WALKING LONDON: A ST. JAMES’S STROLL

by Victoria Hinshaw

Originally published after Number One London’s 2015 Duke of Wellington Tour, we’re re-running this post on our St. James’s Walk as we regularly include it on all our tours that begin or end in London. Our next is the Country House Tour, May 2021. Complete details can be found here

Kristine and Victoria led a walking tour of St. James’s London, beginning with a view of Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Monument from Green Park. Being a Sunday, the  traffic circle and the Mall were closed to vehicle traffic and open to pedestrians and bicycles.  Our weather was perfect – warm and sunny.

Lancaster House
Spencer House

We then headed up the pedestrian path on the east side of Green Park, past Lancaster House and Spencer House, before cutting  through the narrow Milkmaids Passage, a pedestrian tunnel that brings one out opposite the Stafford Hotel.

Stafford Hotel
The Stafford  Hotel (now much remodeled) was once the home of Sir William, 3rd Baronet Lyttelton, and his wife (1787-1870), the former Lady Sarah Spencer, niece of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. After her husband’s death, Lady Lyttelton became a governess to the children of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  During World War II, the Stafford was used as a club for American and Canadian officers, and the hotel remains known for its American Bar to this day.
The American Bar at the Stafford Hotel

Wandering around the maze of streets in this little corner of St. James’s, we found a mix of modern (often brutalist) office/apartment complexes and 18th century listed buildings. A post-war office complex now faces Spencer House and stands as evidence of the bomb that was dropped on the site during WWII, which also blew out most of the windows of Spencer House. Remarkably, no one was injured in the blast.

Above, and across from the Stafford, is the entrance facade to Spencer House in St. James’s Place. Built 1756-66 by architects John Vardy and James “Athenian” Stuart for John, 1st Earl Spencer, Spencer House is now owned by the Rothschild Enterprise’s RIT Capital Partners and open on most Sundays for a tour of the State Rooms.  The website is here and includes photos of both the exterior and interior.

A few doors down from Spencer House is this handsome brick house, once the residence of  Williams Huskisson (1770-1830). The blue plaque refers to him as a statesman; he was often a strong political opponent to the Duke of Wellington in Parliament.  Huskisson also became England’s first railroad fatality. During the inaugural run of the Manchester to Liverpool railroad, he was amongst the dignitaries invited to travel on one of two trains opening the route. When the trains stopped at a siding to take on water, Huskisson left his carriage and crossed the tracks to the second train, unaware that Stephenson’s train, the Rocket, was headed straight towards him on the middle track. Huskisson’s leg was crushed by the Rocket and he died a few hours later. Unfortunately, the accident was witnessed by several notables who were on the trip, including the Duke of Wellington.
Next door, No. 29 was once the residence of Winston Churchill.
No. 5  was the home of Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745)
and his son Horace Walpole (1717-1797)
 
Duke’s Hotel is another elegant institution, located just off St. James’s Place.

St. James’s Place opens into St. James’s Street, famous for gentlemen’s clubs of the British variety and several very old and traditional merchants.  The numbering begins at the Palace and goes north up the east side of the street to Piccadilly then crosses to the west side and counts southward back to the Palace.

St. James’s Palace
A Grenadier Guard at St James’s Palace, built by Henry VIII
Entering St. James’s Street, we find many Georgian and Regency institutions, including Berry Bros. and Rudd, Ltd, Wine Merchants, at No. 3.
A Passage beside the wine store leads to Pickering Place, above.
This little space was once known as a spot for dueling, but it must have been pretty tight! Another plaque commemorates the location of the Texas legation 1842-1846.

Pickering Place,with a plaque of Lord Palmerston
Lock and Co. Hatters have served British dignitaries for more than 300 years.
Click here for their website..
Lobb and Co. Bootmakers

Closer to Piccadilly on the east side of the street are two famous Clubs

Boodle’s, #27  St. James’s Street

.

The chemist’s shop, D. R. Harris, founded in
1790, is located at #29. The website is here.
White’s Club, #37/38 St. James’s Street, founded 1693

On the west side, heading back to St. James’s Palace, you will find Brook’s Club.

Brooks’s 60 St. James’s Street,  club founded in 1762
The headquarters of Justerini and Brooks Ltd. at 61 St. James Street,
across Park Place from Brooks’s.

