New Zealand House

Above: Looking NW at New Zealand House from Cockspur Street.

To many Londoners, large office blocks go unnoticed. There are now so many of them that they just merge into the sky and form additional clutter on the visitor’s field of view. Office blocks on the skyline have become rather like lamp-posts and traffic-lights as seen along the pavement – albeit on a smaller scale. This is a shame because not all modern office blocks are ugly and disproportionally large and overbearing.

The area of St James’s is fortunate in not having many tall office blocks for the simple reason that most of the existing buildings – which are mainly Victorian and earlier – are already listed. This means that they are unlikely to be replaced with modern skyscrapers. Where the St James’s area borders onto the Strand and Piccadilly there is a chance that further tall buildings will intrude on the skyline.

One building that is there already is New Zealand House. It houses the High Commission of New Zealand and the diplomatic mission of New Zealand in the United Kingdom. It is a tall building but it does not intrude on the nearby streets in a way that is offensive. As office buildings go, this one can be considered to be almost ancient. The 20-storey building, 225 feet (68.5m) high, faced in black granite and Portland Stone was built 1957-63 as the Headquarters of the New Zealand Government. It was designed by Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners.

As with many architects, Robert Matthew had designed the tower block to be higher but, due to the authorities of the day, he was only permitted to build it if he reduced it in height to its present state. After difficulties in planning permission, the 18-storey building was constructed only after permission was granted by the British Cabinet. It is the only tall building in this part of London and still remains controversial.

It made history because it was the first tower block to be built in Central London after the Second World War. If you are wondering about the Millbank Tower, which is not far away, that was constructed between 1959 and 1963 and rises to 387 feet (118 m). New Zealand House was therefore closely followed by the Millbank Tower. To add one more tall building to the story, Richard Seifert’s Nat West Tower (now Tower 42) was not started until 1971, being officially opened in 1981. It has a height of 600 feet (183 m).

Above: Looking east from the top of New Zealand House in 1997. We look over the top of the National Gallery (left) and Canada House (centre right) to Trafalgar Square and the church of St Martin in the Fields.

New Zealand House was built on the derelict site of the Carlton Hotel, destroyed by a bomb during the Blitz in the Second World War. It is interesting to note that the new tower block was listed in Pevsner’s guide to Westminster. Pevsner admired the impact of New Zealand House from afar – with its imposing structure of reinforced concrete and plated glass – but he was critical of what he considered to be its unsatisfactory impact at street level.

In those days, it would seem, architects were not as ‘greedy’ for office space as they are today. The building included a number of outside spaces – with a spectacular terrace surrounding the top-floor penthouse which still provides remarkable views in every direction from the top of the building. These include Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Trafalgar Square. There were two internal gardens, the smaller of which was a courtyard looked onto by the L-shaped library, paved in blue brick and Portland stone and planted with native evergreen New Zealand shrubs including senecios, hebes and olearias. The larger courtyard cleverly abutted the adjoining Her Majesty’s Theatre, making a feature of its contrasting back wall. Where timber was used, most of it came from trees imported from New Zealand.

The building stands on the west corner of Haymarket at the junction with Pall Mall. According to the Twentieth Century Society, ‘New Zealand House is London’s most distinguished 1960s office block. Completed in 1963, it is an important landmark, set between the Nash terraces of Pall Mall and the Victorian theatres of Haymarket’.


Posted in /Stjj (Wes) | Leave a comment

Royal Opera Arcade

Above: Looking south in the Royal Opera Arcade.

It was built 1816-18, designed on the Parisian pattern by John Nash and George Repton. It was the earliest arcade to be built in London. The name derived from the Royal Opera Arcade being built on the west side of the Royal Opera House which is today known as Her Majesty’s Theatre.

The arcade runs north from Pall Mall to join with Charles II Street. The beautiful line of shops in the arcade escaped damage during the Second World War.

