The story behind the Clifton Arcade

It was the day everyone in Clifton was waiting for – the grand opening of King’s Bazaar.      

Self -taught architect Joseph King had designed what we would now describe as an early version of a luxury shopping mall. 

His two-storey project, variously known at the time as Bristol and Clifton Bazaar or King’s Bazaar, in Boyce’s Avenue was an arcade of shops linked by a sweeping staircase, graced by neo-classical columns. 

King had thought of everything including providing a glass roof to protect shoppers from inclement weather. 

Each shop would be let to different traders and King would act as overall general manager.

The arcade had cost him cost him £10,500 and it was ready for opening on 7 April 1878. 

However, potential customers were disappointed for no businesspeople had come forward to take on running a shop. King’s project was described as an instant flop.

Three months later, King who had run into financial problems, saw his arcade going up for sale at the Bristol Auction Rooms in the centre of Bristol. 

Also going up for Sale was the Winter Gardens that King designed for outside the arcade. The gardens covered some 20,000 feet on the site recently occupied by W H Smith and half a dozen independent traders. 

King seems to have disappeared from all records but we do know that his building was taken over by the Bristol firm of Knee Brothers and used as a storehouse. Knees shut up the shops and used them as a storehouse for furniture which had been left in their depository.

In 1989 a developer set about restoring the arcade as a shopping centre. Five years later and opened as such. It is believed to be the only Victorian arcade in its original condition. One of its architectural features is the ornate rose window that King carved in stone.  

Now known as the Clifton Arcade, the shopping centre is home to a range of traders from a bookseller to a long established cafe. 

Maurice Fells