the European retail and urban environment by the mid-nineteenth century. They were regarded as symbols of modernity and vitality because of their innovative use of architectural design, building materials and techniques, and they contributed to a wider process of civic boosterism of the Victorian city[2]. However, according to MacKeith, by the start of the twentieth century, the arcade’s heyday was already passing, with those constructed in the early twentieth century being smaller and less architecturally ambitious than their nineteenth century predecessors, and furthermore, arcades were often marginalised in new post-war shopping development schemes[3]

Passage du Bourg-l’Abbé, Paris. Image by David Pendery – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43552676

According to MacKeith, the arcade “had become by 1970 an historic building type doomed to extinction”[4], and indeed many arcades have been lost to urban redevelopment schemes. However, some have endured, and increasingly have been re-evaluated, because of their potential contribution to the differentiation of increasingly homogenised urban shopping destinations.  Their architectural character and heritage has meant that some arcades – such as the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, and the Burlington Arcade in London – have become symbols of those cities, and tourist attractions in their own right. Moreover, linked to – and resonating with – the original upmarket clientele of such arcades[5], the retail activity therein focuses on luxury products. Indeed, luxury-oriented retailers appear to value the experiential benefits of such historic locations, with their connotations of ‘authenticity’[6]. However, away from these iconic arcades, how might towns and cities capitalise upon this aspect of their built environment for the purposes of place management and marketing? This short essay considers this question in two English cities – Manchester and Leeds.

In the towns and cities of northern England, the late nineteenth century witnessed a burgeoning of arcade building. From 1870-1900, 27 arcades were built in Yorkshire and Lancashire alone, in a variety of different towns, such as Accrington, Barnsley, Colne, Halifax, Harrogate, Huddersfield, Hull, Ilkley, Keighley, Oldham and Southport[7].  The major cities of Manchester and Leeds were no exception.

Barton Arcade, Manchester. Image by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12520683

In Manchester, five arcades were constructed in this period.  The first was the Barton Arcade, built in 1871, and occupying an area between Deansgate (a long established shopping street) and a small side street leading to St Ann’s Square. The other arcades built at this time were Deansgate Arcade, Exchange Arcade (both of which also had entrances onto Deansgate), Victoria Arcade (which was part of a block between Deansgate, St. Mary’s Gate and Victoria Street), and Lancaster Avenue (which connected the Corn Exchange to Victoria Station). All five arcades were located in close proximity, but Geist notes the fact that none connected commercial streets of equal activity was a reason why they did not flourish in commercial terms[8].  

Barton Arcade is the only arcade that survives. The Victoria and Exchange Arcades were destroyed in bombing raids in the Second World War, and Deansgate Arcade and Lancaster Avenue were demolished in the mid-1950s and mid-1970s respectively. Barton Arcade was restored in 1982, and is Grade II listed, with the List Entry noting that it is a “fine example of Victorian shop-and-office arcading”[9].  Indeed, the arcade is highlighted in the Historic Manchester Walking Guide (see www.cityco.com/manchester-bid/service-story/historic-heart-manchester-walking-guide) produced by the city centre management company, where it is described as “a thing of tucked away beauty”, housing a range of primarily independent retailers and food & beverage outlets.  Retail occupancy in Barton Arcade since 1871 has been analysed, and this analysis demonstrates that its mix of independent retail (with a current focus on fashion of a more design-led and ‘edgy’ nature) is a long-standing trend[10]. Despite its relative insignificance in commercial terms, the ‘authenticity’ of Barton Arcade is used in communicating the character of the city centre.

County Arcade, Victoria Quarter, Leeds. Image by Michael D Beckwith – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36001896

In contrast to Manchester (where the only surviving example of a Victorian arcade is ‘tucked away’ a short distance from the main retail area), the arcades in Leeds are a major element of the city’s retail provision, connecting some of the major shopping streets.  The arcades built in Leeds in the late Victorian period were: the Market Street Arcade built in 1878 (demolished in the 1960s); the Victoria Arcade built in 1898 (also demolished); the Grand Arcade in 1897 (now Grade II listed), the Queens Arcade, built in 1889, and the County Arcade (with the linked Cross Arcade, built in 1900 (now Grade II listed), which is the longest and largest of the city’s arcades[11].  The County Arcade is a central element of the up-market Victoria Leeds retail development – see www.victorialeeds.co.uk), which combines the Victoria Quarter (established in 1990, largely based around the restored shopping arcades, consisting of three blocks between Briggate and Vicar Lane, comprising the County and Cross Arcades, Queen Victoria Street and King Edward Street) and the 2016 Victoria Gate shopping centre. 

Retail occupancy in the County Arcade comprises upmarket and luxury outlets, reminiscent of the likes of Burlington Arcade, and reflecting the original market positioning of arcades in the Victorian period mentioned above.  Regarding the other Leeds arcades, resonating with occupancy trends of Manchester’s Barton Arcade, the Grand Arcade has been recently redeveloped as a retail space for local start-up businesses, currently branding itself as the ‘Home of Leeds Independents’ – see www.grandarcadeleeds.co.uk), as is the Queens Arcade. Thus, the arcades are an important part of the retail offer of Leeds city centre, seeking to achieve differentiation, not just in terms of the retailer mix on offer, but also in terms of the built environment within which these retailers are located.

In summary, the experience in these two cities demonstrates how a historic building type “doomed to extinction” by MacKeith in the mid-1980s can have an ongoing role in the modern city centre if managed appropriately, manifest in the continuity that is evident in relation to the types of retailers therein, as well as their built form. Indeed, arcades can be a major factor in differentiating the retail offer of the locale.


[1] Johann Friedrich Geist, Arcades: The History of a Building Type (Cambridge MA & London: The MIT Press). Page 4.

[2] See Geist, Arcades The History of a Building Type; Vicki Howard and Jon Stobart, ‘Arcades, shopping centres and shopping malls’ in J. Stobart and V. Howard (eds.) The Routledge Companion to the History of Retailing, (London: Routledge, 2018) pp. 195-213; and Margaret MacKeith, Shopping Arcades A Gazetteer of Extant British Arcades 1817-1939 (London & New York: Mansell Publishing Limited, 1985) for more detail.

[3] Kathryn Morrison, English Shops and Shopping: An Architectural History (New Haven: Yale University Press/ English Heritage, 2003), 107.

[4] Margaret MacKeith, The History and Conservation of Shopping Arcades (London & New York: Mansell Publishing Ltd, 1986), 21.

[5] See Morrison, English Shops and Shopping: An Architectural History, specifically relating to Burlington Arcade, 99-101.

[6] Bie Plevoets and Koenraad Van Cleempoel, ‘Assessing authenticity of nineteenth century shopping passages’, Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development, 1 no. 2 (2011): 135-156.

[7] MacKeith, Shopping Arcades A Gazetteer of Extant British Arcades 1817-1939, 153-158.

[8] For a full description of all five Manchester arcades, see Geist, Arcades The History of a Building Type, 350-363.

[9] Historic England, Barton’s Building including Barton Arcade. Available at https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1200850 [Accessed 8 October 2018].

[10] Gary Warnaby, ‘The Victorian arcade as contemporary retail form?’ History of Retailing and Consumption, 5 no.2 (2019), 150-168.

[11] For a full description of the Leeds arcades from an architectural perspective, see MacKeith, Shopping Arcades A Gazetteer of Extant British Arcades 1817-1939, 70-75.