There are several other notable arcades in Central London – Burlington Arcade (north off Piccadilly), Piccadilly Arcade (between Piccadilly and Jermyn Street) and the Royal Arcade (between Albermarle Street and Old Bond Street). The list is by no means complete but these and the Royal Opera Arcade are the ‘must see’ ones in London. A few other cities in England also have splendid arcades.

Today, developers have sought to improve the ‘shopping experience’ and it would be fair to say that the earliest shopping precincts that every town centre ‘just has to have’ are derivatives of the early 19th century arcades. It would seem that people have enjoyed shopping for a very long time.

While we are on the subject of shopping, it should be born in mind that old London Bridge – the one with the houses and a chapel on it – was one of the earliest shopping precincts. Many of those houses were owned by wealthy craftsmen who lived in them with their families. At street level, each house had a shop which sold whatever was made by the apprentices who also lived in the house. Records exist for these shops for the 14th century and the list includes a cutler, a pouch-maker (pouches were used like today’s purse or handbag), a glover, a goldsmith and a bowyer. By the 15th century, there is a mention of a jeweller, a haberdasher, an armourer, a fletcher (who made arrows) and a tailor.

Clearly, the wealthy from early times liked shopping, in the same way as modern shoppers do today. There seems to have always been an attraction to visiting a group of shops all clustered together.


Posted in /Stjj (Wes) | Leave a comment

Red Lion Tavern, Crown Passage

Above: Looking north in Crown Passage with the RedLion Tavern on the left.

As you stroll around the St James’s area you are certainly struck by its elegance of the streets and also by the very large buildings that tower over you at every turn. It is also unusual to find that, as you walk down Pall Mall and then walk up St James’s Street (towards Piccadilly), you do not pass a single pub. Being in Central London, it is very unusual to find yourself any great distance from a pub. Well, if you happen to walk down Pall Mall, then look out for two alleyways – one of them is called Angel Court and the other is Crown Passage. At the northern end of Angel Court, where it joints King Street, is a pub called the Golden Lion. At No 23 Crown Passage is to be found a second pub called the Red Lion [Lillywhite 12241 p443].

There have been numerous pubs with the name of Red Lion. The origins of the name probably go back to the badge of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (1340–99), the fourth son of Edward III. He was born in Ghent and the corruption of that name was why he was known as ‘John of Gaunt’. Today there are about 30 Red Lion signs in Central London and there are around another 30 to be found in Outer London.

The Red Lion in Crown Passage was rebuilt in 1861 and it probably goes back to the late 18th century. The pub makes the rather dubious claim that it has the second oldest licence in the West End. The alleyway in which it is situated runs north-south between King Street and Pall Mall. Narrow pedestrian alleys which, in Georgian and Victorian times, were so common across Central London are today something of a rarity. In the City of London were once charming alleyways which are mainly no more than plain short-cuts between towering office blocks. Only a few have any features to recommend them. Westminster is in a similar plight. One of the two alleyways is worth exploring but they have little to attract the visitor. Of the two pedestrian thoroughfares running north off Pall Mall, Crown Passage comes as a real surprise to the pedestrian. Pall Mall is all about large offices, small art galleries and a few gentlemen’s clubs. St James’s Street has a few shops but they are related to wines, cigarettes and items of clothing.

Above: View looking south in Crown Passage.

As you wander down Crown Passage you find out where the locals go for their morning cup of coffee, their easily accessible cafe and other useful small shops. Along with these, of course, is the local pub. London is always filled with surprises no matter which part you find yourself in. This Victorian style alley, with its large old-world lamps, is well worth finding. When you do, enjoy it because there are very few of them left.


Posted in /Stjj (Wes) | Leave a comment

Marlborough House

Above: Looking north at the house from the grounds surrounding it.

The area of St James’s is packed with interesting views and interesting places to see. There are plenty of unusual shops, a large collection of streets and alleyways to explore and, in this part of London, a number of very grand houses are to be seen – some of them even open to the public.

