Monday, July 19, 2010
The Court of St James
This is a very belated post about a short stay in London that I had just before I broke my wrist - update on that is that the cast is off and it hurts rather a lot mostly thanks to the physio exercises that I have to do! It's still very swollen and not a pretty sight so no photos of it you'll be glad to hear. The object of my visit to London was to explore the Square Mile of the City on foot but after checking in to my hotel and having some lunch I decided to spend Saturday afternoon wandering around the St James area. Until the Second World War this was the most exclusive residential area in London and, for all readers of Regency novels, it is also where the famous gentlemen's clubs such as Brookes, White's and Boodles were situated. First of all though we'll get the place that all tourists go to see out of the way! Above is the Queen's London home, Buckingham Palace. It was difficult taking photographs a lot of the time because the sun was so bright and often it was impossible to stand in a place where the sun wasn't streaming into the camera lens.
All the photos will enlarge if you click on them.
This is the Victoria Memorial which stands at the top of The Mall, Buckingham Palace is behind me. I think most people would recognize this and imagine it to have been there for ever but in reality it is less than 100 years old. The Mall from Admiralty Arch up to Buckingham Palace is a ceremonial approach route designed by Sir Aston Webb as a memorial to Queen Victoria. The sculpture was done by Sir Thomas Brock and was dedicated by King George V on May 16, 1911. The surround contains 2300 tos of white marble!
A close-up of one of the wonderful lion statues at the base of the steps.
The gilded figures on the top of the Memorial are a Winged Victory flanked by the seated figures of Courage and Constancy. I realise it's odd showing the back of it, I could say that it's because it gives a beautiful view of the wings but actually it's because this is the only photo where the sun was directly behind me!
Right, off we go down The Mall, past Clarence House which was the Queen Mother's London home for nearly 50 years and which is now the official residence of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall....
...past one of the Foot Guards on duty outside......
...until we come to the new monument commemorating Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother which was unveiled by the Queen in 2009. A bronze statue of The Queen Mother, who died aged 101 in 2002, forms the centrepiece of the monument and incorporates an existing statue of her husband King George VI. The building to the right is part of Carlton House Terrace built between 1827 and 1832 by the Regency architect John Nash.
One of the two 11ft bronzefriezes that depict scenes from the Queen Mother's life. I really liked these, the one in the photo shows the King and Queen visiting the East End during the Blitz along with other scenes of wartime London. The other has scenes from her life in peacetime. Both are well worth looking at.
A good many people stopped to look at the statues and friezes but then they carried on either up or down The Mall. This is the point where I decided to just follow my nose and see what I could find. There are two shallow flights of steps on either side of the memorial so up I went and found this second flight leading up into Carlton Gardens.
The house to the left of the gardens had a plaque on it so I walked over to have a look and discovered that Lord Kitchener of Khartoum had lived here for many years. He was a famous British Field Marshall and in WW1 he became Secretary of State for War....
....and it is his face that appears on this iconic WWI recruiting poster.
At the back of the gardens I spotted this not very good statue of the French wartime leader General de Gaulle and then.....
......nearby was No 4 Carlton Gardens, one can't help feeling that the appearance of the house is not improved by all the rubbish bags on the front step!!
This building also had a plaque on the wall, it was an unexpected place to find the headquarters of the Free French Forces . There was also a large rectangular plaque commemoratings a famous wartime appeal by de Gaulle 'A Tous Les Francais' exhorting them to resist Nazi Germany.
This is 31 St James Square originally the site of Norfolk House the London home of the Dukes of Norfolk. Norfolk House was pulled down and rebuilt as an office block in 1938 just in time to be used by the military top brass from a variety of allied forces during WW2. Most importantly Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe under General Dwight D. Eisenhower was housed here and this is where the D-Day landings were planned.
The plaque on the wall commemorates Dwight D. Eisenhower and his role as Supreme Commander.
As I wandered along St James St I caught sight of this lovely cobbled courtyard. It is Blue Ball Yard and is now part of the Stafford Hotel. The buildings on the left were originally stables and date from 1742, the cobbles in the yard were there to prevent the horses from slipping. I can't think of a pleasanter place in London to sit and enjoy a glass of wine on a hot afternoon. What a pity that didn't occur to me at the time!
Boodles is the second oldest private gentlemen's club in the world. It was founded in 1762 by Lord Shelburne and originally was on Pall Mall but moved to this elegant Georgian building on St James St in 1782 and has been there ever since.The Club was named after the original head waiter, Edward Boodle. Its members have included Beau Brummell, the leader of fashion in Regency London,Ian Fleming, who wrote the James Bond books, and the actor David Niven. Notice how very discreet the building is, there are no big signs saying 'Boodles' outside! I took the photo because I liked the building, it was only when I got home and did a little investigating that I discovered what it is. Can you picture the elegant Regency Bucks sitting in the window perhaps playing a game of hazard or catching up on the latest 'on dit' of the ton?
This is The Athenaeum which was founded in 1824 for gentlemen of a literary or scientific turn of mind. This was built specifically to house the Club, the frieze at the top is a reproduction of the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon in Athens and the gilded statue above the portico is the Greek goddess Pallas Athene. Famous members have included Charles Dickens, the artist J.M.W.Turner, Charles Darwin and Lewis Carroll.
It's amazing what you find when you go off the main streets and explore the small side roads. Tucked down a little alley was the beautiful Duke's hotel with an old gas lamp outside. It still has the gas mantles in the lantern. I'd love to stay here, it's very expensive but I may treat myself one of these days. I shall be 65 next year...........
Another small street off St James Street, I think this terrace of houses is Georgian and the one with the blue plaque outside is where the composer Frederic Chopin was staying when he gave his last public performance. He died in Paris the following year at the tragically young age of 39.
This is St James' Palace which was built by Henry VIII, parts of the original palace still survive. It was built on the site of a leper hospital dedicated to St James the Less which is where the area of St James got its name. Charles I spent the final night of his life here before walking over to Whitehall to his execution in January 1649. It is still a working palace and the Court is formally based here. Although all foreign Ambassadors and High Commissioners go to Buckingham Palace to be received by the Queen all are actually accredited to the Court of St James.
Pickering Place is just about the smallest street in London, it's about 4 feet wide and has a building over the top of it.London’s last duel is said to have been fought in this tiny Georgian alleyway. It has another claim to fame also.......
........now, how many of you knew that Texas was once a republic and had its own Legation in London? The Republic of Texas covered modern-day Texas as well as parts of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming and existed from 1836 to 1846 when it was annexed by the United States! The Legation had an office in the premises of Berry Brothers & Rudd, Wine Merchants who set up in business at 3 St James St in 1698 and they are still here. Pickering Place leads off St James St and Berry Bros is on the righthand side of the alley.
Charles II was king when Lock and Co Hatters opened their shop here over 300 years ago.
Trufitt and Hill are barbers to Prince Philip, that is his Royal Warrant above the shop. The traditional barber's red and white striped pole is on the wall too.
I found most of these places just by wandering round a bit off the usual tourist track, London is full of hidden gems - all you need to find them is a good street map and some comfortable shoes. Next time we'll be in the heart of London - the original Square Mile of the City.