Day 49 – Piccadilly – St James’s Square – Pall Mall

First excursion of the year and not a long one but this small area between Piccadilly and Pall Mall (yellow to pink on the Monopoly board) is rich in historical and social significance. From Fortnum and Mason to the Royal Automobile Club, St James’s (where nearly 50% of the property is owned by the Crown Estate) still clings to an aura of privilege and old money. It also contains the former residences of two women who, in very different ways, have played an important role in shaping the evolution of this country – Ada Lovelace and Nancy Astor.

Day 49 Route

Starting point today is St James’s Church on Piccadilly. This was consecrated in 1684 having been built to the order of Henry Jermyn, Earl of St Albans to the serve the new residential development of St James’s Square. And wouldn’t you know it but the architect was the ubiquitous Christopher Wren accepting a rare gig outside of the City of London. The reredos and the marble font were created by master carver of the age, Grinling Gibbons (there’s a forename that’s ripe for revival surely). And that font was where William Blake was baptised in December 1757. St James’s is well known as a classical music venue and I was fortunate enough that my visit coincided with a lunchtime recital by the prizewinning Greek pianist, Konstantinos Destounis. The church is also very actively involved in highlighting social and political issues and is currently host to Suspended, an installation by artist Arabella Dorman which highlights the plight of refugees attempting to flee from persecution and famine to the safety of European shores.

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We exit the church onto Jermyn Street, turn left and then return to Piccadilly via Church Place. Heading east towards Piccadilly Circus we pass Waterstones flagship store which occupies the Grade I listed building that came into being in 1936 as Simpsons of Piccadilly, at the time the largest menswear store in Britain. The building was designed by the modernist architect, Joseph Pemberton (1889 – 1956) and much of the interior was the work of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895 – 1946), one of the most influential professors at the Bauhaus school of art in 1920’s Berlin.

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A right turn down Eagle Place takes us back onto Jermyn Street where we continue east onto Regent Street St James’s (or Regent Street South if you’re pushed for time). The Lumiere London art festival had taken place the previous weekend and the area around Piccadilly had featured several of the installations, including this light projection onto the old Swan & Edgar building.

We drop down to the end of Regent Street St James’s where no. 1 with its ornate carved frontage, home of the Greek restaurant Estiatorio Milos, stands on the corner with Charles II Street.

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Charles II Street runs west into St James’s Square.  As already mentioned the square was laid out in the late 17th century by Henry Jermyn, the 1st Earl of St Albans one of the most influential courtiers of the Restoration period. The houses on the square quickly became some of the most desirable properties in London and by the 1720’s seven dukes and seven earls were among the residents. A century or so later the clubhouses arrived and the square lost a bit (but only a bit) of its cachet. Turning right to proceed anticlockwise around the square we pass the BP head office at no. 1, a turn of the 21st century building they acquired in 2001. The original house at no.3 next door was owned by at least three separate dukes at different times but was replaced in the 1930’s by this office block.

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Then at no.4 we have an original Georgian House built 1726-28 by Edward Shepherd and the only one on the square to retain its garden and mews house at the rear. It is now the Naval and Military Club but was once one of the homes of Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor (1879 – 1964) the first woman to sit as an MP in the House of Commons. Nancy Witcher Langthorne Astor, to give her her full name, was an American citizen who moved to Britain at the age of 26 when she married, for the second time, to Waldorf Astor heir to the massive fortune of the Astor family with its origins in the 18th century US fur trade and New York real estate. Their primary home was the 375 acre Cliveden Estate in Buckinghamshire, a wedding gift from Waldorf’s father. Waldorf had enjoyed a promising political career prior to WW1 but when he succeeded his father’s peerage to become the 2nd Viscount Astor he was automatically shunted off to the House of Lords. This left the way open for Nancy to contest the vacant seat and she duly won the November 1919 by-election. She was in actual fact not the first woman to be elected to parliament, that milestone was achieved by Constance Markievicz in 1918 but as she was an Irish Republican she was barred from taking her seat. I think it’s fair to say that Lady Astor’s success is now viewed as purely a symbolic one. Her political accomplishments were largely negligible although she remained an MP until 1945.  Her personal ideology was also pretty suspect in many ways – she had not been a strong advocate of women’s suffrage and held strong anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic views. However, while she and many of her circle were in favour of appeasement suggestions that the “Cliveden set” were pro-fascist appear to be exaggerated.