 

The Carlton Club, #69 St. James’s Street, founded in 1832
#74 St. James’s Street, formerly the Conservative Club, completed in 1845
Returning to Piccadilly, we stopped for a welcome sit-down and a coffee or tea. Even on a Sunday morning, Piccadilly was busy, as usual an international mish-mash of tourists globe-wide. Great people watching!
Burlington Arcade
We walked east on Piccadilly past a number of famous sites:
on the north side of the street, Burlington Arcade.
And Burlington House, home of the Royal Academy of Arts.
Tucked almost beside Burlington House is the  famous residence, Albany, once the home of Lord Byron and more recently, Georgette Heyer.  Built originally as Melbourne House. it was traded by that family to the Duke of York and Albany (2nd son of George III) in exchange for what became Melbourne House in Whitehall, now the Scotland office just south of Horse Guards. Later it became prestigious bachelor quarters, eventually open to women as well.
Albany
On the South side of the street, that esteemed purveyor of all things delicious, Fortnum and Mason, established in 1707 in Duke Street, and supplier worldwide, including to the army in the Peninsular War in the early 19th century, right up to today’s British forces — not to mention picnickers, racegoers, opera lovers, and  foodies everywhere. To visit, click here.
Fortnum and Mason
Hatchards Bookstore, above, established 1797  Their website is here.
Soon, we arrive at the wonderful St James’s Church, Piccadilly.
Outside the church is a small but lively marketplace
Baptismal font

 

The famous wood carvings of Grinling Gibbons
Floris Perfumers on Jermyn Street
Nearby, a plaque marking the location of the residence of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727)
Chequers Pub
Time for another pause that refreshes, this time at Chequers…a charming little pub in Duke street. At the rear of the building or accessible from a passage beside it is Mason’s Yard, another hidden collection of interesting sites, including the White Cube Gallery and the member’s entrance to the London Library.
William III in St. James’s Square
At last we came to St. James’s Square, still a leafy oasis, though a private park as so many of the squares in London are.
There are still a few of the buildings originally built here, though much remodeled, and many replaced.  At #4 is the Naval and Military Club, better known as the In and Out Club.
#4 St. James’s Square
The plaque honors Nancy Astor (1879-1964), first woman to sit in Parliament, who once lived here.
Henry Jermyn, 1st Earl of St. Albans, 1605-1684
Following the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660, Henry Jermyn was Lord Chancellor, and received a grant of land north of St. James’s Palace, which he had cleared and laid out for development. He is known as the Father of the West End.  He died shortly before the completion of St. James’s Church, just north of St. James’s Square.
At #10 St. James’s Square stands Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, site of many important multilateral events.  The building was once home to three Prime Ministers, William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham (1708-1778), Edward Geoffrey Stanley, Earl of Derby (1799-1869), and William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898).
Plaque honoring three Prime Ministers at #10 St. James’s Square

 

Ada, Countess of Lovelace (1815-52) at #12 St James’s Square
Ada Lovelace was the only legitimate child of Lord Byron and his wife, Anabella Millbanke.  She was a mathematician and a pioneer in computing.
London Library, #14 St. James’s Square
The private library, established in 1841, is a favorite of many British writers and historians. Kristine and Victoria returned here the week after the tour for a special viewing during London Open House Week.

#16 St. James’s Square, above, once the Boehm residence where the Prince Regent received the despatches of the Duke of Wellington after the Battle of Waterloo,now the East India Services Club.

By this time we were all ready for our tea, so we hiked back to Piccadilly and the wonderful Richoux Tea Room at #172.

Left to right: Kristine, Marilyn, Donna, Ki, Victoria and Diane

In 2018, the St. James’s Walk will be a part of our Georgian England Tour and our 1815: London to Waterloo Tour. Complete details on both Tours can be found here

Recreating Lady Curzon’s Fabulous Peacock Dress

In a glass display case at Kedleston Hall stands Lady Curzon’s famed Peacock dress. Her husband, George, Lord Curzon, was Viceroy of India and in 1903, they held a fabulous Coronation Ball, to which Lady Curzon wore the Peacock dress, above, which is entirely hand embroidered. The embroidery was done in workshops in India and then sent to Worth’s Paris workshops to be fashioned into the dress, which was then shipped to Lady Curzon in India.

Today, the embroidery on the dress has tarnished and none of it’s brilliant colours remain. However, about a decade ago, fashion historian and conservator Cathy Hay decided to set about recreating the dress. You’ll discover more about Cathy’s journey and the history of the dress in the video below, which will be of interest to all those who, like myself, harbor historical dreams.

