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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 !