The weather has put paid to any excursion attempts for the last couple of weeks but normal service is belatedly resumed with a meandering route taking in the western end of the St James’s district between Piccadilly and Pall Mall, then moving east around the area between Pall Mall and The Mall and finishing off with a circuit of St James’s Park. On the way we pay a visit to Waterloo Place which has the largest outdoor collection of statues to dead national heroes to be found in the capital. So if you’re a fan of the odd bronze memorial or ten stay tuned. And if you’re not stay tuned anyway for some nice photos of the wildfowl in the park at the end.
Starting point for today is once again Green Park tube but this time we’re heading south along the eastern edge of the park down Queen’s Walk. First of many historical buildings of note on today’s journey is Spencer House, built between 1756-1766 for John, first Earl Spencer, an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales. Designed by architect John Vardy it is proclaimed as London’s finest surviving eighteenth-century town house and was one of the very earliest examples of the ne-classical style. It’s open to the public but only on Sundays.
Occupying the corner position with the Mall, and largely obscured by trees, is Lancaster House. This was commissioned in 1825 by Frederick Hanover (a.k.a the Grand Old Duke of York), the favourite son of King George III – more of him later – so it was originally known as York House. Unfortunately for Freddie the paint was barely dry before he died. The house was acquired by the then Marquess of Stafford and renamed Stafford House. His family held on until 1913 when one Lord Leverhulme bought the lease for the nation and, perhaps, in a cheeky nod to the Wars of the Roses, changed the name again to Lancaster, after his home county. Today the building is run by The Foreign & Commonwealth Office and is regularly hired out as a film location for productions such as the King’s Speech and The Crown. Just ahead of Lancaster House is an alleyway by the name of Milkmaids Passage which is now closed off at both ends, presumably because there are no longer any milkmaids to pass through it.
My arrival on the Mall happens to coincide with end of Buckingham Palace’s Changing of the Guard routine so I am able to follow the St James’s Palace detachment of the Old Guard as they return to their quarters accompanied by the 1st Battalion Irish Guards Corps of Drums & Pipes. This isn’t exactly a long march, just first left off the Mall up Marlborough Road and then left again into Friary Court (at the eastern end of St James’s Palace) for a final presentation of arms and dismissal.
En route along the Mall we pass in front of Clarence House which is now the official residence of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall (so near yet so far from Buckingham Palace). Like the next door Lancaster House this was built in 1825-27 only the architect this time was John Nash and the prospective resident was Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence, 3rd son of George III and later to be King William IV. Like its neighbour and St James’s Palace, Clarence House is covered by Section 128 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) of 2005 which deals with Trespass on Protected Sites.
Opposite Friary Court on Marlborough Road, set into the garden wall of Marlborough House, is the Queen Alexandra Memorial, installed in 1932 in commemoration of the wife of King Edward VII. It was the last major work of Sir Alfred Gilbert (1854 – 1934), the man also responsible for the statue of Eros at Piccadilly Circus.
As Marlborough Road joins with Pall Mall we head left along Cleveland Row which runs parallel with the north side of another Royal residence, St James’s Palace. SJP was largely built between 1531 and 1536 in the reign of Henry VIII. Much of the original red-brick building still survives today, including the Chapel Royal, the gatehouse, some turrets and two surviving Tudor rooms in the State apartments. It was here in 1558 that Mary Tudor signed the treaty surrendering Calais to the French and Elizabeth I was resident during the threat posed by the Spanish Armada and set out from St James’s to address her troops assembled at Tilbury. The last monarch to use this as a residence was the aforementioned William IV (whose successor Queen Victoria was the first to take occupancy of Buckingham Palace as we learned previously).
Perhaps a little surprisingly, the building opposite, adjacent to Russell Court, is the Embassy of Sudan.
From Cleveland Row we turn north then east along Little St James’s Street bypassing Catherine Wheel Yard and the back of Dukes Hotel.