SYON HOUSE

by Victoria Hinshaw

The Percy family, now dukes of Northumberland have lived at Syon House for many years. To follow the fortunes of the Percy family is to travel the twists and turns of British history.  From their arrival with William the Conqueror in the 11th century, they held a stronghold at Alnwick Castle in far Northumberland and frequently ran into conflicts with the English kings.  Because of their support for Mary Queen of Scots, they were commanded to live in the south, at their property at Petworth in Sussex.  There were many periods of imprisonment in the Tower for various earls over the centuries.

In its first few centuries, Syon seemed to exist under a dark cloud. Lord Somerset died on the scaffold before it was finished; Lady Jane Grey resided here; it served as a prison for the children of Charles I for a time. 

Syon came to the Percy family through the marriage of Henry Percy (1564- 1632) to Lady Dorothy Devereux (d. 1619), a sister of Robert, Earl of Essex, a favorite of Elizabeth I.  From a previous marriage, Lady Dorothy owned the lease to the valuable Syon estate.  When James I came to the throne, he gave Syon outright to Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland.  In 1605 the 9th earl himself landed in the Tower, where he lived for sixteen years, improving his estates and studying scientific topics from his prison.  He was known as the Wizard Earl for his many interests in science and the occult.  His wife Dorothy regularly sent him baskets of fruits from the Syon orchards.
Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland

By 1764, Syon was still basically a Tudor mansion, looking much as it had when first built in 1547, a courtyard house that offered many challenges to bring up to  current taste. The 3rd duke, who succeeded in 1817, rebuilt the walls of the house in Bath stone, and built the conservatory. He entertained “lavishly” at Syon during the reign of William IV and was succeeded by his brother Algernon in 1847. Their descendants today still live at Syon, the family of the 11th Duke, Henry Alan Walter Richard Percy.

From the website: Robert Adam and ‘Capability’ Brown

“The 7th Duke of Somerset died in 1750, and Hugh and Elizabeth, who were to become the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, inherited the estates.  They were leading figures in contemporary society, and would have inherited a house with dated interiors, surrounded by an unfashionable formal landscape.  Gardens and House were both in a poor condition.

“The solution was a complete redesign of Syon.  In one of his first major commissions, the landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown swept away the formal landscape to the south and west of the House, replacing it with the open views characteristic of the English Landscape movement.  Over the course of twenty years he extended this to the north and west, incorporating farmland to the west into the new park, and creating Pleasure Grounds to the north, both centred on large new ornamental lakes.  In the House the Scottish architect Robert Adam was commissioned to create a series of striking classical interiors, filled with antiquities shipped from Italy.  Adam was not able to change the interior layout of the House, and so used a number of architectural devices to create a suitable impression.”

Following  a carefully designed route through Capability Brown’s Park, then through a monumental portico, one enters the Great Hall. 

The visitor experiences a  dramatic contrast when stepping into the Ante-Room after the subdued serenity of the Hall.

 The floor is scagliola (composition of ground marble, plaster and glue often seen on tabletops) in brilliant colors, perfectly preserved and highly polished.  Some of the marble columns were found in the Tiber River in Rome and brought to Syon.  Others are copies, also made of scagliola.  The columns serve to square off the room size and to provide bases for the gilded statues, all reproductions of ancient figures.  It is difficult to underestimate the dazzling effect of standing in this room, which I am tempted to describe as gaudy, though it also has a unity of color and beauty that actually give it a different but equally impressive dignity as the Great Hall.

After the brilliant colors of the ante room, the dining room is almost restrained in its gilded elegance. From the Ante-Room, on the corner of the house, one steps into the ivory and gold magnificence of the Dining Room, a perfect example of classic Adam style.  Columns, apses, antique statues, and gilt combine with the rich wooden flooring in a pleasing pattern.  Adam rarely used soft materials in his eating rooms because carpets, curtains, tapestries and other hangings could absorb food odors.  Cleverly concealed in the doorways are compartments holding the dining tables, which were set up for meals and removed for dancing or other activities, while some of the statue bases conceal chamberpots. 

 The Red Drawing Room was described by Adam as a buffer to the real Withdrawing Room for the ladies, which was in the next chamber, the Gallery,  now the Library.  The walls are of red Spitalfields silk, while diamonds and octagons on the ceiling contrast with the painted medallions with gilded banding.

