My St James’s: Stepping back in time…

Berry-Bros

Berry Bros & Rudd Ltd

The area of St James, is London with its top hat, white tie and tails on. It’s London wearing its best bow tie, while it enjoys the most delicious whiskey and puffs on its favourite cigar…while it buys its organic sourdough, wears the newest trends and sips the most delightful coffees and cocktails…

It’s London from another era, colliding with the new and the modern…and creating something even more magical than those architects in the 17th century ever thought possible….

I recently spent the day exploring this magical part of town, dipping into its rich and elegant history and visiting some of the shops that are the lucky keepers of the much envied Royal Warrant…

Pickering Place

Pickering Place

Pickering Place is a tiny courtyard, which has a wealth of history attached to it. Not only was it home to the Texan Republic’s embassy (until it joined the United States in 1845) and is the smallest square in Britain, but it is also the last place in London where a duel was fought. A real life duel!

Pickering Place

As soon as you walk into the courtyard, the original gaslights, unspoilt Georgian architecture and quiet seclusion take you back to a previous time. In the 18th century this seclusion was one of the reasons the square was notorious for its gambling dens, bear baiting and duels…

Francos

Franco’s

I had lunch at the wonderful Franco’s, which some people believe was the first Italian restaurant in London.  The lunch and dinner menus have evolved over the years and now offer sumptuous modern Italian dishes with imaginative combinations of the flavours, textures and aromas of Italy, from north to south, as well as classics and simple lighter dishes… my lunch was absolutely DELICIOUS.

Lunch at Franco's

Lunch at Franco’s

Francos

The interior is elegant and classic… it feels private, although not exclusive. The service was exquisite and the entire experience was exactly as you would it hope it would be…

Floris

Floris London

I popped into Floris London – British family perfumers since 1730. I just can’t get over the dates of these amazing places…

Floris founder Juan Famenias Floris and his wife Elizabeth began selling perfume, combs and shaving products in the elegant quarter of London’s St James. The Floris shop they opened at 89 Jermyn Street remains the heart of the business and is still run by their descendants today.

Floris London is the oldest independent family perfumer in the world and the only Appointed Perfumer to Her Majesty the Queen…

Floris

Floris

Floris

Floris

Floris

Floris

Florence Nightingale had returned from the Crimean War, where through her work she became known as ‘The Lady with the Lamp’, and was busy setting up a training school for nurses at St. Thomas’ Hospital in Waterloo. In the Jermyn Street shop they display this treasured letter written by Florence Nightingale in 1863 to “Mr Floris” (James) thanking him for his “beautiful sweet-smelling nosegays”.

And just a few doors away sits Berry Bros – Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant, established in the 17th century.  Berry Bros has been a supplier to the royal family since the reign of King George III, customers have included Lord Byron, William Pitt the Younger and the Aga Khan…

Berry-Bros

Berry Bros

In 1698, the company now known as Berry Bros. & Rudd was started by a woman! She was a widow and a mother, with at least two daughters, but only her last name is known: Bourne. Like Jason Bourne. But even more kick ass.

The Widow Bourne established a grocer’s in the prestigious neighbourhood opposite St. James’s Palace, which in that year became the official principal residence of the monarch.

The Widow’s daughter Elizabeth married William Pickering (as in Pickering Place) and their family continued to run the business. As the Pickerings supplied the newly-fashionable Coffee Houses of St James’s, it is unsurprising that the shop chose an image linked to this prestige commodity as the sign of their business. To this day, Berry Bros. & Rudd still trades under the ‘Sign of the Coffee Mill’, an image that has remained outside the shop for centuries.

Berry Bros

When John Pickering died in 1754, his brother William Jr. brought in a relation, John Clarke, to be his partner. It was in the time of William Jr. and John Clarke that the famous grocer’s weighing scales began to be used to weigh the shop’s many notable customers, a fashionable pastime that continues to this day.

Berry Bros

Royal-Warrant-1

Berry Bros

Berry Bros

Royal-Warrant

A letter writing with 'great regret' at how the Berry Bros containers on The Titanic were lost forever as the ship had collided with an iceberg...

A letter writing with ‘great regret’ at how the Berry Bros containers on The Titanic were lost forever as the ship had collided with an iceberg…

The cellars beneath their wine shop date from the early 18th century. Louis Napoleon, later to become Emperor Napoleon III, held clandestine meetings here during his exile in the 1840s, plotting his return to France! And there are some VERY old bottles of wine down there…and they’re a bit dusty ;)

Berry Bros

Berry Bros

Berry Bros

The cellars are enormous and cover about two acres in all, extending under the courtyard, Pickering Place to under their premises at 63 Pall Mall and under Pall Mall itself…

Lock & Co

Lock & Co

Established in 1676, Lock & Co is the oldest hat shop in the world! It’s also one of the oldest family-owned businesses still in existence.

Revered for their centuries-honed craftsmanship, their innovative designs have graced the heads of some of the greatest figures in history. Admiral Lord Nelson wore a bicorne made by them into the Battle of Trafalgar. Sir Winston Churchill adopted their Cambridge and Homburg hats as his trademarks. Dashing author Oscar Wilde was a fan, while the equally debonair Beau Brummell procured their hats as part of his sartorial repertoire….

Lock & Co

Lock & Co

Their infamous hat boxes… remember them from Sex and The City?

Lock & Co

Their amazing head-measuring machine :)

Lock & Co

Lock & Co

Who did you think measured The Royal Head…?

Lock & Co

A wonderful letter, written by a stranger, paying off Oscar Wilde’s debt while he was in prison…

Their luxury hats are not only borne out of fashion, but also functionality. Their Coke Hat – named after nobleman Edward Coke, was commissioned in 1849 to create a style hardy enough for his gamekeepers. The hat has transcended time to become a true classic, made all the more memorable by the silver screen: Bond villain Oddjob wore it in Goldfinger and Charlie Chaplin made it as much of his act as his moustache…

Lock & Co

The miniature version of Charlie Chaplin’s head

Lock & Co

They now have an extensive women’s collection as well…

And finally, I took a stroll over to Paxton and Whitfield – the oldest cheesemonger in London.

Paxton & Whitfield was originally a cheese stall in Aldwych market in 1742.  As London became increasingly affluent the owner moved his cheese business closer to his wealthy customer base, near to Jermyn Street where there is still a shop today.

Paxton and Whitfield

Paxton and Whitfield

Paxton and Whitfield

Paxton and Whitfield

He also took on two new partners – Harry Paxton and Charles Whitfield and it is their names, not his, which grace the shop’s front now. In 1850 it received the honour of being appointed cheesemonger to HM Queen Victoria… and this was the first of many Royal Warrants that the Company has held. since…

There are hundreds of haunts in St James’s and you can find them all over on the St James’s Directory.

St James’s really is the most extraordinary neighbourhood and if you have a day (or a week) spare, you should come and be an explorer… wander the streets, tread the cobbles and duck down the hidden passageways…

There are so many stories to be told and they are just waiting for you to discover them…

 


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