November 3, 2016 / Property Spotlight

The Discreet Charm of St James’s

In an area of London where elite and exclusive are both givens, St James’s stands apart. A West End enclave, it's an understated jewel in the city's crown

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Bordered by Piccadilly to the north and Pall Mall to the south, St James’s boasts the highest density of listed buildings in Britain (150), has been a designated Conservation Area since 1968, and is home to the Royal Family. What's more, it hosts the highest concentration of Royal Warrant holders – a mark of recognition of those who supply goods or services to the Royal Household. A quintessential London village with enviable heritage, St James’s is also utterly modern.

St James’s Square (above) and St James’s Park (banner image), which is one of London’s eight Royal Parks, provide peaceful post-retail havens in this Conservation Area. Photographs: AlamyTudor monarch Henry VIII began the transition, transforming a former hospital (St James) and its environs into a palace and park. Charles II championed its development, handing the right to develop it, in 1661, to Henry Jermyn. Dubbed “the founder of the West End,” Jermyn enlisted architects to build St James’s Square and a grid of streets that by the 18th century had become a residential area and home to the wealthiest members of the British aristocracy. Dukes and generals moved in, politicians, too. Nancy Astor lived on the square at No. 4, while three British prime ministers – William Pitt the Elder, Edward Stanley, and William Gladstone – lived at No. 10.

The heart of the neighborhood is St James’s Street, which today is dotted with historic shops, among them cigar retailer James J Fox, fine wine merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd, hatter Lock & Co., and barber Truefitt & Hill, which has been “grooming gentlemen for greatness since 1805.”

Fine wine merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd traces its roots back to 1698 when the Widow Bourne established a shop at No. 3 St James’s Street. Today, the business remains at the same address and holds two Royal Warrants.From the start, St James’s was a center of fashion and innovation. The Regency dandies, led by George “Beau” Brummell, shopped by day, and made merry and gambled in the gentlemen’s clubs by night. These clubs – the highest number remain along Pall Mall – were the cornerstone for the commercial growth of the district as tailors and shirtmakers opened on Jermyn Street.

But there is more on offer than just gentlemen’s attire. The renowned Paxton & Whitfield cheese shop is here, as are Wiltons restaurant, the Jermyn Street Theatre (the leading off-West End studio theater), and Tramp nightclub, established in 1969, and described by Sir Michael Caine as “a half-lit world of glamour, beauty, noise, and promise.”

Cigar merchant James J Fox has been trading from 19 St James's Street since 1787, with notable figures such as Sir Winston Churchill, Oscar Wilde, British and foreign royalty, and leading lights of the stage, film, sport, and music among its customers.Just along from the Sir Christopher Wren-designed St James’s Church on Piccadilly is another Regency survivor, Fortnum & Mason, established in 1707, and today a magnet for shoppers from around the globe, not just for food and drink, but also homewares and unique gifts.

Across Princes Arcade, housed in a Sir Edward Lutyens masterpiece from the 1920s, is luxury book publisher Maison Assouline. “St James’s is a wonderful address, establishing Assouline’s international flagship as a go-to destination for unique and sophisticated creations,” says its vice president of global marketing, Aïda Alice Bayoud.

Celebrating 175 years in 2016, the London Library was established on Pall Mall in 1841 and moved to its present-day location in St James’s Square in 1845. The library’s collection encompasses more than one million books and periodicals, and around 8,000 new volumes are added annually. Photograph: Philip VileGarden spaces offering a perfect retreat can be found by way of Green Park and St James’s Park, while cultural leisure pursuits are equally accessible and plentiful. The Royal Academy of Arts presides over Piccadilly with the Institute of Contemporary Arts on Pall Mall, and the London Library on St James’s Square. The neighborhood’s theatrical history, meanwhile, is evident with Her Majesty’s Theatre and Theatre Royal, both in nearby Haymarket, and this year, Christie’s celebrates its 250th anniversary from its London headquarters on King Street.

St James’s is a gourmand’s dream with close to 30 restaurants, and plenty of places in which to slake a thirst, from Davy’s at St James to Pall Mall Fine Wine and Dukes with its legendary martinis.

Almost half of the neighborhood’s freehold is owned by The Crown Estate, which is halfway through a decade-long regeneration plan. Its focus is St James’s Market, an office, restaurant, and shopping complex constructed around a new public square. An echo of the past that is sure to ensure its future.   

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Stephanie Jones
is a regular contributor to Christie's International Real Estate magazine

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