This takes us into St James’s Street, which like many of its neighbours as we reported last time out, is a bastion of niche, (let’s say) traditional emporia aimed at the refined gentleman (or possibly lady) about town. At no.3 is Berry Brothers & Rudd, Wine & Spirit Merchants and holders of two Royal Warrants courtesy of HM and Prince Charles. The shop was opened in 1698 by a lady known as the Widow Bourne, originally selling Coffee and exotic spices. During the 19th century, by which time the Berry family had taken over, the focus became more and more on wines and spirits eventually to the exclusion of all else though the “Sign of the Coffee Mill” remains outside to this day. While in exile in London during the 1830’s the future Napoleon III held secret meetings in no.3’s cellars and the Titanic sank in 1912 69 cases of the firm’s wines and spirits went with it.
Just past Pickering Place on the same side of the street is another holder of two Royal Warrants (Phil & Charles this time), John Lobb Ltd., bootmakers, described by Esquire magazine as “the most beautiful shop in the world”. Their premises at no.9 once housed the bachelor pad of Lord Byron. The original John Lobb started life as a Cornish farmboy but acquired shoemaking skills that eventually led to international recognition and Royal approval.
Further up still at no.19 is one of a number of cigar merchants on the street. James J Fox was formed in Dublin in 1881 and opened its first tobacco shop in London in 1947. In 1992 it acquired the business of Robert Lewis whose family concern had begun trading fine tobacco in St James’s Street in 1787.
At the top of St James’s Street we turn left on Piccadilly for just a block before heading south again down Arlington Street by the side of the Ritz Hotel. The Ritz opened in May 1906 having been conceived by the renowned hotelier Cesar Ritz whose aim was create the most luxurious hotel in England. After an indifferent start, the hotel eventually began to flourish thanks in good measure to the patronage of The Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) who was a loyal client of César Ritz and is reputed to have said; “Where Ritz goes, I go”. The Aga Khan and Paul Getty had suites at the hotel, and Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle met in the Marie Antoinette Suite to discuss operations during the Second World War. It was reputed that The Ritz was the first hotel to allow young unmarried women to visit unchaperoned. Since 1995 the hotel has been owned by the controversial Barclay Twins who from their fiefdom on the Channel Island of Sark also run the Telegraph newspapers and, unlike the EU nationals that their papers vilify, allegedly pay just about sod all in tax to the British exchequer.
Across the road at no.5 is the one-time home of Sir Robert Walpole (1676 – 1745) generally regarded as de facto the first Prime Minister of this country and also the longest serving incumbent of that position (20 years during the reigns of George I and George II). His youngest son, Horace Walpole (1717 – 1797) took over the lease on the house upon his death. By comparison with his father, Horace had a less than glittering parliamentarian career hence the plaque’s rather nebulous description of him as a connoisseur and man of letters.
From Arlington Street we return to St James’s Street via Benet Street then turn south down the west side of the former. At the end of Park Place sits the London clubhouse of the Royal Overseas League which refers to itself as a non-profit private members’ club dedicated to championing international friendship and understanding. Despite its Imperial inspirations when Sir Evelyn Wrench launched the Overseas Club, as it was initially called, in 1910 he drew up a ‘creed for membership’ which refreshingly for the time emphasised that the club was non-sectarian, non-party, open to women and non-jingoist. (The ROSL is the building in the background in the photograph below).
Next cul-de-sac down is Blue Ball Yard which leads to the rear of the Stafford Hotel another grand 5-star establishment which celebrated its centenary in 2012. During World War II, The Stafford London served as a club for American and Canadian officers stationed overseas who sought refuge in the Wine Cellars. This transatlantic connection is reflected in the institution that is the American Bar and the flying of the Stars and Stripes alongside the Union Jack over the front entrance. The Carriage House in Blue Ball Yard was originally built as stables and was converted into luxury accommodation in the 1990’s.
