Day 69 – Pimlico

As some of you may recall from the Ealing comedy “Passport to Pimlico” this part of London likes to consider itself as something of a self-contained unit. There is some justification for this in that, not only are, its boundaries clearly delineated by Vauxhall Bridge Road, the mainline out of Victoria Station and the River Thames but it was first fully developed as part of the Grosvenor Estate after 1825. To partly reiterate what we covered last time out, Robert Grosvenor, First Marquess of Westminster, appointed Thomas Cubitt, master builder, to create a new district on land reclaimed using the soil excavated during the construction of St Katharine’s dock. Like Belgravia this was based on a grid of attractive terraces built in the Regency style but unlike its more fashionable neighbour to the north Pimlico largely drew its residents from the middle classes. From the end of the 19th century onwards the demographic profile of the two areas moved farther apart and parts of Pimlico came close to being designated as slums though this was mitigated by a number of new public housing projects. The 20th century then saw the creation of two large but contrasting developments facing the river, Dolphin Square and the Churchill Gardens Estate. The white stucco terraces are still around today of course, street after street of them (sigh). Some of them are still single occupancy townhouses, many others have been converted into flats and a number are now used as budget hotels. What is striking about the area (even though this is far from unique in London) is the cheek-by-jowl existence of multi-million pound private properties and social housing units.

Apologies for the lengthy preamble but it will, hopefully, save time later on.

Fittingly, Pimlico tube station is our starting point for today. We kick off by heading, via Drummond Gate, down to Bessborough Gardens a garden square developed in the 1980s in a pastiche of the Cubitt-style. The Queen Mother’s fountain in the gardens has a supposed dolphin motif though it’s actually a pair of entwined sturgeon (no relation).

To the west of Bessborough Gardens, reinforcing the point I made earlier, an upscale mid-1990’s development and the Peabody Trust’s Tachbrook estate sit side by side. Navigating around and between these involves Bessborough Place, Balvaird Place, Lindsay Square and Balniel Gate. After this circuit we return to the tube station and take Rampayne Street into Vauxhall Bridge Road. North for a bit then turn left into Moreton Street where we discover the Gothic revival marvel that is the Church of St James the Less. This now grade I listed C of E church was built in 1858–61 by George Edmund Street who was commissioned by the three daughters of the recently deceased Bishop of Gloucester, James Henry Monk. Constructed predominately in brick, its most prominent external feature is its free-standing Italian-style tower, while its interior incorporates design themes which Street observed in medieval Gothic buildings in continental Europe. When I arrived the building was closed but I rang the buzzer on the off-chance and a very simpatico lady allowed me to pop in for a look at the moody interior.

After visiting the church we turn north again up Tachbrook Street alongside the Lillington Gardens Estate to the east. On the other side are those familiar townhouses so the next shot is an attempt to illustrate the dichotomous nature of the area’s housing that I’ll keep harping on about (probably).

Beyond the estate we take Charlwood Street back onto VBR then resume northward as far as Warwick Way before rejoining Tachbrook Street for the section that contains the eponymous market.

A sequence of Charlwood Place, Churton Street, Churton Place and Denbigh Street help us back on to Warwick Way from where we make our way west to St George’s Drive and then Eccleston Square. Warwick Way is particularly blessed with those budget hotels I mentioned earlier.

Eccleston Square, like its counterparts in Belgravia was built by Thomas Cubitt in the 1830’s. Its communal private gardens have been grade II listed since 1987 and since Wimbledon was on the tennis courts were actually being used. Winston Churchill lived at no.33 (the St George’s Drive end) from 1909 – 1913. He moved there with Clementine a year after they married and their first two children were born there.

North of Eccleston Square, Hugh Street runs parallel and crosses over St George’s Drive to get to Cambridge Street and Alderney Street which offer more of the same. (See below but you’ve probably got the idea by now)

Heading west again, the last stretch of Warwick Way ends at the junction of Ebury Bridge and Sutherland Street. We turn left onto the latter then left again into Sutherland Row and work our way back to St George’s Drive via Cumberland Street, Cumberland Court, Winchester Street and Clarendon Street. Warwick Square is the final garden square in the parallel running sequence that began with Eaton Square. Like the others its gardens are private and Grade II listed along with the buildings. Many of the latter are now commercial rather than residential premises. Cubitt himself lived at no.66 while the square was being developed in the 1860’s. After a circuit of the square we travel via Gloucester Street and Moreton Place to the southern section of Moreton Street with its high class boutiques and eateries. Moreton Place and the adjacent Moreton Terrace are lined with these splendid red-flowering trees which I believe (having looked it up) are Crimson Australian Bottle Brush aka Callistemon citrinus splendens. I wonder if Arabella Lennox-Boyd had a hand in that.