Across the road from no.4, just outside the gardens, is a memorial to WPC Yvonne Fletcher who on 17 April 1984, at the age of 25, was killed by a shot from the Libyan People’s Bureau (Embassy) which at the time occupied no.5. WPC Fletcher was on duty monitoring a demonstration against the Gaddafi regime, eleven of the participations in which were also wounded. Although diplomatic relations between the UK and Libya were severed no-one was ever brought to account for the murder. Two years later US fighter planes conducted bombing raids on Libya having taken off from UK air bases with the acquiescence of Margaret Thatcher.

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We leave the square temporarily via Duke of York Street off to the right of which is the now (thanks to the eponymous book and TV series) infamous Apple Tree Yard. You’d be hard pushed to find anywhere quite so unappealing as a venue for a spot of alfresco hanky-panky but then that’s probably the point. Though I’m pretty certain the scenes in the TV series weren’t actually filmed here anyway. The yard’s other claim to fame is that it was home to the office where Sir Edwin Lutyens designed the enclave of New Delhi (within the metropolis of Delhi) to replace Calcutta as the seat of the British Colonial Government in 1912. This was marked in 2015 by the installation of a sculptural work in granite by the artist Stephen Cox.

Back on Duke of York Street it’s a short hop up to Jermyn Street again for a quick eastward foray to tick off Babmaes Street before retracing our steps to Ormond Yard which is opposite Apple Tree Yard and ends in a small passage that cuts through To Mason’s Yard. Bang in the middle of Mason’s Yard is the White Cube Gallery which was constructed here on the site of an old electricity subs-station (and is the first free-standing structure to be built in the historic St James’s area for more than 30 years). In its architectural style the White Cube aims for a spot of nominative determinism though White Orthotope would be nearer the mark (this is also true of its sister gallery, White Cube Bermondsey). It’s a good old space inside and usually showcasing something worth a visit. Current exhibition by Korean artist, Minjung Kim, which just opened today is a case in point.

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To the west Mason’s Yard leads out onto Duke Street St James’s where we head south as far as King Street which takes us east back to St James’s Square. This time we go clockwise round the square (if you see what I mean). First stop is no. 16 which was formerly the East India Club and displays a black plaque commemorating the official dispatch of the news of the victory at Waterloo carried by Major Henry Percy. After initial delivery to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for War at Grosvenor Square, Major Percy continued on to this address to lay two captured French Imperial Eagles before the Prince Regent who was attending a soirée here.

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At no. 14 is the London Library the world’s largest independent library created at the instigation of Thomas Carlyle (who objected to some of the policies of the British Museum Library). It opened in 1841 and moved to St James’s Square four years later. Alfred Lord Tennyson served as President, from 1855 to 1892, as did T.S. Eliot who, on his appointment in 1952, declared  “whatever social changes come about, the disappearance of the London Library would be a disaster to civilisation”. Today the library is home to over a million books covering more than 2,000 subjects and stored on 17 miles of shelves. Membership costs £525 a year.

Next door at no.13. is the only Embassy on the square – the High Commission of Cyprus.