The front of the hotel is reached by swinging round St James’s Place which is the next turning off St James’s Street on the right. En route we pass three more plaques, two blue and one green. The former two are at no. 4 and no. 28 commemorating respectively, the house from which Frederic Chopin left to give his final public performance in 1848 and the residence of the statesman William Huskisson (1770 – 1830). Huskisson served during several parliamentary terms, including as Leader of the House of Commons and Secretary of State for War but, sadly for him, is best known for being the world’s first casualty of a train accident, having been run over and fatally wounded by Stephenson’s Rocket. The green plaque is at no.29 where Winston Churchill lived from 1880-1883.
We carry on down to the end of St James’s Street then retrace our steps down Marlborough Road to the Mall where we continue eastward past Marlborough House which is the headquarters of the Commonwealth of Nations and the seat of the Commonwealth Secretariat. The house was built in 1711 for Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough and a close friend of Queen Anne. It was yet another piece of work by Sir Christopher Wren, this time aided by his son. The Crown took it over for use as another Royal residence in 1817 and from 1853 to 1861 it housed the Royal College of Art, courtesy of Prince Albert’s patronage.
Beyond Marlborough House we ascend the steps by the memorials to Queen Elizabeth II and her father King George VI.
This takes us up to Carlton Gardens where we find the former home of Lord Horatio Kitchener (1850 – 1916). Kitchener is best known for winning the 1898 Battle of Omdurman which facilitated the reconquest of the Sudan after the ignominy of the siege of Khartoum and the annihilation of General Gordon’s forces in 1885. He also played a key role during the Boer Wars and was Secretary of State for War at the outset of WWI. He died in 1916 when HMS Hampshire, on which he was travelling to attend negotiations in Russia, struck a German mine.
No.4 Carlton Gardens was where General Charles de Gaulle (1890 – 1970) set up the headquarters of the Free French Forces in 1940. In a previous incarnation it was also another of the houses where Lord Palmerston lived. There’s a statue to De Gaulle on the other side of the street and given his staunch opposition to the UK joining the EU I couldn’t help but imagine I detected a bit of a smirk on those bronze lips.
Carlton Gardens meets Carlton House Terrace at the corner of Waterloo Gardens. The statue here is of George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 – 1925), Viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905 and failed Prime Ministerial candidate in 1923 (he was passed over in favour of Stanley Baldwin). His three daughters by his first wife were prominent and controversial figures during the 20’s and 30’s as documented in the book The Viceroy’s Daughters which I can recommend.
The terraces of white stucco-faced houses that give Carlton House Terrace its name were built between 1827 and 1832 to designs by John Nash with input from other architects such as our old friend Decimus Burton. Current occupants of the terrace to the west of Waterloo Place include the Royal Academy of Engineering at no2. 3-4, the Turf Club at no.5 and the Royal Society at nos. 6-9 (this was once the German Embassy). The Royal Society is yet something else we have that man Christopher Wren at least partly to thank for. It was after a 1660 lecture given by Wren at Gresham College that a so-called ‘invisible college’ of natural philosophers and physicians first got together. Almost immediately this society received the approval of Charles II and his Royal Charter and by 1663 the name ‘The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge’ was established. To date there have been around 8,000 Fellows from Newton to Darwin to Einstein and beyond. Current Fellows include Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Richard Dawkins and Tim Berners-Lee. Up until this week that second list would have included the now sadly departed Stephen Hawking. If you get a chance to visit their Summer Exhibition which usually takes place at the start of July I can thoroughly recommend that as well. (The pictures of the interior below were taken during the 2106 exhibition).
And so on to Waterloo Place, the southern end of which is dominated by the Duke of York column. As alluded to much earlier in this post, the column was erected as a memorial to the favourite son of King George III, Prince Frederick (the Grand Old Duke of York remember). The column is made from Aberdeenshire granite and was designed by Benjamin Dean Wyatt. It’s one centimetre shy of 42m in height and there is a spiral staircase of 168 steps inside that leads to a viewing platform that has been closed to the public for several decades. It would be something of an understatement to say that Frederick was a controversial figure – not many people have inspired a nursery rhyme commemorating their disastrous record on the battlefield. A womaniser and gambler, Frederick once drank and gambled his way through £40,000 in one year. He also found himself in serious trouble when one of his mistresses, Mary Clarke, admitted to having sold commissions to would-be army officers. Fortunately for him the House of Commons accepted his plea of ignorance and he was cleared of corruption charges.
