Olde St James

Claire Roffe

One bright sunny crisp COLD January morning, we enjoyed a two hour walk around olde, vintage London, the Palace Quarter, with its 16th Century secret passage-ways, leading out on to beautiful 18th C squares, with many 16-17th C shops.

We were met outside Green Park underground station (next to the Ritz) and guide led, moving into Green Park and through into our first hidden alley-way which led us to Spencer House in St James Place.  The house was built in 1756-66 for the 1st Earl Spencer, an ancestor of Diana. Princess of Wales.  It retains the full splendour of its late 18th C Palladian appearance after a recent 10 year restoration.  Viewings are on Sundays for its 8 State rooms (except January and August). The rooms were amongst the first neo-classical interiors in Europe, reflecting the passion for Classical Greece and Rome, designed by John Vardy and James Stuart.

We moved on to St James Street, where behind the blue door, - it needs no-name, is 'Brooks Club' established in 1778 for Gentleman with emphasis on gaming, gossip and good dress; early members included Lord Crewe, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Garrick and Sheridan.  Further along St James Street is 'Whites Club', which is over 250 years old and has the Royal Gentlemen as its members. 

St James Street as you would expect has many 'old shops' handed down from generation to generation, and other curiosities include:

James Lock & Co, Hatters to the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince of Wales; this family-owned business was founded in 1676.  (I'm sure they have the original doors and window frames!)

Berry Bros & Rudd, - Wine Merchants, was founded in 1698 by the widow Bourne, and now owned by the Berry and Rudd families.  It was in this property that the Texas Embassy was established in 1836/9 after Texas won its independence from Mexico. England was one of the first countries in the world to recognize the republic of Texas as a nation. Their Charge d'affaires to the Court of St James, (Dr Ashbel Smith), rented office space at 3 St James Street, in an upper floor of Berry Bros & Rudd. A plaque is situated on the outside wall as testament.  It reads: In this building was the Legation for the Ministers from the Republic of Texas to the Court of St James, 1842-1845.  In 1845 Texas became the 28th state of America.  If you venture inside the shop, there is a large set of scales used to weigh coffee that supplied the fashionable coffee houses, and also a tradition started of weighing customers on the giant scales  The shop's ledgers record the weights of: Lord Byron, Horatio Nelson, Lady Hamilton, William Pitt and the Aga Khan, amongst others. The company supplied wine during King George III's reign and continues to this day supplying to the Queen and Prince Charles.

Walking along Piccadilly, (Piccadilly takes its name from a type of starched collar called a piccadil, frm circa 17th C ) we passed (and later went in) Fortnum & Mason, their window displays are only changed 4 times a year in accordance with the season.  It was founded in 1707 by Fortnum, a footman to Queen Anne and his landlord Mason.  During the Peninsular war they sent food out to the soldiers and during the Crimean war they were engaged by Queen Victoria to supply tea to Florence Nightingale. From the clock above the main entrance Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason appear every hour on the hour, when they turn and bow to each other.

St James Church is Wren's only Church to have been built in the west of London, and was said to be his favourite. Built in 1684, the internal arrangement embodies Wren's views of a town parish church. The altar and rails seem to remain unchanged and the altar piece and font is the work of Grinling Gibbons, (who also designed the staircase, late of Cassiobury house, and which is now on show at the Museum of New York). The church was a casualty during the Blitz and the churchyard has been made into a garden of remembrance to commemorate London's fortitude during the war.

We moved along to St James Palace, formerly the site of a medieval hospital (for 14 maiden lepers), which was demolished in 1536 to make way for the new palace for Henry VIII and his new bride Anne Boleyn. The exterior wall with its many extensions shows many different types of brickwork, also there still remains a fading (nearly) 500 year old Tudor Rose, painted on the corner of a palace doorway. The Chapel Royal, which commemorates Henry's brief marriage to Anne of Cleves is one of two surviving parts of the palace, the other is the 16th C Tudor gatehouse.

  (Would definitely recommend a London Walk, there are so many to choose from, 365 days a year, morning, afternoon & evening)