St James's London
There can be few more pleasant destinations to work up a sweat as the sun comes up, than a 1.5km circuit of St James Park, with the royal ducks in the pond for company. And as it is right slap bang in front of the Queens London pad, I can ruminate on my favourite episode of The Crown, while creaking into action. And if 1.5k is not going to do it for you, then just keep going!
This elegant, aristocratic central London park, owes its origins to the patron saint of Pilgrims and Wayfarers, St James, whose name was adopted by the lepers colony which existed here in the 13c. 800 years later, St James’s is the blue blooded heartland of Central London, and also the world’s most important market place for Burgundy wine. In January each year, the top burgundy growers climb on the eurostar, and head to St James's. It has been going on since the 18c, when French aristocratic emigres gathered in the hotels and cafes to discuss revolutionary developments back home. Today St James's remains true to its historic origins, and is still the place to find some of the most exclusive luxury boutique hotels, shops and watering holes in the capital.
WHERE TO STAY
We like windows that open, and while the nightingale from Berkeley Square may be a bit much to hope for, a few tweets is a nice way to start the day. We are therefore looking for a room away from the noise of traffic. And as attached as I am to black cab drivers (a recent acquaintance is Mick Mulvaney, who when he is not driving, writes articles about Italian art (in Italian) for a number of cultural magazines), weather permitting, we like to walk to the restaurants and shops, and in the evening to the Opera and Theatre Land. And when I am feeling energetic, or the day needs to be kick started, somewhere green and close at hand where I can take some rubber off the trainers.
St James Place and Park Place, are quiet backwaters off St James St, and here you find the luxury boutique hotels, The Stafford, Dukes, and The St James Club. They each have their own particularities, but all fit the bill. A bit bigger, but still in that ‘friendly feeling’ and quiet environment, is The Goring at 15 Beeston Place, on the other side St James Park. And if you know a member who can get you into the RAC Club on Pall Mall, they have the best indoor pool and shower heads in central London. The light filled south facing rooms, or Standard Rooms on the 5th looking into St James Square, represent unbeatable value accommodation
Traditionally the home and club land of the British upper classes, it was also the obvious place for a wine merchant to start his business, and after 300 years, there can still be found on St James St the two most recognised thoroughbreds of British wine, Berry Bros and Rudd, and Justerini and Brooks. Wine producers meet wine buyers meet wine drinkers - the perfect market!
Justerini entered the business world of St James in 1749, and has held a Royal Warrant since 1761. Originally Johnson and Justerini, Mr Johnson sadly met his fate when a horse overturned his sedan chair in Piccadilly in 1785. In 1831 Alfred Brooks bought the business, and changed the name to the present Justerini and Brooks. In 1866 an office in New York was established, and in 1858 when Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India, Mr Brooks spotted the commercial opportunity and the Indian continent became a new market for their wines. In 1876 Brooks transferred ownership to his son-in-law Mr Cole, who in turn sold to Anderson and Newbiggin in 1899. Clients have included various Royal dynasties, with Charles Dickens as one of many illustrious customers of yesteryear.
Berry Bros wins the historical antecedents by a margin. Established in its present St James St premises in 1698, by the widow Bourne. This formidable dame was the proprietor of a grocer’s business supplying the Royal Palace just opposite. The widow’s daughter Elizabeth, married William Pickering, and they continued the business, supplying the coffee houses in the area. To this day, the business trades under the ‘Sign of the Coffee Mill’, established by the Pickerings. In 1754 John Clarke became a partner, and introduced the famous weighing scales, which can still be seen in the ground floor of No 3. George Berry, was John Clarke’s grandson, and in 1803 he travelled from Exeter to London to move the focus to wine. In 1845 George’s sons Henry and George Junior took over, and the name Berry Bros was founded. The Rudd family joined the business in the early 20c, and the name transformation process was complete.