The area around St. James’s Park was once a medieval leper hospital. Henry VIII then bought it for a significant sum in 1531 and knocked it to the ground. The burial ground (where Green Park stands today) was drained and stocked with deer, and the resulting Palace has been much used ever since.
These days St. James’s Palace plays host to lesser royals, and recently became a base for Prince Charles. But in the past it has been home to several famous sovereigns: Elizabeth I, Charles I and George I, II and III.
Mary Tudor actually died here, and the Virgin Queen was said to have slept soundly whilst the Armada sailed up the Channel.
St. James’s glory days can be dated to the early 18th-century when Whitehall Palace burnt down to the ground. It then took over as the chief residence of the entire Royal Family. But another fire in 1809 demolished everything but the main gate, and George III upped sticks to Buckingham Palace instead.
Pall Mall is home to London’s gentlemen’s clubs. The oldest clubs are White’s, Brooke’s and Boodle’s. But the most famous club of all is probably the Athenaeum at 107, home to several famous authors including Thackeray, Dickens and Anthony Trollope. It was also home to Kipling, Conrad and Charles Darwin.
The admittance procedure to the Athenaeum is almost as famous as the club itself. It operates a secret ballot, followed by the dreaded black ball vote. Members can veto an application by ‘black-balling’ the candidate. Bertrand Russell, for example – Britain’s greatest-ever philosopher – had to wait forty years after getting a no.
Another fine venue is the Reform Club at 104–5, opened by the Liberals in 1841. It was here that the fictional Phileas Fogg made a bet that he could travel around the world in 80 days.
Jermyn Street is famous for its tailors. It was built during the 17th-century on land owned by Henry Jermyn, who filled it with Victorian hotels. These were all demolished by the 1840s, and in came the shops – hatters, shoe fitters and shirt makers – intent on selling their suits to the gentleman who frequented the clubs in Pall Mall.
St. James’s Square is just off Pall Mall – a stone’s thrown from the park. Due to its closeness to both St. James’s Palace and Parliament, it had the most desirable address in London for much of the late 18th-century.
No.9 has been the home of several of our finest Prime Ministers: William Gladstone (1890), William Pitt the Elder (1751–61), and the Earl of Derby (1837–54). And Dwight Eisenhower made No.31 his military headquarters during World War Two.
St. James’s church dates from 1684 and was the last London church designed by Christopher Wren. It was badly damaged during the Blitz, and was later renovated by Sir Albert Richardson.
The church’s courtyard is usually filled with small stalls selling arts, crafts and antiques. There are also free orchestral concerts at lunchtime.