Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

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......., 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.


Bovey Belle said...

Gosh, I feel like I was there with you Rowan. What a lovely journey of exploration. Now, I'm not a townie, but I definitely would have enjoyed exploring and finding out the history. Fabulous post. Thank you.

George said...

What a lovely post, Rowan, and what fun! I feel that I have just had a wonderful little walk through London, if only through cyberspace. Your posting will provide great information for our next real visit to the city.

Thimbleanna said...

Oh {Sigh}. I'd SO love to live in the UK -- just to explore all the little nooks and crannies that are there just for the taking. Thanks so much for your tour -- AND beautiful pictures!

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

What a lovely tour - thank you for taking us along. The history is so interesting and the pictures wonderful.

Penny said...

Thank you so much for taking me to places I would love to see but will never be able to.
this was a wonderful post, especially as yes I read all the Regency novels once.

Sue said...

It's years since I was in London Rowan. You've made me feel like visiting again. Fascinating to see a shop that has been there since Charles II's day.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing. I lived in London from birth to the age of 27 and some of those places I haven't seen. I even worked in the St James' area for two years as well!

Just shows you having to work is not good for sightseeing!

Shirl x

Rosie said...

It is such a long time since I was in London just to stop and stare rather than passing through on the way elsewhere. I've really enjoyed looking at your photos and reading all about the history of the buildings you photographed. Thanks for the tour:)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much. This brings back memories. I have been in London twice and loved both times. We went off the main tourist roads too and had lunch in a lovely English pub in the backstreets of The City. Very nice !!!
I can't wait for the second part !!

Diane said...

What a fabulous post! Its too long since I went to London last, and you have pointed out so many great places for me to visit next time. Glad the wrist is on the mend. If I hadn't been going camping, i'd have come and picked you up to take you to Wortley Hall gardens on Saturday. they are having an open day at the end of August I think, so i'll let you know. xxxx

Mac n' Janet said...

Great post. I've been to London many times but hadn't seen any of the clubs, though of course I've read about them. What a beautiful day you had. Loved the short alley where the duel was fought.

Unknown said...

Hello Rowan,

What an exemplary potted history! You provide so much detail in snippets small enough to retain folks' interest and encourage further discovery. Lock & Co. is amazing and looks as if their front door is every bit of the 300+ years too!

I used to cross/walk down The Mall often when I worked in London eons ago and always admired Carlton House Terrace but rarely ventured 'off-piste'!

Hope your wrist stops paining very soon.

Sheila said...

I enjoyed every word and picture!
The Duke's hotel looks wonderful, and I immediately thought of the Duchess of Duke St. which I am sure you remember.
It has always been my belief that by going off the beaten track we find so many interesting places.
I'm glad you are a rebel
Thank you for this, I look forward to Part II.
I hope the wrist improves soon, it must have been quite uncomfortable to have the cast on in the heat.

WOL said...

I know about the Republic of Texas, since I was born there, in the city named after one of the Republic's founding fathers, Sam Houston. However, I did not know the Republic had an embassy in London!

Thanks for the virtual tour. I confess I have stolen more than one of your gorgeous pictures to put into my computer's wallpaper program. Your part of the world is quite different from the totally flat prairie of north Texas, where I live -- so beautifully green and historic. You say the Victoria monument has been there "only" 100 years, which makes me laugh out loud. I live in a city with a population of over 200,000, that was founded in 1890 -- which makes it 10 years older than the monument. 111 years ago, there was absolutely nothing here but bald prairie, jack rabbits, and buffalo "chips."

Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful country.

Anonymous said...

Lots of interesting history in this post Rowan. You certainly got around the right places in short order.

Granny Sue said...

Thanks for sharing, Rowan! I hope
your wrist is still healing.

(and I agree, the statue of De Gaulle is terrible!)

thesnailgarden said...

What a fascinating post. I think the best way to discover a city is to follow your nose. Sorry to hear that your wrist is still paining you, I hope that it soon improves. Best wishes, Pj x

Lynda (Granny K) said...

Very interesting and how lovely it all looks! It's great to just follow your nose I think.

Hope the wrist is soon as good as new.

rel said...

I loved the tour, it's been far too long!
Sorry to hear of your wrist FX but glad it wasn't any worse.

Wanda..... said...

You certainly covered a lot of ground and history, Rowan. I enjoyed the many photos, I've never been to England but my young grandson has been with his soccer team!

Ruthie Redden said...

Thank you for the trip around london, i love the beautiful cobbled courtyard! I do so hope that your wrist is feeling better soon.

Mary said...

Such a great post Rowan - so much of London I've missed despite many visits - it's just so full of history one really needs to live there for a while to cover everything! I did love the new statue of the Queen Mother - a truly amazing woman. Thank you for sharing this. My mother, a wonderful dressmaker, helped make several of her gowns, including an Ascot gown, before WWII when she worked for a Bond Street royal couturier! I will definitely visit this lovely memorial if I get back to London.

Sorry your wrist has been painful and hope by now you are getting some relief.

debbie bailey said...

London is an amazing city, isn't it? Thanks for showing me pieces of it I've never seen. Maybe next time? Love your blog!