Bradshaw’s Hand Book to London, The West, District III, St James’s Square (no.24)

Mr Bradshaw briefly mentions St James’s Square as ‘..the most fashionable in London..’, but this only teases and I need to explore for a fuller picture of aristocratic life around the Palace of St James in earlier times. Today St James’s Square remains exclusive, with quiet, green gardens in the central square which close at 4.30pm.

St James's Square gardens
St James’s Square gardens

It was Henry Jermyn, 1st Earl of St Albans, who persuaded Charles II to grant a lease of St James’s Fields, the lands north east of the Palace of St James, for building.

Henry Jermyn, 1st Earl of St Albans
Henry Jermyn, 1st Earl of St Albans

By 1665 Henry Jermyn owned half of St James’s Fields and, understanding the need of aristocratic families to be close to the Palace (or wish to be close), let out parcels of land to speculative builders. The houses were possibly designed by Sir John Denham. The square was served by a church to the north (St James, Piccadilly), and a market to the east (remembered today in a street name). This is the earliest image of the Square I could find:

St James's Square, extract from Blome's map of 1689
St James’s Square, extract from Blome’s map of 1689

Development was rapid. By 1722 the uniformity of the houses is clear – they were of red brick – and a wooden fence marks the carriage way around the square. St James Piccadilly is visible to the north, and the market is off to the right. Henry Jermyn had been astute: ‘..In the 1720s seven dukes and seven earls were in residence..’

St James's Square, Sutton Nicholls' view, 1722
St James’s Square, Sutton Nicholls’ view, 1722

By 1753 the gardens had been developed further. ‘Watchmen were appointed and Charles Bridgeman designed a grand new garden (left) with a large basin of water at the centre, surrounded by eight stone obelisks bearing lamps.’ (Fascinating article on the history of London squares.) Charles Bridgeman was a leading garden designer of his time, and a new name to me! Sadly the basin was filled in in 1854. By the end of the 18th century nearly all the houses had been rebuilt or changed.

St James's Square, 1753
St James’s Square, 1753

No.4 St James’s Square was originally built by Nicholas Barbon (Nicholas Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebon, son of Praise-God Barebone (!), who we met earlier in the City). This house burned down in 1725 and the current building dates from 1728. The house has had distinguished owners: The Duke of Kent, Earle de Grey (1st President of RIBA), William Waldorf, 2nd Lord Astor, and a blue plaque commemorates his wife, Nancy Astor, the first woman MP. Since 1996 it has been The Naval and Military Club, the ‘In and Out’. This remains the only building on the square which retains its large garden, and mews.

The In and Out
The In and Out
DSCF7621
St James’s Square gardens
No.4 St James's Square, 1st floor landing
No.4 St James’s Square, 1st floor landing

Adjoining the club, no.5 was built for the 3rd Earl of Strafford and is apparently still owned by the family. It was rebuilt in 1748-49 by Matthew Brettingham and further changes have taken place. The building became notorious in 1984 when, as the Libyan Embassy, PC Yvonne Fletcher was shot during a siege of the building.

The former Libyan Embassy
No.5 St James’s Square, the former Libyan Embassy
St James Square, Yvonne Fletcher memorial
St James’s Square gardens
No.5 St James's Square, Courtyard and Stables, demolished
No.5 St James’s Square, Courtyard and Stables, demolished

No.5 St James Square, Matthew Brettingham

Nos.9, 10, and 11 was the original site of the Duke of St Albans’ mansion, demolished and rebuilt in the 1730s, with the current buildings designed by Henry Flitcroft. Today the buildings house The Royal Institute of International Affairs. 

Nos.9, 10, 11 St James's Square, The Royal Institute of International Affairs
No.10 St James’s Square, Chatham House, part of The Royal Institute of International Affairs

No.12 was built in 1836, probably by Thomas Cubitt, one of the leading architects of the 19th century. (Details of the interior here.) This was the home of Ada Byron, Lady LovelaceShe was Lord Byron’s daughter and a highly intelligent and imaginative mathematician who corresponded with Babbage about his calculating machine in a way which anticipated computer programming.

Ada_lovelace
St James’s Square gardens
Skylight in 12 St James Square
St James’s Square gardens
No.12 St James's Square
No.12 St James’s Square

No.13 was rebuilt in the 1730s, possibly by Matthew Brettingham, and like many of the houses around the Square its history and ownership is complex.

No.12 St James's Square
No.13 St James’s Square
St James's Square in 1812, with no.13 in the l-hand top corner
St James’s Square in 1812, with no.13 in the l-hand top corner (R Ackermann)

No.14 is an interesting establishment, The London Librarybuilt for the Library in 1845, and rebuilt later in the century.

No.15 St James's Square, The London Library
No.14 St James’s Square, The London Library

No.17, Halifax House, belonged to the 1st and 2nd Marquesses of Halifax between 1673 and 1719, and was used by Queen Caroline in 1820. Now it houses the East India Club which was ‘..founded in the middle of the 19th century, [and] its original members were ‘the servants of the East India Company and Commissioned Officers of Her Majesty’s Army and Navy’.’ (Building details here.)

East India Club, 1865
St James’s Square gardens
Nos.17 & 16 St James' Square, The East India Club
Nos.17 & 16 St James’ Square, The East India Club, today

No.18 St James’s Square

No.18 St James's Square
No.18 St James’s Square

No.20 is interesting because the first three bays on the right of the photograph were by Robert Adam and date from c.1771. I believe that the interior of the house has also been preserved.

No.20 St James's Square
No.20 St James’s Square
no.20-21 st james square, with three bays on right by Robert Adams, 1771-75
St James’s Square gardens
No.20 St James's Square, Second Drawing Room
No.20 St James’s Square, Second Drawing Room, 1918

No.31 was the site of Norfolk House, the London home of the Dukes of Norfolk, built in 1722 and demolished in 1938 to be replaced with offices, although some of the interior has been preserved in museums.

Site of Norfolk House in St james's Square, 1799
Site of Norfolk House in St james’s Square, 1799
Norfolk House, St James's Square in 1932
Norfolk House, St James’s Square in 1932
Norfolk House, the garden in 1932
Norfolk House, the garden in 1937
Norfolk House, St James's Square, The Ballroom in 1937
Norfolk House, St James’s Square, The Ballroom in 1937
Norfolk House, The Music Room re-erected in the V&A
Norfolk House, The Music Room re-erected in the V&A

No.33

The residential character of the square started changing in the 1850s, perhaps with the proliferation of the clubs? when the residents tended to migrate to Belgravia

5 comments

  1. […] John Berkeley, 1st Lord Berkeley of Stratton (1602-78), was a powerful and very wealthy man; an important General during the civil war, but also a statesman and ambassador and, together with Sir George Carteret ‘founded’ the state of New Jersey in America. (He was related to Lord Jermyn, who was active in the development of nearby St James’s Square.) […]

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