A good example is Marlborough House. From the outside, it is mainly hidden behind high brick walls so it is not possible to see much of the exterior unless you happen to go on a visit. The elegant house was built 1709-11 by Christopher Wren for the first Duke of Marlborough. A third floor was added in 1750 by the third Duke of Marlborough. The fourth Duke added a riding school and completed the garden wall which encloses about 4 acres (1.6 Hectares) of land.

The house remained in the Marlborough family until 1817 when it was allotted to Princess Charlotte and her husband Prince Leopold, later King of the Belgians. In 1837 it was settled by Act of Parliament upon Adelaide (wife of William IV) as a dower house until her death in 1849. During that time it was referred to as ‘the Queen’s House, St James’s’.

George V, son of Edward VII and Alexandra of Denmark, was born on 3 June 1865 at Marlborough House. Many of the royalty have lived in the house, the last being Queen Mary (Mary of Teck) after her husband, George V, died in 1936.

The large house can hardly be seen by walking to the western end of Pall Mall – where the front entrance is situated. If you are walking along The Mall you can glimpse the house over the high perimeter wall, through the trees. The building is now used as the Commonwealth Centre. It is the headquarters of the Commonwealth of Nations and the seat of the Commonwealth Secretariat. When not in use for official functions the house is sometimes open to the public.


Posted in /Stjj (Wes) | Leave a comment

Brooks’s Club

Above: Brook’s Club. The elegant building stands in St James’s Street.

St James’s Street and Pall Mall developed as the streets with wealthy gentlemen’s clubs. It is hard to generalise but it is probably fair to say that the larger club buildings are in Pall Mall but St James’s Street probably has had more clubs. The subject of the West End clubs would easily fill a book, probably more. They all have outrageous stories to tell of the famous names who once frequented them. It is hard to pick one that typifies everything about the clubs but on that gives a good idea of how clubs developed is Brook’s.

The early days of the club were in an establishment founded in 1764 in Pall Mall. It was a Whig stronghold in rivalry to Whites, the citadel of Toryism. In September 1777 William Brooks, a wine merchant and money lender who acted as Master, or manager, for the original club commissioned Henry Holland to design and construct a purpose built clubhouse at a site in St James’s Street. It was built at Brooks’s expense and it was completed in October 1778. The existing members of the old club were invited to join the new club all the members soon moved into the new building. The club then took on Brooks’s name as its own although Brooks himself died in poverty in 1782.

By 1800 it was a notorious gaming house. The card-room on the first floor, where, in the wild days of Charles Fox and his contemporaries, whole estates were gambled away in the course of an all-night session, can still be seen.

In the basement are the remains of a cock-pit together with special back-to-front chairs on which the spectators watched the fighting around the ring.

In 1978 the St James’s Club amalgamated with Brooks, adding to its membership some European royalty, members of the British diplomatic corps and writers. Over the centuries many of the famous clubs have combined and, one by one, the old names of famous clubs have ceased to exist.

The club building, often just known as Brooks’s, stands at No 60 on the west side of St James’s Street, at the north corner of Park Place. It is one of the oldest gentlemen’s clubs in London.


Posted in /Stjj (Wes) | Leave a comment

Paxton and Whitfield

Above: The shop on the south side of Jermyn Street.

The number of specialist food shops in London could form a mini-series all of its own. While we are in the area of St James’s, mention must be made of London’s favourite and most exclusive food shop. Paxton and Whitfield from the outside is not particularly impressive and even when you venture inside you will be struck by its simplicity. The shop does not really have to fuss over impressive presentation because, selling cheese, it is a product that can make a statement for itself – all good cheese has to do is to be there, the aroma will do the selling without anyone saying anything.

