The St. James's walk wends among a cluster of squares, lanes, narrow streets and cul-de-sacs lying south of Piccadilly and bordered by the Haymarket to the east, the Mall to the south, and Green Park to the west. It is an area long associated with royalty and especially noted for a plethora of gentlemen's clubs and bachelor apartments. (Beau Brummel, a St. James's dandy, took men out of knee breeches and put them into pants here at the turn of the seventeenth century.) In the nineteenth century a respectable lady wouldn't dare walk along its streets alone for fear any man she met might get the idea that she was trying to meet him.
Today St. James's remains a masculine stronghold, with shops representing the most elite of shirtmakers, hatters, boot makers, antique art dealers, wine merchants and investment companies.
Our walk begins on the south side of busy Piccadilly Circus. When you are pushing through the throngs that crowd Piccadilly at any hour, it takes some imagination to mentally transform the traffic noise of today's motor vehicles into the nineteenth-century clatter of wooden carriage wheels. It takes less, however, to mentally associate today's spiky-haired, outrageously garbed rock stars with the flamboyant attire of an Oscar Wilde, strutting along Piccadilly carrying lavender gloves in one hand and a lily in the other. Sounds may have changed, but the throngs were ever so.
Speaking at the Travellers Club in Oscar Wilde's time, the celebrated explorer Joseph Thompson was relating his 1878 adventure in Africa when the expedition leader died, leaving the twenty-one-year-old Thompson to take over.
"Of all your adventures," asked J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, "what was the most dangerous part?"
"Crossing Piccadilly Circus when I returned," vowed Thompson.
The name Piccadilly came into use during the time of Charles II, when only a few houses clung to this crossroad with the Haymarket. The most important was a small domain known as Piccadilly Hall and owned by one Robert Baker, who had become rich selling the stiff lace collars called pickadills you see worn in Queen Elizabeth I portraits.
Fourteen years after Wilde made his debut in London in 1879, the bronze Eros, god of love, was mounted on its pedestal on the Regent Street side of Piccadilly Circus. The bow and arrow of the statue, commemorating the Victorian philanthropist Lord Shaftesbury, were designed as a play on the Shaftesbury name. Society of the time was no less amused at the choice of the god of love as a tribute to a man considered so tiresome that it hardly shocked even prudish Victorians when his widow fell into the arms of an Italian envoy almost before the strains of the funeral dirge had faded away.
Leading from Piccadilly at an oblique angle to the southeast is the Haymarket, a street which attracts tasteful shoppers for rainwear to London's famous Burberrys and theatre-goers to its two historic theatres.
1. The Haymarket Theatre
This theatre played an important role in the progress of two colourful lives of the 1890s. It was here that Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband opened to rousing applause from the Prince of Wales in the royal box. George Bernard Shaw, who had just become drama critic for Frank Harris's Saturday Review, wrote with equal enthusiasm: "In a certain sense, Mr. Wilde is to me our only thorough playwright. He plays with everything; with wit and philosophy, with drama, with actors and audience, with the whole theatre. Such a feat scandalizes the Englishman, who cannot anymore play with wit and philosophy than he can with a football or cricket bat."
The stage of the Haymarket Theatre was also the scene of Lillie Langtry's debut as a professional actress, following the traumatic turn her life had taken with the secret birth of her daughter, the end of her romance with the Prince of Wales, and the financial disaster experienced by her drunken husband. (More about this on the Mayfair walk.) Before disappearing from London society during her pregnancy, she had accepted a simple acting role to aid a charity fund-raising event sponsored by Henrietta Labouchere, a former actress married to a prominent member of Parliament.
When the energetic, stagestruck Mrs. Labouchere learned from Oscar Wilde of Lillie's return to London and her need to support herself, she, like Wilde, was so convinced of Lillie's potential as an actress that she volunteered to tutor the reluctant beauty for an amateur role at the matinee of another fund-raising production, this time performed by professionals. The play was She Stoops to Conquer, with Lillie in the role of Kate Hardcastle.
"After the matinee you'll qualify as a professional," Henrietta promised, "and the managers will pay you eighty pounds a week."
Considering Langtry's former social prestige and established fame as a beauty, Henrietta had no problem in selling the theatre management on hiring her for the entire run of the play. The Prince of Wales sent flowers and attended her first performance, as did a proud Wilde, who promised to write a play especially for her. Lillie Langtry was an unqualified success.
2. Her Majesty's Theatre
On the west side of the Haymarket stands what many producers consider London's most remarkable theatre. In order to accommodate productions featuring both the devil in hell and angels in heaven, Herbert Beerbohm Tree designed the theatre in 1895 with understage mechanisms, in addition to the usual wings and overhead rigging which permitted characters like Peter Pan to fly through the air. It is this understage apparatus that contributed so grandly to the staging of the modern Webber musical, The Phantom of the Opera.
Actor and manager Sir Beerbohm Tree made a number of lasting contributions to the theatre. It was he who founded the great Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, which was begun in his theatre. He taught that "illusion is the first and last word of the stage. All that aids illusion is good, all that destroys illusion is bad," and warned that "scenes are embellishments which should not overwhelm the dramatic interest. If the balance is upset, illusion is gone. Good theatre," he observed, "achieves a balance between idealism and illusion." Tree would have been proud of Webber's Phantom.
