St James’s Street changed dramatically during the 19th century when grand club houses replaced residential housing and coffee and chocolate houses, although the purpose of the area remained roughly similar (Peter Ackroyd‘s ‘continuation of purpose’ again).
The Old Thatched House Tavern, the precursor of the clubs, (very good source of 18th century information here), was also a serious meeting place – look at these minutes from a meeting. There were bagnios, or Turkish Baths in the street, the earliest being Peyrault’s Bagnio which was established in 1699 on the site of the later Fenton’s Hotel which prospered at no.63 until 1886.
Chocolate was an expensive drink, and just as popular as coffee. The Cocoa Tree Chocolate House began in Pall Mall, then moved to no.64 St James’s, and first references dated from 1698. It eventually became a club and disappeared in 1932. (The development of the clubs is discussed in this interesting paper for those who would like more information.)
Mr Bradshaw tells us that ‘..St James’s Street, a direct thoroughfare, leading from the Palace into Piccadilly, has some buildings worthy of notice..’. The New Conservative Club House was built at no.74 St James’s Street in 1845 on the site of the Old Thatched House Tavern, to a design of Sydney Smirke and George Basevi. The Carlton Club in Pall Mall was the original Conservative Club, but when it became increasingly difficult to gain membership this club was set up. However, it was sold in 1981 and is now HSBC Private Bank. Apparently it has a particularly magnificent interior. (This image was on EBay, and OpenHouse.)
Arthur’s was at no.69, built in 1826-27 by Thomas Hopper. It was the first gentleman’s club to be wholly owned by the membership, and was created in 1811 for 300 members, and disbanded in 1940. The site was acquired by the Carlton Club in 1940 after its own premises in Pall Mall were bombed. This remains a political club which only admits members of the Conservative Party.
Brookes’ Club, another private gentlemen’s club, is at 60 St James’s, having originally been established in Pall Mall in 1764 by Whig aristocrats. Charles Fox was elected a member in 1765, at the age of 16 years! (This site has an interesting summary of the Whig Party history.) The club was purpose-built in St James’s Street in 1776-78 and named after its developer, William Brooks, who was also a wine merchant, and, like others, this was a club renowned for gambling. The architect was Henry Holland who was partial to Classical Greek architecture, and very active, particularly amongst the aristocracy.
The Military, Naval and County Service Club was established in 1848 at 50 St James’s Street in what had previously been Crockford’s Club House, another infamous gambling venue, but was dissolved in 1851. (Currently this site is under construction so no photographs.)
Francesco Bianco (Francis White) established Mrs White’s Chocolate House at 4 Chesterfield Street in 1693. It sold hot chocolate and ‘..other chocolate concoctions..’, and as chocolate was an expensive commodity the House was frequented by the more affluent. (And here for coffee houses.) Theatre tickets were sold at the House and it was infamous for gambling! In 1775 it moved to the current location, nos 37-38 St James’s Street as White’s Club House, an exclusive gentleman’s club with only 500 members. The building we see dates from reconstruction during 1787-88, probably by James Wyatt. (This gives interesting insights into club life!)
Boodles is still at 28 St James’s, and is a private members club founded in 1762 in Pall Mall, but moved to its present site in 1783, and was named after the Head Waiter! The club’s website is a ‘closed door’ but this site obliged with a photograph of the interior.
Oddly Mr Bradshaw doesn’t mention the shops in St James’s Street. Lock’s, the hatters, have been in the street since 1676, although the current shop probably dates from 1810-20, according to Pevsner. It is the oldest hat shop in the world, and one of the oldest family owned businesses still in existence. (This site has a fascinating and comprehensive history of the business, and the area.)
Lock & Co also opens into Crown Passage, a narrow alley running parallel to St James’s Street. (Do look at this fascinating site, the source of the photograph below; the site is going to lead me to further research!)
Berry Brothers and Rudd, at no.3 St James’s Street, wine merchants, started when the Widow Bourne saw a business opportunity. Henry Jermyn began to develop the area and she opened her coffee shop at no.3 in 1698 – the coffee scales are still on display.
And the door on the left of their building (dark brick) is Pickering Passage, leading to Pickering Place. (The young man on the right was enthusiastically explaining the history of the Place, and the area, to his friend on the right – fun!) (More information.) It is named after William Pickering, and it was his mother-in-law, the Widow Bourne, who started a coffee house on Berry Brothers’ site.
King Street leads to St James’s Square, ‘..the most fashionable in London, containing the St James’s Theatre, ..and Willis’s Rooms where the renowned assemblies take place, under the world-famous distinction of Almack’s..’. St James’s Theatre was built in 1835, rebuilt several times, and finally demolished in 1957.
‘..Almack’s Assembly Rooms was a social club in London from 1765 to 1871… when it was renamed Willis’s Rooms..’. The building was destroyed during WWII.
And at this point I was defeated by the heat!