Paxton & Whitfield are one of the oldest cheesemongers in England. Their main shop is located at 93 Jermyn Street, although they have several shops in other English towns. There are also ‘shops within large stores’ in several parts of London an, of course, selling online. Paxton & Whitfield were founded in 1797 but have roots going back to a market store in Aldwych in 1742. Originally located at 19 Jermyn Street, they moved to their current location at No 93 in 1894.

The shop’s origins began in 1742 when Stephen Cullum set up a cheese stall in Aldwych market. As London became increasingly affluent Sam Cullum (Stephen’s son) moved his cheese business closer to his wealthy customer base, near to Jermyn Street. Cullum took on two new partners – Harry Paxton and Charles Whitfield. It is their two surnames that appear above the shop today and not that of the man who started the business.

The initial success of the business continued up the middle of the 19th century when the wealthy clients fell out of love with traditional English farmhouse cheese and, instead, favoured continental cheese. Another factor that affected sales was that, in England, factory style production was becoming the established practice. Many locally produced cheeses totally disappeared as small farmers sent their milk to industrial creameries. This trend continued throughout the two World Wars and, in the 1940s, with eggs, butter and cheese in short supply, 93 Jermyn Street became an ordinary grocery shop.

After World War II and a series of different owners, business improved as the shop began to make contact with traditional cheesemakers in England as well as seeking local chess from countries in Europe. That new interest in cheese has continued and the business is booming. In the shop today there are about 250 varieties of cheese.

The shop holds two Royal Warrants, one from the Prince of Wales in 1997 and one from Queen Elizabeth II in 2001. The relationship with the Royal Warrant Holders Association goes back to the time of Queen Victoria in 1850. The shop has also held Warrants to King Edward VII, King George V, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

The practice of issuing Royal Warrants to traders selling their produce and many other products to the King or Queen at Court goes back many centuries. By the 15th century, Royal Tradesmen were formally appointed in writing by means of a Royal Warrant issued by the Lord Chamberlain, a practice which continues to this day. Shops which are favoured in this way are permitted to hang a Royal Coat of Arms outside their shop or, if they are a large factory, they will display the Arms somewhere within the building.


Posted in /Stjj (Wes) | Leave a comment

St James’s Street

Above: Looking north in St James’s Street.

Due to Edward the Confessor, a new palace was started on a new site at Westminster – generally known as the Palace of Westminster – along with a new abbey – now called Westminster Abbey. Edward was followed by Harold who was killed at the Battle of Hastings, in 1066. That led to England being ruled by the Norman kings, of which William I was the first of a long line. William decided to live in the newly built palace at Westminster, as did all the kings down to the time of Henry VIII. While he was living there, the building caught fire in 1512 and Henry set his sights on living at what became known as Whitehall Palace.

The royalty continued there until it too was destroyed by a disastrous fire in January 1698. Due to that event, the monarchy decided not to rebuild at Whitehall but to move to what was an almost unused palace at St James’s. At each of the three sites, the monarch of the day would hold Court. Those who were determined to be in the ‘power game’ had to make sure that they were at the side of the king or queen at the right time. It was therefore essential that the dukes and others seeking power lived near the site of the palace. When the king or queen moved to a new building, those wanting to ‘keep at the head of the pack’ would also find somewhere nearby to live.

Our interest this year is the area of St James’s. St James’s Palace became the home of the monarch in the years after the fire at Whitehall. The area, therefore, saw a great increase in the population from about 1700 onwards. Until that time, most of the land that is now covered by The Mall, St James’s Street and Jermyn Street was still open fields. It was at that time that streets were laid out and large houses built as those wanting to be near the Court moved into the area. Most of them had a ‘country seat’ somewhere in the countryside but they also needed a town-house near St James’s Palace.

St James’s Street became a sort of ‘high street’ for this newly developed part of London. Interestingly, the evidence is still to be found in the street and other side streets even now. There is a famous hand-made shoe shop and a hatter’s shop still in the street. Running off St James’s Street is Jermyn Street which is well-known for men’s outfitters and hand-made suits to this day. For the ladies, there were the clothes shops, seamstresses, jewellers and perfume shops in the arcades – of which Piccadilly Arcade (between Piccadilly and Jermyn Street) is a good example.