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Turning the corner onto the north side we reach, at no.12, the former residence of the other woman I mentioned in the preamble, Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace (1815 – 1852) better known, simply, as Ada Lovelace. Part of Ada’s fame rests upon the fact that she was the only legitimate child of Lord Byron – by his wife Annabella Milbanke, Lady Wentworth. But far more important than that is her contribution to the fields of mathematics and science. As a teenager, Ada’s mathematical prowess, led her to form what came to be a long working relationship and friendship with Charles Babbage (1791 – 1871) the man who first came up with the concept of the computer, or Analytical Engine as he called it. However it was Ada who recognized that such a machine could have potential applications beyond pure calculation and published the first program intended to be carried out by the “computing machine”. For this she is regarded by many as effectively the world’s first computer programmer. Her personal life though was not a happy one; her relationships with men were fraught and complicated and she took to gambling with disastrous results – losing more than £3,000 on the horses in her early thirties. And she was always haunted by her father who had to all intents and purposes abandoned her at birth. In any event she never saw him again during his eight remaining years of life. But when Ada died of uterine cancer at the age of 36, the same age Byron had been, she was buried, at her request, next to him at the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire.

Two doors further along at no.10 is Chatham House aka the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the world-famous independent policy institute. In 1919 British and American delegates to the Paris Peace Conference, under the leadership of Lionel Curtis, conceived the idea of an Anglo-American Institute of foreign affairs to study international problems with a view to preventing future wars. In the event, the British went ahead on their own, founding the British Institute of International Affairs in July 1920. Chatham House is immortalised for originating the Chatham House Rule – When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed. Or, more succinctly, “what’s said in the room stays in the room”. No.10 (appropriately enough) is also celebrated for being the home at various times of three separate British Prime Ministers – William Pitt the Elder (PM from 1766-68), Edward Stanley, Earl of Derby (PM for just 299 days in 1852 and 1 year and 243 days between 1866 and 1868) and William Ewart Gladstone (PM for most of the 2nd half of the 19th century).

See what I mean, just this one corner of the square has elicited the best part of 1,000 words. Anyway, once past no.10, we turn south through the middle of the gardens. In the centre is an equestrian statue of William III erected in 1808 and at the southern end is a small pavilion with a memorial to architect John Nash (we’ve met him more than once on previous journeys) who supervised the design and layout of the gardens.

Back on the east side of the square is no.31, Norfolk House, which was U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s headquarters during World War II, and where Operation Torch and Operation Overlord were planned.

We leave the square again briefly, exiting onto Pall Mall from the south-east corner. Across the road is the Royal Automobile Club, founded in 1897 by Frederick Richard Simms with the primary purpose of promoting the motor car and its place in society. The Royal part of the monicker was granted by King Edward VII in 1907 (Victoria would have had no truck with these new-fangled automobile things). Today it’s a glorified private members’ (including women) club with Edwardian Turkish baths that were renovated in 2003–4, an Italian marble swimming pool, squash courts (including a doubles court), a snooker room, three restaurants, two bars, and a fully equipped business centre. It is now completely divorced from the motoring services group, the RAC, which it once owned.

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We head back into the square for a final time past another bastion of London clubland (of the cigars and brandy rather than ecstasy and glo-stick variety), the Army and Navy Club. This one has been around since 1837 and its first patron was the Duke of Wellington and the current one is the Queen – nuff said. The club is colloquially known as ‘the Rag’ – if you want to know why check out the link. I think I need to move swiftly on before I go all champagne socialist.

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We leave the square for the final time back along King Street heading west. On the north side is the global HQ of fine art auctioneers, Christie’s, where they have been since 1823.

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On the south side we pass Cleveland Place and Rose & Crown Yard before taking the next turning, Angel Court. The following picture is of the middle of those three and I took it and flipped it to b&w purely on account of the striking quality of the mannequin figure in the window.

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On the corner of Angel Court and King Street, the Golden Lion pub occupies the site where the St James’s Theatre, which staged the first performances of Oscar Wilde’s two best known plays, once stood. Further down Angel Court is a set of, now rather forlorn looking, commemorative reliefs by E. Bainbridge Copnall. The reliefs were commissioned for the office block that replaced the theatre, which was demolished itself in 1986.

Back on Pall Mall we head east initially along the north side then double back west on the south side. Pall Mall was constructed in 1661 and takes it’s name from the game of pall-mall which was a bit similar to croquet and was introduced to England by James I. London’s first pall-mall court was built in St James’s Field where St James’s Square now stands. As we return along the south side we pass no.82 which is adorned with a blue plaque marking this as a former residence of the artist Thomas Gainsborough (1727 – 1788) and no.80 which has one noting that Nell Gwynne (1650 – 1687) once lived in a house on the site. And at no.71 is the Oxford and Cambridge Club where. I imagine, the real metropolitan elite meet and greet.

