Friday, April 22, 2011

The Soho Bazaar 1815-1885

When John Trotter, who had made a fortune supplying the Army during the recent war, opened The Soho Bazaar in 1815, he could not have known that he was creating a whole new shopping experience. He had merely an unused warehouse to fill with some sort of business, and he had a praiseworthy desire to assist the widows and daughters of Army officers killed in the Napoleonic War.

His warehouse, a substantial 300 by 150 feet, stood at the north-west corner of Soho Square. In it, he rented counter space--standings--to about 150 vendors at 3 pence per foot per day. Below is Soho Square in 1816 from Papworth's Views of London:

The Soho Bazaar was a benevolent exercise offering respectable women an opportunity to sell whatever fancy goods they could make in their homes. There was a certain stigma attached to public selling, and the righteous were quick to see opportunity for moral turpitude in the retail trade. In fact a ballad was published by printer James Calnach, deriding the leisured classes who frequented the Bazaar.

The Soho Bazaar

Ladies in furs and gemmen in spurs,
Who lollop and lounge about all day:
The Bazaar in Soho is completely the go--
Walk into the shop of Grimaldi!
Come from afar, here's the Bazaar!--
But if you won't deal with us, stay where you are."

But the majority of the public were supportive of the venture, and the popularity of the Bazaar was evidenced by the carriages that thronged the Square. Supporters like Joseph Nightingale "envisioned bazaars as the perfect mixture of capitalism and charity..." and one William Jerdan wrote a letter to the New Monthly Magazine. He declared the bazaar to help "a multitude of persons who have heretofore been condemned to penury and hopelessness by the insuperable difficulties and equally insuperable delicacies of their situation". The lady retailers were required to wear plain and modest clothes, there was a matron overseeing the whole, and unusually for the time, prices were fixed and marked on the product. The Gentlemen's Magazine remarked that the premises were "large, dry, commodious, well lighted, warmed, ventilated, and properly watched".

Goods sold in the early years included hats, reticules, lace, shawls, and toys; later the Bazaar included bookshops and bakeries and more. La Belle Assemblee, the famed ladies' periodical, published a news item regarding the Bazaar in 1826:

The Soho Bazaar

Possibly it may be information to some of the readers of La Belle Assemblee to state that, in consequence of the increased attendance of company, and of the increased demand for standings, at this place of fashionable resort, an additional suite of rooms has been opened up-stairs. This bazaar is well entitled to the patronage it enjoys, were it only for the support which it affords to young and respectable women.

An interesting sidelight to the Soho Bazaar is that famed artist, J.M.W. Turner, was attending school at the Soho Academy also in the Square. He was a frequenter of the Bazaar, and was quoted thus:
"As a boy, I used to lie for hours on my back watching the skies, and then go home and paint them; and there was a stall in Soho Bazaar where they sold drawing materials, and they used to buy my skies. They gave me 1s6d for the small ones and 3s6d for the larger ones."
The Soho Bazaar spawned a great fashion for bazaars (the name came from the Turkish with Italian intervention) and by 1830 there were many throughout London. One of the most famous was the Pantheon Bazaar, below as the building appeared in 1816 when it was still in use as an assembly room.

Then in the 1830's it was transformed and below is its appearance in 1845:

There is no drawing extant of the Soho Bazaar but I like to think it must have been somewhat similar, at least, to the Pantheon, with the great pillars of the warehouse rising above the selling floor. In June 1816 George Cruickshank issued a caricature entitled 'A Bazaar'--it was rife with references to the supposed negative and injurious aspects of such establishments.

Nevertheless charity bazaars proliferated throughout the 19th century, but excepting only that of the "Ladies Royal Benevolent Society" who began their charity fancy sales in 1813, the Soho Bazaar was the first. And it continued until 1885--a good run by any standards.

 Join us next week when multi-published author Ginny McBlain joins us to discuss "The Legendary 95th Rifles". Ginny is an author of contemporary romance. At present she is meeting a new challenge—writing a historical set in the wonderful world of the Regency. Her work-in-progress, Honor Bound, is set against the backdrop of the Peninsular War.

Ginny is a pioneer in the field of electronic publishing. Her first e-book, Heart Broken, Heart Whole, was released in 1996. Both Bear Hugs and Faith, Hope and Charity were finalists in the EPPIE contest. She has served in writing organizations in many capacities, including first President of EPIC, the Electronically Published Internet Connection and the first EPIC conference chair.

Ginny’s books are available from Awe-Struck Publishing, and Uncial Press,  in a variety of electronic formats. Visit her web site,

I hope you can join us. 'Til next time,


  • Dyer, Gary R. "The Vanity Fair of Nineteenth Century England." Nineteenth Century Literature, vol. 46 no. 2 (Sept. 1991): 196-222.
  • Prochaska, F. K. "Charity Bazaars in Nineteenth-Century England." Journal of British Studies, vol. 16 no. 2 (Spring, 1977): 62-84.
  • Hindley, Charles. Life and Times of James Calnach. 1878.
  • Knight, Charles. London. 1851.
  • Whitlock, Tammy C. Crime, Gender and Consumer Culture in 19th Century England. Ashgate, 2005.
  • "The Soho Bazaar." BBC h2g2 Entry.


Louisa Cornell said...

Fascinating and informative post! Thank you so much. I knew of the existence of these bazaars, but never in so much detail. This post is a great resource! Apparently "going to the mall" is a timeless activity. CRINGE!

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

I was so interested to learn the charitable aspect of this bazaar--I find it story-provoking! These certainly were the malls of their times :)One thing I do find important is that authors don't use them in stories set before 1815. They really weren't around, before this one apparently. Glad you found the post useful, Louisa!

Rob Cooknell said...

I just wanted to leave a comment to thank you for your research into the Soho Bazaar. I was fascinated by the detailed history, as I currently work in the building as the Facilities Manager for Dolby, who currently occupy the property. I have often wondered how it would have looked in Trotter's day, and your account has brought the history to life.

David Dixon said...

I found an interior view of the Soho Bazaar here:
I hope it is of interest.
Thanks for your fascinating blog!

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Thank you so much for the picture link! I did not find that one when I was researching the Bazaar. It looks like it was drawn in the mid to late 1820's or early 1830's. It is wonderful. Thanks again so much, and that you for visiting my blog!