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Saturday, 22 January 2011

Shopping Saturday - London's bazaars

Pantheon Bazaar, Oxford Street 1845 
In my never-ending quest for media stardom, I rang a radio station this week. The Robert Elms show on BBC London has a 'Notes and Queries' feature on Wednesdays, and this week a listener was asking about the London Crystal Palace Bazaar, near Oxford Circus, which he had seen marked on an old Ordnance Survey map of 1870. I didn't know anything about this particular establishment, but I knew a bit about London bazaars, which were a kind of precursor of the indoor shopping mall. One of the prized elements of my collection of old books is a nine-volume set of 'Knight's London' dating from around the 1870s, and I knew it contained a chapter on London Shops and Bazaars. I looked it up, and found that there was a description of the London Crystal Palace Bazaar.
The London Crystal palace is the name given to a somewhat extensive and attractive bazaar, on the north side of Oxford Street, near Regent Circus. It has entrances both in Oxford Street and in Great Portland Street. The building was erected in 1858, from the designs of Mr Owen Jones, and is constructed chiefly of iron and glass. The name of the building, from the Great Portland Street entrance to the western extremity, is 180 feet in length by 33 feet in width, from which there is a transept extending southward to the Oxford Street entrance. The arched roof, which is of coloured glass, of mosaic appearance, is supported by light columns. On the ground-floor is a spacious hall divided by iron columns on each side into a nave and aisles; a gallery runs along the whole length of nave on each side, and in and under the galleries there are convenient and well-lighted stalls. From the galleries we look down upon the ground-floor, and find it arranged with counters in a very systematical order, loaded with uncountable trinkets. On one counter are articles of millinery; on another lace; on a third gloves and hosiery; on others cutlery, jewellery, toys, children's dresses, children's books, sheets of music, albums and pocket-books, porcelain ornaments, cut-glass ornaments, alabaster figures, artificial flowers, feathers, and a host of other things, principally of a light and ornamental character.
As the description above indicates, a bazaar consisted of a collection of stalls, hired out to individual stallholders, usually women. The stallholders had to comply with strict rules regarding their standard of dress and the appearance of their stalls. They had to open promptly each day, and if they were sick, to provide a substitute. Other bazaars are also described, notably the one housed in Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace, re-sited in 1854 at Sydenham in south London after the Great Exhibition of 1851. Another was the Pantheon Bazaar, also in Oxford Street, which had closed down by the time the book was written. I don't have a picture of the Crystal Palace Bazaar, but Knight's description of it sounds remarkably similar to the  the Pantheon Bazaar, above. The site of the Pantheon, originally a theatre, is now occupied by a large branch of Marks and Spencer, which is still known as the Pantheon branch. The Crystal Palace Bazaar was listed in the 1884 London Directory, but seems to have disappeared by 1891.

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