We switch back northwards up Crown Passage which, if you ignore the rubbish bags, has a charming touch of the olde-worlde about it…

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…there’s even a Milliner’s for goodness’ sake (that’s someone who makes hats in case there happens to be anyone under the age of forty reading)

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So now we’re back on King Street from where a quick right then left takes us into Bury Street. The area of St James’s is particularly known for its galleries. Not the sort I tend to frequent that show contemporary art (though as we’ve seen there are a couple of those) but the ones that specialise in just about every niche in the fine arts and antiques firmament – from old masters to maps to Japanese art and armour and weaponry as you can see below.

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We turn east off Bury Street along Ryder Street back to Duke Street St James’s where we continue north and then turn the corner into Jermyn Street past the Cavendish Hotel. In its present form The Cavendish is a particularly unlovable example of 1960’s concrete pragmatism. Its predecessor was built in the early 1800’s, taking on the Cavendish name in 1836. In 1902 the Cavendish was bought by one Rosa Lewis (1867 -1952), who had worked her way up from kitchen maid (aged 12) to be head chef of the Duc d’orleans at Sandhurst. She was also engaged as a dinner-party cook by Lady Randolph Churchill, the Asquiths and many of the hostesses who entertained Edward VII. Rosa originally put her husband, the grandly named ex-butler Excelsior Tyrel Chiney Lewis, and his sister Laura in charge of the hotel. But within two years their spending and his drinking were out of control so Rosa divorced him and threw the pair of them out. Once she was in charge the hotel flourished and expanded. She was known for her generous spirit – allowing impoverished WW1 military officers to stay for free at the hotel for example – and Evelyn Waugh described her as warm hearted, comic and a totally original woman. She continued to dress in Edwardian style and enjoyed a grandiose and majestic decline from 1918 to 1952. Her life was the inspiration for the 1970’s TV series, “The Duchess of Duke Street” (with Gemma Jones in the title role) as is recognized by a Westminster Council commemorative plaque.

After a couple of blocks we make our way back to Piccadilly up Princes Arcade which continues the area’s general theme of old fashioned luxury. Opposite the entrance to the arcade at no.87 Jermyn Street is another of those old London County Council blue plaques marking this as the home of Sir Isaac Newton. Newton actually lived in the building that was knocked down in 1915 but the plaque had been installed seven years prior to that and so was taken down a re-fixed to the new building.

On reaching Piccadilly again we turn left to get to Hatchards the UK’s oldest bookshop. John Hatchard opened the store at 173 Piccadilly in 1797 and moved it to (what is now) 187 in 1801. The store has three Royal Warrants and is now owned by Waterstone’s.

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Since that move in 1801, Hatchards has been neighbour to Fortnum & Mason which preceded it in opening on Piccadilly by nearly a hundred years. It was 1707, to be exact, when Hugh Mason and William Fortnum set up shop at no.181 and it all began with them selling off Queen Anne’s half-used candle wax. In 1738, by which time it was established as one of the most prominent grocery stores on the capital, Fortnum and Mason’s invented the Scotch Egg while brainstorming ideas for food that travellers could eat on the go. In 1851 Fortnum’s won first prize as importers of dried fruits and dessert goods at London’s Great Exhibition and in 1886 became the first grocer’s in Britain to stock Heinz baked beans. In 1911 they sent hampers to the suffragettes who had been imprisoned for breaking their windows and they provided the 1922 Everest expedition with, amongst other things, 60 tins of quail in foie gras and four dozen bottles of champagne (amazing that they didn’t reach the summit with that to fortify them). The famous clock on the storefront was installed in 1964 and its bells come from the same foundry that produced Big Ben. The only record that F&M have ever sold is Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas ?” These days Fortnum’s is more of a tourist destination than anything. There are no doubt still a few members of the landed gentry that pop up to town to stock up on comestibles and haberdashery but I didn’t see very many while doing the rounds. Since I mentioned it earlier I should also note that the selling of foie-gras was the subject of a PETA campaign in 2010 that was supported by a number of high-profile celebrities.