After Moreton Terrace we duck in and out of St George’s Drive using stretches of Denbigh Street, Charlwood Street and Denbigh Place. At no.63 St George’s Drive is a blue plaque commemorating the one year (1896) residency of Hindu philosopher Swami Vivekananda ( 1863 – 1902). Vivekananda was a chief disciple of the 19th-century Indian mystic Ramakrishna and was instrumental in the introduction of the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the Western world. He was a major force in the contemporary Hindu reform movements in India, and contributed to the development of nationalism in colonial India. In 1893 he represented India and Hinduism at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago.

At the southern end of Warwick Square, which we return to next, stands St Gabriel’s Church. St Gabriel’s is a middle-pointed building in decorated Gothic style. It was consecrated in 1853 having been funded by public subscription. The 160ft tower was hung with a peal of eight bells two years later.  In 1887 the tower was rebuilt after stonework fell off it, narrowly missing a member of the congregation.

On the other side of the church, on Cambridge Street, is the house (no.114) where the enfant terrible of the Victorian art world, Aubrey Beardsley (1872 – 1898) lived for part of his short life. Beardsley’s six years’ of creative output began at the age of twenty following a stay in Paris. He specialised in black and white illustrations with leanings towards the Art Nouveau style that was in vogue at the time and his work depicted historical events and mythological scenes using grotesque and openly erotic imagery. Probably his most famous drawings were those he produced for Oscar Wilde’s play Salome. With his unusual looks and flamboyant dress sense his public persona did nothing to dampen down the scandalised reaction to his work. In 1966, nearly seventy years after his death from tuberculosis at the age of 25 a private gallery in London was raided by the police for exhibiting copies of his prints and the owner charged under obscenity laws. The originals of those very same prints were contemporaneously being exhibited at the V&A.

From here repeat visits to Charlwood Street, Alderney Street, Winchester Street and Clarendon Street take us to the western limit of today’s journey and a stop for a quick half at the pub of the day, the White Ferry House on Sutherland Street. This dates back to 1856 and doubled as a hotel when first opened. The original Victorian interior panelling is still in situ which has no doubt contributed to the pub’s Grade II listing.

Next door to the pub is another launderette to add to the collection (in the correctly spelt section) and beyond it lies Peabody Avenue which runs through another of the eponymous trust’s estates.

Parallel to Peabody Avenue is Turpentine Lane which, as you can see above, tracks the rear of the Peabody Estate. At the southern end of this we’re in sight of the river on Lupus Street but immediately double back and wend our way around Westmoreland Terrace, Westmoreland Place, Sussex Street, Sutherland Street and Winchester Street. Hopefully by now you’ve got the picture when it comes to the naming of the streets in this part of town. Basically, it’s just Lord Grosvenor namechecking his Ducal chums. Like walking through a cast list of one of Shakespeare’s history plays. Anyway we’re back on Lupus Street now and the area suddenly has quite a different feel – which is actually a refreshing change. Lupus Street is home to the Pimlico Toy Library, a charity set up by Westminster Adult Education services in 1983 to support parents who wanted a safe environment for their children to play. It seems like a good idea so it’s perhaps surprising that other London boroughs don’t appear to have picked up on it.

Lupus Street runs to the north and west of the massive Churchill Gardens Estate which is where we head next. The estate was developed between 1946 and 1962 to a design by the architects Powell and Moya, replacing Victorian terraced houses which had been extensively damaged during the Blitz. Comprising 1,600 homes in 32 blocks, the estate is notable as the only housing project completed under the ambitious Abercrombie Plan to redevelop the capital on more “efficient” lines. A stroll through Glasgow Terrace, Churchill Gardens Road and Paxton Terrace brings us out onto Grosvenor Road and the river. As I enter the Estate an exuberant school jazz-band rendition of “It’s Not Unusual” blasts out from St Gabriel’s Church Hall.

