To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at damselwithadulcimer.wordpress.com and my theatre reviews at www.playstosee.com
Published October 13th 2011
In 1698, following the fire at Whitehall Palace, the Royal Court relocated to St James's Palace, a building that dates back to the time of Henry VIII . Although we associate Buckingham Palace with the residence of the Royal Family, St James's Palace is today the official residence of the Prince of Wales.
St James's Street, and the surrounding streets, were developed to serve and service the aristocracy and upper classes. Although the coffee houses that refreshed the eighteenth-century chattering classes have now gone, some of the shops have survived from those times, and they have been joined by many more. One obvious thing that many of the businesses have in common is that they are geared towards a predominantly male clientele; a privileged and luxury section of society that dresses elegantly (from their boots to the tops of their heads), that smokes fine cigars, drinks vintage wines, is immaculately barbered, and has a fondness for shooting.
St James's Street itself is bounded by Piccadilly at one end, and by the palace that bears its name, at the other end. One of the closest businesses to the royal palace is Berry Brothers and Rudd, the oldest established wine and spirit merchants in Britain. They can be found at No 3 in a building that dates back to 1698. It was established by the Widow Bourne and was initially a grocer's shop, The Coffee Mill; the coffee mill sign still hangs above the shop to this day.
Following the deaths of the original owners, John Berry joined the company in 1803, and his name was painted above the door in 1810. Hugh Rudd joined the company in 1914. If you enter the shop today, you can still see the huge weighing beams that have registered the weights of distinguished visitors over the centuries. These include William Pitt and Lord Byron. Berry Brothers and Rudd continues to be patronised by royalty and is proud to display royal warrants granted by both the Queen and the Prince of Wales.
Continuing up the street, away from the palace, you will find the O'Shea Gallery at no 4. They sell paintings, prints and greetings cards designed by the cartoonist, Annie Tempest. Her works are centred on the characters of the fictional Lord and Lady Tottering (and their family), who reside in the ancestral home, Tottering Hall. Most of her works comprise very gentle pastiches on the gentrified lives lived by the country set, such as field sports and imbibing fine wines. It is almost a commentary on the people for whom the neighbourhood shops are designed.
James Lock and Co Ltd, the hatters, are located at No 6, and have been trading since 1676 when they were first set up to service the Court of St James. Although originally a men's hat shop, they now make headwear for women as well. One of their most recent converts is the Duchess of Cornwall (Kate Middleton) who wore one of their creations to the Trooping of the Colour ceremony in June. Lock's proudly display royal warrants provided by her father-in-law, the Prince of Wales, and his father, the Duke of Edinburgh. Don't be put off by such distinguished patrons; you and I can order our millinery via their website too!
A few doors along at no 9 you will find John Lobb Ltd, founded in 1849. He was granted a royal warrant courtesy of the Prince of Wales, later to become Edward VII. As a leader of society, where the prince went, others followed. If you could afford to have your shoes, and boots, made at the shop, you might also find yourself rubbing shoulders with Caruso, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, George Bernard Shaw, Aristotle Onassis, Lord Olivier or Harold Macmillan. Nowadays Lobb's is still patronised by royalty, and bears warrants supplied by the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh.
J J Fox can be found at 19 St James's Street, where they have been in business since 1787. The shop originated with Robert Lewis, whose business was acquired by James Fox in 1992. Fox's business originated in Dublin in 1881, and the first London shop was opened in 1947. As well as selling cigars to royalty and members of show business, Fox's can also boast the patronage of Sir Winston Churchill and Oscar Wilde. The business is also exempt from the ban on smoking, so you can try when you buy. You can also visit the Freddie Fox Museum on the premises. It is open from 9.30 to 5.30, Monday to Saturday.
At No 29 St James's Street, D R Harris can boast of being one of London's oldest pharmacies. This family run business has been trading for more than 200 years. Their toiletries include soaps, colognes, aromatherapy oils, and bath and skin care products. They also hold a royal warrant granted by the Prince of Wales.
Continuing up towards Piccadilly at no 36, you will find the London home of the Beretta Gallery, a company that can trace its origins back to 1526, although not in London since that date. They cannot actually sell the handguns bearing their name from this address, but you can find a wide selection of other merchandise: men's and women's sports clothes, luggage and travel goods, and books related to sport and the outdoors.
If you cross over the road to No 54 you will come across Swaine Adeney Brigg, who have been designing and selling leather and equestrian goods, hats and umbrellas for 250 years. Their first royal appointment was issued by Queen Victoria for umbrellas (in 1893) and they currently hold warrants from the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh. They also supplied the hat worn by Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Our next port of call is at Justerini and Brooks (No 61). The business was established in 1749 and has supplied each successive British monarch since King George III in 1760. The business was founded by Giacomo Justerini (an Italian from Bologna). In 1760 he sold the business and returned home, leaving it to be run by George Johnson and his heirs, who sold it (in 1830) to Alfred Brooks. One of the shop's customers in the nineteenth century was one Charles Dickens, whose invoices are still in the company's collection today. However, they don't only sell fine wines, but developed their own blended Scotch whisky, J&B Rare, which is now the world's second largest selling Scotch. They are also the proud owners of a royal warrant provided by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Walking down in the direction of St James's Palace you will come upon the Stern Piccasso Gallery at No 66, a relatively new boy on the block, having only been established in 1963. They sell 19th century, Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art, but I think they are worth a mention as the building is in direct, and complementary, contrast to the older businesses in St James's Street.
Truefitt and Hill has existed in its present premises at No 71 since 1994, but boasts a history dating back to 1805 when William Francis Truefitt opened a barber shop in Long Acre. Following a move to Old Bond Street, he and his brother, Peter, became 'Wigmaker, by Royal Appointment to His Majesty, King George III'. In 1935 Edwin Hill and Co merged with Truefitt to form Truefitt and Hill. Their appointments' book is proud to display such illustrious clients as members of the Royal Family, the Houses of Parliament, Diplomats, professional people and members of the acting fraternity. They still produce their own range of men's toiletries and sell shaving equipment.
If this stroll around St James's Street has made you hungry, thirsty, or both, why not cross back across the street and pop into Crown Passage, where you will find an assortment of pubs, restaurants and snack bars?