The Royal Arcade was proudly the first arcade in Melbourne and is the longest-standing arcade in Australia. Its historical significance is profound and underpinned by the fact that, as a significant Victorian era building, it is part of the Victorian Heritage Register.
The land on which the 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 Mr Simon Staughton. Construction of the Royal Arcade began in June of 1869 and was completed by May, 1870 and was officially opened by Lord Mayor Charles Amess.
In 1868, a major competition was held for the design of the Royal Arcade. The winning entry was by Mr Charles Webb, a 19th Century architect from Suffolk, England. His successful design was in the Italianate style, drawing on influential French and English models demonstrating essential qualities of those traditional styles.
Melbourne is of course blessed with several of Charles Webb’s buildings including Melbourne Grammar School, Tasma Terrace, South Melbourne Town Hall, The Church of Christ, Banks and Co. Warehouse, and the renowned Windsor Hotel.
The most striking feature of the arcade is the magnificent Gaunt’s Clock which is flanked either side by two giant statues of the mythical figures of Gog and Magog. Since 1892, these mammoth statues have struck chimes at every hour, and are still heard today resounding throughout the arcade. Several myths surround Gog and Magog, including one where they were guards of the underworld and gods of dark spirits. As the prophecy goes, once when Gog and Magog return to war, the war will end.
The arcade also features another symbolic statue, Chronos, a Greek mythological character known as Father Time.
In 1902, an annex was added to link the arcade to Elizabeth Street. This throughway allowed the opening of more businesses.
From that time, the arcade remained in the families of Spenseley and Staughton 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 real estate in the central city when it was sold at auction for £541,000.
More recently, the ageing Royal Arcade was refurbished and restored to its former glory during 2002 – 2004, with extensive work on skylights and storefronts.
The beauty of the Royal Arcade is it remains largely unchanged today, yet its Renaissance Revival style is in pristine condition.