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.
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:
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..’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Lovelace. She 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.
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.14 is an interesting establishment, The London Library, built for the Library in 1845, and rebuilt later in the century.
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.)
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.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.
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