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We exit the store (purchase-free) onto Duke Street and at the end of the block turn west for a final visit to Jermyn Street. Outside the Piccadilly Arcade is a statue to the Georgian “dandy” Beau Brummel (1778 – 1840). Poor old Beau’s not looking quite so dandy-ish at the moment having been boxed in by the workmen repairing the street.

Jermyn Street has historically been second only to Savile Row in term of catering to the sartorial needs of the discerning London gentleman-about-town but these days it seems to consist mainly of branches of T.M Lewin. So I was pleased to finally encounter one of the few remaining proper old-style independent outfitters on the corner with the top of Bury Street.

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And that’s just about it. From Bury Street we turn right to make the western section of Ryder Street our last call of the day and I’ll leave you wondering, like me, what story lies behind this intriguing shot.

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Day 48 – Victoria Street – Buckingham Gate – Broadway

A relatively short walk this one, especially since the first part of it actually took place at the end of Day 47. That took us from Victoria Station back up to the southern side of Buckingham Palace then down Buckingham Gate and a westward loop ending up on Palace Street. Day 48 proper takes us east from that point covering most of the area around St James’ Park tube station between Birdcage Walk and Victoria Street.

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Just outside the perimeter of the small triangular garden across Buckingham Palace Road from Victoria Station stands a statue of Marshal Ferdinand Foch (1851 – 1929) the French general who led his country’s forces in World War One and was appointed as Allied Commander-In-Chief in March 1918. Foch was an advocate of imposing the most draconian of peace terms on the defeated Germans; far more so than those eventually agreed in the Treaty of Versailles. As the treaty was being signed he declared “This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years”. Although those words proved prophetic historians generally tend towards the view that the rise of National Socialism can be in large part attributable to the armistice terms being overly harsh rather than too lenient as Foch believed. Foch was made a British Field Marshal 1919.

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Heading north up Buckingham Palace Road we cross over Victoria Street and then turn left down Eaton Lane. On reaching Beeston Place we turn right then right again to arrive at Victoria Square. The small garden at the heart of this contains a statue of the eponymous monarch, depicting her in her younger days. This was commissioned from the artist Catherine Anne Laugel and installed in 2007. Former residents of the square include Ian Fleming, Michael Portillo and Mike Oldfield. Casino Royale, the first of Fleming’s Bond novels, was published shortly after he took up residence.

On the other side of Victoria Square we cross over Buckingham Palace Road again and enter one of the many new retail and leisure developments that have sprung up in this area in recent times. This one is constructed around Sir Simon Milton Square, named after the one-time leader of the Tory-run Westminster City Council. The artwork below is Places for Nova by Saad Qureshi and was installed in 2017.

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At the north end of the square we emerge onto Bressenden Place and, having done an eastward circuit of this, continue north into Warwick Row. An alleyway at the end leads into Palace Place which links to Palace Street. Here we turn right and then left up Stafford Place and then another alleyway brings us back onto Buckingham Palace Road. Turn right up to the south eastern corner of Buck House and then right again down Buckingham Gate. At no.15 is a blue plaque commemorating the Diplomat, Poet, Traveller and Founder of the Crabbett Park Stud, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1840 – 1922). Blunt was married to Lady Anne Noel, the daughter of Ada Lovelace and, therefore, granddaughter of Lord Byron, until his unabashed philandering led to their legal separation in 1906. The Stud which they had founded together in 1878 was stocked with the first Arabian horses to be brought to England.

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A little way further down is the High Commission of Swaziland which occupies a late 19th century building designed by Reginald Blomfield and featuring sculpture-work by Henry Pegram.