Near the southern end of St James’s Street is Berry Bros & Rudd, wine merchants who were established in 1698. They are Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant. They hold two Royal Warrants for supplying wine and spirits to the Queen and the Prince of Wales.

Jermyn Street still has Paxton and Whitfield which is world famous for selling cheeses. It was established in 1797 and has a Royal Warrant to supply cheese to the Queen. A few doors away, the shop called Floris is to be found which has been a British family of perfumers since 1730.

Running parallel with Jermyn Street is the street called Piccadilly. On the south side is the large store called Fortnum and Mason, which includes a high-end food department that was founded to supply grocery and other requirements of the palace, was founded in 1707.

The Jackson family were first linked with Piccadilly in the 1680s. They were then known as purveyors of luxury goods and for their expertise as cheesemongers, cloth-cutters, herbalists, hosiers (or stocking sellers), booksellers, wax and tallow-chandlers and oil men. In the 1970s Jackson’s of Piccadilly was still a high-class grocer’s shop on the south side of Piccadilly, also specialising in tea. The shop closed down some time in the 1970s or 1980s but the brand continues – distributed by R Twyning and Company Ltd, in the Strand.

Hatchards, on the south side of Piccadilly, used to call itself the ‘Queen’s Bookshop’. It has now been taken over by Waterstones. Hatchards is London’s oldest bookshop, having been established in 1797 by John Hatchard, a young bookseller who had been plying his trade in the ‘literary coffee houses’ of London since his adolescence.

Over the years, famous restaurants have been established in St James’s Street and a few will be mentioned.

Overton’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar was established in 1872 at No 5 St James’s Street. The restaurant stood at No 5, on the east side of St James’s Street, just north of Pickering Place. It had gone by 1997 and is now under new management with the name ‘L’Oranger’.

The original Wheeler’s was established in 1856 and is credited with being the ‘world’s oldest and finest fish brand. The old fish and oyster restaurant premises are now run Marco Pierre White who has continued the original name.

Prunier, the caviar house and fish restaurant, was once situated in St James’s Street. It was, in its day one, of the best fish restaurants in London. It stood at No 72 on the west side of St James’s Street, towards the southern end. They are now at 161 Piccadilly.

The Ritz Hotel stands near the north end of St James’s Street, just around the corner in Piccadilly. It was conceived by the famous hotelier César Ritz and opened in 1906. The owner decided to build the hotel in this part of London because of it being an up-market area.

Until about 1980 Rothman’s cigarettes had a shop on the corner of St James’s Street and Pall Mall. They had their own red coach which drew up outside the shop daily to collect packs of cigarettes and cigars for deliveries nearby. It operated until the shop closed.

By the 1700s those who could afford one were acquiring a carriage. At the Piccadilly end of St James’s Street, there was a coach-builder. The company was founded as Adams and Hooper in 1805 and held a Royal Warrant from 1830, building elegant horse-drawn carriages, supplying them to King William IV, Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. They moved into motor bodies at the turn of the 20th century. The first royal car, a Hooper body on a Daimler chassis, was delivered to Sandringham on 28 March 1900.

What else did you once find standing on a high street? In the 20th century it was a cinema, in the 19th century it was a music-hall. In the 18th century, there were the gentleman’s clubs, many of which still survive to this day in St James’s Street and in Pall Mall. Some clubs had gambling dens – usually for card games. Huge sums of money were gambled – and often lost!

Not to be found in St James’s Street but across the park in Birdcage Walk, was a Cockpit. Cockpit Steps are a reminder of the unsavoury sport.

Putting all the facts together, we can still ‘paint’ a flamboyant picture of an area which started with Henry VIII and his idea to build a new palace on what were just rough, marshy open fields.


Posted in /Stjj (Wes) | Leave a comment