The Long Gallery was intended by Adam for the use of the ladies.  The Tudor room is 136 feet long with a width and height of only 14 feet. Adam solved the size and shape problem by softening the colors to pastel mauves and greens, installing shallow bookcases and clustering the tapestry-upholstered furniture in what we would call conversation groups.  There is a unity of design elements as well, with decorative swags on the walls, flat pilasters separating the bookshelves, and a pleasing pattern of geometric shapes, as in the ceiling.   When I visited this room, I found it astonishingly beautiful, yet comfortable.  As I gazed at the titles on the shelves, the Duke himself came by, showing the collection to a visitor. 

At the far end of the library, there is a little closet, once the site of the corner spiral staircase, now long gone.  In this little room, decorated in delicate pinks and grays, hangs a birdcage holding a mechanical bird which spreads his wings and warbles on the hour.  The bottom of the cage is the clock’s face, not a particularly practical place to put it, if you ask me.   It is known as one of Adam’s conceits.  Nevertheless, the “closet” serves the role of early closets for kings and dukes — a private room holding favorite collections and offering the closest thing to privacy a great personage could experience.  Ah, the trials and tribulations of fame and fortune!
 

Syon Park and House are on the itinerary of Number One London’s Town and Country House Tour in September – details and complete itinerary can be found here.

 

Give `Em The Wellie – An Introduction to Bootmaker George Hoby

George Hoby was not only the greatest and most fashionable bootmaker in London, but, in spite of the old adage, “ne sutor ultra crepidam,” he employed his spare time with considerable success as a Methodist preacher at Islington. He was said to have in his employment three hundred workmen; and he was so great a man in his own estimation that he was apt to take rather an insolent tone with his customers. He was, however, tolerated as a sort of privileged person, and his impertinence was not only overlooked, but was considered as rather a good joke. He was a pompous fellow, with a considerable vein of sarcastic humour, as evidenced in the following anecdotes handed down to us by Captain Gronow –

I remember Horace Churchill, (afterwards killed in India with the rank of major-general,) who was then an ensign in the Guards, entering Hoby’s shop in a great passion, saying that his boots were so ill made that he should never employ Hoby for the future. Hoby, putting on a pathetic cast of countenance, called to his shopman, “John, close the shutters. It is all over with us. I must shut up shop; Ensign Churchill withdraws his custom from me.” Churchill’s fury can be better imagined than described. On another occasion the late Sir John Shelley came into Hoby’s shop to complain that his topboots had split in several places. Hoby quietly said, “How did that happen, Sir John?” “Why, in walking to my stable.” “Walking to your stable!” said Hoby, with a sneer. ” I made the boots for riding, not walking.”

Hoby was bootmaker to George III, the Prince of Wales, the royal dukes, Beau Brummell, most of the aristocracy and many officers in the army and navy. His shop was situated at the top of St James’s Street, at the corner of Piccadilly, next to the old Guards Club. Hoby was the first man who drove about London in a tilbury. It was painted black, and drawn by a beautiful black cob. This vehicle was built by the inventor, Mr Tilbury, whose manufactory was in a street leading from South Audley Street into Park Street.

No doubt Mr. Hoby had patterns for all manner of desirable boots, evidenced not in the least by his impressive client list. However, he will forever be linked to a boot design not of his making. Of course I refer to the Wellington boot, a pair of the Duke’s own boots of this design are pictured at left. Hoby had been bootmaker to the Duke of Wellington from his boyhood, and received innumerable orders in the Duke’s handwriting, both from the Peninsula and France, which he always religiously preserved. The Duke asked Hoby to modify the 18th-century Hessian boot to a height below the knee, in order to make them more practical for walking and riding. The resulting  boot was made of softer calfskin leather, had no trim, boasted heels one inch high and fit more closely around the leg, making it more practical and hard-wearing for battle, yet comfortable for the evening. The boot was dubbed the Wellington and was quickly adopted by Hoby’s other customers.

Hoby was also bootmaker to the Duke of Kent; and as he was calling on H.R.H. to try on some boots, the news arrived that Lord Wellington had gained a great victory over the French army at Vittoria. The duke was kind enough to mention the glorious news to Hoby, who coolly said, “If Lord Wellington had had any other bootmaker than myself, he never would have had his great and constant successes; for my boots and prayers bring his lordship out of all his difficulties.”

Hoby may have had a penchant for sarcasm and a high opinion of himself (and his own influence upon British military history) but he knew how to run a business – Hoby died worth a hundred and twenty thousand pounds.