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We next make a left-turn into Wilfred Street then make a figure of eight involving that along with Catherine Place, Palace Street and Buckingham Place. We end up back on Palace Street just north of Westminster City School.

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We head back east from here along Castle Lane. The tenement blocks on either side of the street were originally built in 1882 to provide accommodation at the nearby Watney’s Stag Brewery (demolished in 1959). In more recent times the properties had been used as a homeless shelter but have stood empty since their purchase in 2010 by Land Securities. The original proposal to refurbish the blocks to provide 63 affordable homes as a quid-pro-quo for receiving planning permission for the conversion of a nearby office building into luxury flats has now been shelved and it looks likely that the Castle Lane properties will now be developed into upscale townhouses instead.

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At the eastern end of Castle Lane, on the corner with Buckingham Gate, stands Westminster Chapel. The chapel was opened in 1865 as a Congregational church with seating capacity for 1,500. It was designed by William Ford Poulton (1822 – 1901) in a Lombard Romanesque Revival style. The auditorium is almost oval-shaped with two tiers of galleries. The church is now part of the evangelical Commission family of churches which means, as explained to me by the young man who kindly let me into the building for a look around, that they follow the text of the Bible very closely and have a far less liberal approach to matters such as the role of women than moral capitulators like the Baptists. This statement of one of their key values will give you an idea of what lies behind the happy-clappy outward persona “A church where Biblical family life is highly valued, where husband and wife embrace male servant leadership and joyful female submission, where godly parenting is taught and practised, and where the special value of singleness and its unique opportunities are affirmed.”

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Continuing down Buckingham Gate we reach the St James’ Court hotel, the work of Victorian architect C.J Chirney Pawley, which first opened its doors in 1902. In 1982 the hotel was acquired by the Indian Hotels Company Ltd (now Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces) owned by the Tata family who established the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Bombay (also at the turn of the 20th century) and who are best known in this country for acquirng both the remnants of British Steel and the Tetley tea company.

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Beyond the hotel we make a right turn down Spencer Street and then, blocked off by another construction site, take Seaforth Place down on to Victoria Street. Head west initially as far as the junction with Palace Street and then double back to the bottom of Buckingham Gate. On the corner here stands the Grade II listed pub, The Albert, built in 1862 by the Artillery Brewery and still in possession of its original Victorian façade. It was built on the site of an earlier pub named The Blue Coat Boy after the nearby charity school (which we shall come to very shortly).

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The Bluecoat (or Blewcoat) School was founded in 1688 by voluntary subscription as a charity for the education of the male offspring of the poor. It moved into purpose-built premises in the apex of Brewer’s Green, Caxton Street and Buckingham Gate in 1709 and from five years after this date also began to teach girls. It remained in use as a school until 1926 and was purchased by the National Trust in 1954. In 2013 fashion designer Ian Stuart was granted permission to refurbish the interior to house his bridal and evening gown collections.

Having circumnavigated the old school building we continue to retrace our steps up Buckingham Gate before shifting east into Petty France. The name is thought to derive from the settlement of French Huguenot refugees in the area in the 17th century (Petty being a corruption of Petit). From the second half of the 18th century until 1925, when the earlier name was restored, the street was called York Street after the son of George II (the Duke of York). On the north side is the exceptionally unattractive rear side of the Wellington Barracks (though not altogether out of keeping with some of the other buildings nearby).

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Once past the barracks we turn south down Vandon Passage which leads into Vandon Street which in turn curves round back to Caxton Street. From here we head east as far as Palmer Street then turn north back to Petty France, emerging opposite the equally unlovely building that houses the Ministry of Justice and Crown Prosecution Service.