The estate is also notable for its early and rare example of district heating in the UK, the Pimlico District Heating Undertaking. A glass-faced accumulator tower was built to store hot water that would otherwise have been a wasted by-product of Battersea Power Station on the opposite side of the Thames, providing heating and hot water throughout the estate. Churchill Gardens was designated a conservation area in 1990, and in 1998 six blocks (Chaucer House, Coleridge House, Shelley House, Keats House, Gilbert House and Sullivan House) as well as the accumulator tower were Grade II listed. Battersea Power Station is, of course, now in the final stages of a mammoth commercial and residential redevelopment (which no doubt we will get to eventually).

After a jaunt alongside the river we follow Claverton Street and Johnson’s Place back to Lupus Street and find another washeteria to add to the collection (the other section this time). Then a detour into Ranelagh Road uncovers a blue plaque at no.15 in honour of Douglas Macmillan (1884 – 1969). In 1912 Macmillan set up the Society for the Prevention and Relief of Cancer following the death of his father from the disease the year before. It wasn’t until 1930 that the charity, which now bears his name, took on its first full time employee but since then it has grown into one of the largest charities in the UK. Macmillan himself died of cancer at the age of 84.

Crossing over into Chichester Street affords access to the northern end of an estate of an entirely different tenor, Dolphin Square. Built between 1935 and 1937, Dolphin Square consists of 13 blocks (or “houses”), each named after a famous navigator or admiral, that together provide 1,310 high-end private flats. After reclamation of the land it was the site of Thomas Cubitt’s works while Pimlico was being developed. Following Cubitt’s death, The Royal Army Clothing Depot was built on the site and stood until 1933 when the leasehold reverted to the Duke of Westminster. The freehold was soon acquired by an American firm but when they ran into difficulties it was sold on to Richard Costain Ltd who engaged architect, S. Gordon Jeeves to draw up plans for housing development. The buildings he designed are neo-Georgian in style with external facings of brick and stone. The original cost of construction was around £2m with 200,000 tonnes of earth moved and 125,000 tons of concrete and 12 million bricks used on those external walls. The 3.5 acres (1.4 ha) of communal gardens were designed by Richard Sudell, president of the Institute of Landscape Architects, and since 2018 have been Grade II listed (unlike the buildings). When it opened the flats varied in size from one-bedroom suites to apartments with five bedrooms, a maid’s room and three bathrooms. Due to its proximity to the Palace of Westminster (and the HQs of MI5 and MI6) the square has, over the years, provided accommodation for many MPS, peers, civil servants and spooks. Harold Wilson, William Hague and David Steel are among the politicians who have lived here; as did Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies (though not at the same time). Oswald Mosley and his wife Diana Mitford left their apartment here for internment in 1940 during the Second World War. In 2014, the Met opened an inquiry into allegations that some of the flats had been used by a VIP paedophile ring run by a number of prominent MPs, with the case receiving significant media coverage. Within two years it emerged that the accuser, Carl Beech, had fabricated the story and in 2019 Beech was the one convicted (for false allegations).

Reaching the southern end of Dolphin Square we exit out onto Grosvenor Road again and after a left turn begin a circuit of St George’s Square. This is the southernmost and least grand of the garden squares laid out by Thomas Cubitt and the only one whose gardens are open to the public.

At the north end of the square stands St Saviour’s Anglo-Catholic church which, like St Gabriel’s, was designed by Thomas Cundy. It was consecrated in 1864 and, at the time, its 170ft spire was one of the tallest in London.  The founder of modern lawn tennis, Walter Clopton Wingfield, was a regular worshipper and the writer Sir Compton Mackenzie was married in the church.

Having completed a circuit of the square we cross over Grosvenor Road to the (small) riverside Pimlico Gardens. Here you’ll find a statue of the early nineteenth century politician William Huskisson (1770 – 1830) who, as we first recorded many moons ago, is now best known for being the first person to be killed in a railway accident, having been run over by Stephenson’s Rocket. The statue was created by John Gibson and was moved here in 1915 having originally been designed for the Royal Exchange. It’s not really clear why Huskisson is wearing a toga other than to make a tenuous connection between the House of Commons and the Roman senate.

To conclude we cross Grosvenor Road for a final time and let St George’s Mews and Aylesford Street take us back to Pimlico Tube Station. I’ll leave you with this – the origin of the name Pimlico is not properly known but H.G. Wells, in his novel The Dream, says that there was a wharf here where ships from America docked and that the word Pimlico came with the trade and was the last word left alive of the Algonquin Indian language (Pamlico). That’ll probably do.

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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