As I already noted, Waterloo Place, is a must-see destination for anyone who’s a fan of statues and monuments but I suspect that’s a rather small subset of the population so, for the sake of the rest of you, I’m not going to linger over any of them. Starting on the west side for now and moving south to north we have Field Marshal Sir John Fox Burgoyne (1782-1781) followed by Rear Admiral Sir John Franklin (1786 – 1847) and then Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Rodney Park (1892 – 1975). One from each of the armed services basically. And across the road in the middle of the place is the equestrian statue of Edward VII.
Just north of Waterloo Gardens is the very grandiose-looking Athenaeum Club. It perhaps comes as no surprise that the architect of this extravagant piece of neo-classicism was once again the young Decimus Burton. Construction began in 1824, the year the Club was founded by John Wilson Croker as a meeting place for men who ‘enjoy the life if the mind’ (women were finally admitted in 2002). The frieze around the outside is a copy of the then recently rescued/stolen (depending on your point of view) Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon. It was executed by John Henning, a leading sculptor of the day, at a cost of over £2,000 which was about 5% of the entire budget for the building. Today the majority of the members of the Athenaeum are professionals concerned with science, engineering or medicine but the clergy, lawyers, writers and artists are also represented. A total of 52 past and present members have been the recipient of a Nobel Prize.
At the north end of Waterloo Place we turn east along Charles II Street and then north up St Alban’s Street which leads past Carlton Street into St James’s Market. The St James’s Market Pavilion is currently showcasing an audio/visual exhibit (narrated by Stephen Fry) which tells the story of The Handsome Butcher of St James’s Market, a ballad written around 1790.
Norris Street takes us into Haymarket where we drop south back to Charles II Street and then stroll through the Royal Opera Arcade to Pall Mall.
A westward turn then brings us back to Waterloo Place and those remaining statues and memorials. In the square to the north of Pall Mall we have the Guards Crimean War Memorial created by sculptor John Bell. Immediately in front of that on the left is Florence Nightingale (1820 -1910), nursing heroine of the Crimean War of course, and on the right a pensive-looking Sidney Herbert (1810 – 1961) who was her friend and confidant and Secretary of State for War during the Crimean conflict.
Crossing over Pall Mall we pass, on the corner, the home of those cheerleaders for free market capitalism, the Institute of Directors. The IOD was founded in 1903 and moved into the Grade I Listed, John Nash designed, 116 Pall Mall in 1978.
We now pass down the eastern side of Waterloo Place where the three honoured heroes of the nation are : Captain Robert Falcon Scott (1868 – 1912) the ill-fated “Scott of the Antarctic” who reached the South Pole five weeks after the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, got there first and, unlike Amundsen, failed to survive the return journey; Field Marshal Colin Campbell, 1st Baron Clyde (1792 – 1863), who managed to make it unscathed through the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny and the two Opium Wars; and John Laird Mair Lawrence (1811 – 1879) who was Viceroy of India in the 1860’s.
Turning left after the last of these we enter the eastern section of Carlton House Terrace. Nos, 10-11 house the British Academy. Not to be confused with BAFTA this is the national academy for the humanities and social sciences – if you follow the link you can see which fields that encompasses but it definitely doesn’t include those upstarts Film and Television. No. 11 was also one of the many places where William Gladstone resided.
No.12 is The Institute of Contemporary Arts (better known as just the ICA) though the public entrance for exhibitions, cinema, bookshop etc. is on the Mall which also holds true for the Mall Galleries which occupies no.17 (and pretty much the opposite end of the artistic spectrum). Nos. 13-15 are owned by the Hinduja Brothers, Indian industrial magnates the eldest two of whom are reputed to be the wealthiest men in Britain, £16.2bn between them if you really want to know,
At the end of this stretch of Carlton House Terrace we descend the steps leading off to the south which take us down onto the Mall again. Turning right we pass the Graspan Royal Marines Memorial which commemorates the Royal Marines who died in the Boxer Rebellion and the Second Boer War.