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We carry on going east to the roundabout from where Petty France turns into Broadway and where St James’ Park tube station sits beneath the monolithic 55 Broadway. This imposing and, frankly, totalitarian-looking product of the late 1920’s was designed by Charles Holden (1875 – 1960) and won him the RIBA London Architecture Medal in 1931. It was built as a new HQ for the Underground Electric Railways Company (UERL) of London the forerunner of London Underground which still occupies the building today (they were due to move to new premises in the Olympic Park in 2015 but this still hasn’t happened at the time of writing). When it was completed the building was the tallest office block in the city. The sculptural artwork on the building’s exterior includes works by Eric Gill and Jacob Epstein (1880 – 1959). At the time it was the latter’s prominently sited figures, Day and Night, which provoked public opprobrium and a newspaper campaign that almost cost the UERL managing director, Frank Pick, his job. In the end the naked figure on the Day sculpture had 1.5 inches taken off his little chap and the outcry eventually died down. Ironically, these days it is Gill’s work that causes consternation in the light of posthumous revelations about his public life. 55 Broadway was originally Grade II listed in 1970 and upgraded to Grade I in 2011.

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We cut through the building and emerge the other side on St Ermin’s Hill which leads out onto the north-south running stretch of Broadway (about as far removed from its New York namesake as you can imagine). Turning right back onto Caxton Street we pass the St Ermin’s Hotel, nicely done out for Christmas.

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And a short way further on come to the Caxton Hall which was designed in 1878 by William Lee and F.J Smith and built using red brick and pink sandstone. It was originally the Westminster Town Hall on opening in 1883 and has since hosted a variety of political and artistic events. It was also the registry office of choice for high society and celebrity civil weddings from the end of WWII up to 1979. Those who married there during that period included Elizabeth Taylor (to husband no.2 Michael Wilding), Donald Campbell (twice), Diana Dors (twice), Peter Sellers (to Miranda Quarry), Orson Welles, Roger Moore, Joan Collins, a couple of Beegees and Anthony Eden (to Winston Churchill’s niece). Going back to the political events these ran the full gamut from the first Pan-African Conference in 1900 and the hosting of the Suffragette Movement’s “Women’s Parliament” to the founding of the National Front in 1967. In light of all this it seems a bit feeble that the green plaque outside merely refers to the fact that Churchill made a few speeches here during the war. The building was redeveloped as apartments and offices in 2006.

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Take the bottom section of Palmer Street down to Victoria Street with a brief detour into Butler Place which is where the branch of Lloyds that holds my account is even though all the correspondence comes from Chelmsford. Heading east again on Victoria Street there is another massive ongoing development; this time if the former site of New Scotland Yard. The Met took up shop here in 1967 and bought the freehold of the building in 2008. Then in 2013 they announced that 10 Broadway would be sold and the force’s HQ would relocate to the Victoria Embankment where it had been situated from 1890 to the late sixties. The 10 Broadway site was bought by an Abu Dhabi investment group for £370m in 2014.

We circle round the site via Dean Farrar Street and Dacre Street before heading back up Broadway to where it merges into Tothill Street. Then we return south down Dean Farrar Street and resume going east on Victoria Street. As Westminster Abbey comes into view on our right we turn left into Storey’s Gate and nip into Central Hall Westminster for a very brief shuftie. CHW can lay claim to being the world’s first purpose-built meetings facility. It was constructed on the site of the former Royal Aquarium to a design of Lancester and Rickards opened in 1912. Funding came from the Wesleyan Methodist Church’s 20th century Fund set up to mark the 1891 centenary of John Wesley’s death. £250,000  was allocated to the building of a ‘monumental Memorial Hall’ that would not only house a worshipping congregation and the new Methodist headquarters  but would also be a meeting place for all people, regardless of religious persuasion. The Suffragettes met here in 1914, Mahatma Ghandi spoke in the Lecture Hall in 1932 and De Gaulle founded the Free French movement here in the 1940’s. Most famously it was the venue for the very first General Assembly of the United Nations in 1946 attended by representatives of 51 countries. Slightly less auspiciously it was where I sat a number of professional examinations back in the nineties.

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We circle round the CHW via Matthew Parker Street and end up back on Tothill Street where we take a westward turn past the Department of Work and Pensions.

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It’s starting to get dark now so we quickly turn north up Dartmouth Street and then east down the alley that is Lewisham Street to finish for the day back on Storey’s Gate. And that’s it for 2017 !