SHOPS AND SHOPPING
For Regent Street to be seen to the best advantage, it should be
visited on a summer’s day in the afternoon, when the splendid
carriages, and elegantly attired pedestrians, evince the opulence and
taste of our magnificent metropolis.
The brilliant ever-shifting scene presented daily in Regent Street
is dizzying in its confusion. The fire-flies of fashion glance rapidly
hither and thither, and the West End streets are thronged with
a promiscuous jungle of carriages, horsemen and horsewomen,
cabs, omnibuses and wagons; the pavements being crowded with
fashionable loungers. With what dignified ease and gorgeously
bedizened footmen attend their mistresses or lounge about in
attitudes of studied grace.
This was how in 1866 the Illustrated London News, one of the foremost magazines of the day, described Regent Street. Throughout Dickens’ lifetime it was London’s most exclusive shopping thoroughfare. It owed its success to the elegance of its architecture and to the fact that its breadth and grandeur made it suitable for promenading by carriages and pedestrians. Coincidental with its building had been the invention of plate glass. Not only did this mean that far more goods could be put on show in large shop windows, but it also became possible to display them more attractively, even artistically, and to make them a source of temptation to passers-by. This in turn meant that window-shopping became a pleasure and that walking or driving up and down a shopping street came to have social importance.
The street had taken years to plan and build, involving the demolition