Since I’d never been in the Mall Galleries before I thought I’d better take a look. As I already knew, this celebrates those artists whose practice focuses on traditional media and technical proficiency rather than innovation and conceptual ideas. Nothing wrong with that but it’s not really for me. One of the current exhibitions did however include a painting of the Woodentops so brownie points for that.
The ICA, on the other hand, I’ve visited countless times. You can always get a decent cocktail in the bar even if you don’t like the exhibition. On this occasion I popped in to buy a cinema ticket for the late afternoon screening of Ladybird – a bargain at £6. The ICA was founded in 1947 by Roland Penrose, Peter Watson, Herbert Read, Peter Gregory, Geoffrey Grigson and E. L. T. Mesens in 1947 who wanted to establish a space where artists, writers and scientists could debate ideas outside the traditional confines of the Royal Academy. It has occupied this site on the Mall, Nash House, since 1968. The ICA has always tried to push the envelope where artistic expression is concerned – in 1986 Helen Chadwick’s artwork, Carcass, consisting of a stinking pile of rotting vegetables, had to be removed after complaints from neighbours and a visit by health inspectors and in 1994 artist Rosa Sanchez installed a video camera in the men’s toilets to relay live images of urinating visitors.
And so finally we cross over the Mall into St James’s Park. This is the oldest of London’s Royal Parks and takes its name from a thirteenth century leper hospital which was the first human intervention into the space. In 1532 Henry VIII acquired the site as yet another deer park and it continued as a private royal playground until Charles II had it made over with lawns and tree lined avenues and opened it to the public. It was later redesigned again by John Nash with the canal being transformed into the lake we see today. In 1837 the ancestors ( I like to think) of the wildfowl that inhabit the lake were introduced by the Ornithological Society of London who also had a birdkeeper’s cottage built. I’ve got into a bit of the old twitching (or birding) of late so I was pleased to be able to identify most of the feathered residents.
I realise that we’re already getting into War and Peace territory in terms of word count but we’ve just got a small section south of the park to tidy up then we’re done. Birdcage Walk (named after the Royal Menagerie & Aviary from the time of Charles I) runs from Buckingham Palace along the south side of the park. The Wellington Barracks front onto a good part of its length. The Barracks is home to the Foot Guards battalion which shares guard duty for Buckingham Palace with the regiment stationed at St James’s Palace.
Beyond the Barracks we turn right into Queen Anne’s Gate. After an initial pedestrian-only section this splits three ways and we take the eastward option. No.26 was once home to the politician, lawyer and philosopher, Lord Richard Burdon Haldane (1856 – 1928) and no.20 is the house where Lord Palmerston was born in 1784. There are blue plaques at 14 and 16 as well but I won’t detain you with those since far more exciting is the fact that no.15 stood in as the home of Lord Brett Sinclair the character played by (the sadly missed) Roger Moore in The Persuaders (still the greatest theme tune in the history of television). No.15 also stands on one side of the statue of Queen Anne herself which has been in situ here since at least 1708. At the end of the street we double back and then head south down Carteret Street which takes us to the familiar territory of Tothill Street and Broadway which on a westerly trajectory link up with the north-south section of Queen Annes’s Gate. Returning to where we came from we make our final stop of the day outside no.40 which between 1814 and 1831 was the home of father and son philosophers James Mill (1773 – 1836) and (the more well known) John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873). The latter, in particular, had an enormous influence on the development of social and political theory in the 19th century. He was an advocate of Jeremy Bentham’s theory of utilitarianism, in crude terms, “the greatest good of the greatest number” and a strong defender of the principle of free speech. He was also the first Member of parliament to publicly call for Women’s Suffrage – an appropriate note to end on in this anniversary year.