Like Henry Irving with his Lyceum, Tree's theatre was his "home." The corroded copper dome that crowns its roof enclosed a wonderful replica of an ancient baronial banquet hall with great iron-clamped doors and panelled walls, in which he received guests for late suppers.
On Tree's acting ability, his good friend Wilde commented, "He doesn't act on the stage; he behaves," and found him more suited to character parts than to straight roles, but as a producer and director, Tree excelled. It was he who, during a rehearsal, decided that his actresses were projecting too worldly an attitude for their roles. "Now, ladies," he called up to the stage, "a little more virginity, if you please."
3. Royal Opera Arcade
Across Charles II Street, around the corner from Her Majesty's Theatre, is New Zealand House, a modern high rise which incorporates the old Royal Opera Arcade on its ground floor, unchanged with its charming row of bow-fronted shops designed by Nash in 1817. Walk the short block west to Lower Regent Street, and then turn right to reach Jermyn Street.
4. Jermyn Street
This quietly charming thoroughfare is reminiscent of a more elegant era. Mixed in among Jermyn's fashionable shops to the west is Floris at number 89, a perfumer by appointment to Her Majesty; Harvie and Hudson at number 97, renowned shirtmakers with one of London's finest examples of a mid-Victorian shopfront; and Paxton and Whitfield at number 93, where countless varieties of cheese are sold over a wooden counter. It was at a nearby florist's that Wilde pulled one of his "absurdities" by asking the attendant to remove several bunches of primroses from the window.
"With pleasure, sir. How many would you like to have?"
"Oh, I don't want any," Wilde replied. "I only asked to have them removed from the window because I thought that they looked tired." Determined to be talked about, Wilde knew full well how such nonsense would make people chatter. He soon got his reward. George Du Maurier began to caricature him in Punch.
5. St. James's Church
Still favoured for society weddings, the church was bombed badly during World War II and only retains portions of its earlier grandeur, namely the organ case, the altarpiece of gilded wood with garlands of flowers, and the marble font in the form of the tree of life, all carved by Grinling Gibbons in the seventeenth century.
6. Site of Prince's Hall
Adjacent to the churchyard is Prince's Arcade, extending between Jermyn Street and Piccadilly. In the nineteenth century a building on the Piccadilly end of the arcade housed a lecture hall where the American Bret Harte always attracted an enthusiastic audience. He had come to London in 1885 to replenish his dwindling funds by selling revamped stories of the American West to British magazines. A great favourite with the English was "Plain Language from Truthful James," his tale in verse about a plan to cheat the Chinese Ah Sin in a card game, but by "ways that are dark," Truthful James is always outwitted by the "heathen Chinee." Whistler, whose favourite Harte story was "The Luck of Roaring Camp," entertained him frequently, read some of Harte's stories at his famous "breakfasts," and did much to promote his countryman.
Another popular lecturer in Prince's Hall was Oscar Wilde, following his return to London from his American tour. He titled his lecture "My Personal Impressions of America." Dressed in a Balzacian costume with tight pantaloons, a huge stock and his hair curled in a Neronian coiffeur, he startled his audiences at first sight, but his melodious voice and droll humour soon had them captivated. Among his impressions of America, he cited Salt Lake City in Utah as the highlight of his tour, saying that he had spoken in the opera house, which he described as a huge building about the size of Covent Garden which "holds with ease fourteen families." He thought polygamy prosaic: "How much more poetic it is to marry one and love many!"
In New Orleans he found the Blacks picturesque and was surprised that painters had paid so little attention to them as a subject for art. He also delighted in telling about going down into a mine in Leadville, Colorado, where he had imbibed whisky with the miners and opened a new vein with a silver drill, naming the lode "The Oscar."
His lecture was so successful that he took it on tour throughout the British Isles.
7. The Cavendish Hotel
Continue along Jermyn to Duke Street, another elegant reminder of earlier times. Here, on the corner of Jermyn and Duke Street, once stood the Cavendish Hotel, run by the "Duchess of Duke Street"-a title not due to birthright, but because the eccentric Rosa Lewis earned her reputation as an extraordinary Edwardian lady. A modern hotel of the same name lies further along on Jermyn Street.
Rosa didn't clear enough profit to open her own distinguished premise until 1900, about the same time as Wilde's tragic end in Paris, but she achieved her reputation and the means to acquire her hotel by catering to many of the aristocrats who had played host to Wilde. Her Cavendish Hotel was like no other. Closed to the public, it admitted only gentlemen personally acceptable to Rosa, and Rosa had discriminating taste. She hankered after titles.
The hotel was divided into suites, each with its own mahogany-encased bathtub and private dining room. The Prince of Wales kept a permanent suite, in which he could dine privately with whomever he wished. Moreover it opened onto a private courtyard through four doors by which hasty exits could be made in an emergency. When he entertained Lillie Langtry there in the 1900s, he had ascended to the throne and she had become an internationally recognized actress. Their desire for privacy at that stage in their relationship was oriented more toward reminiscing than pillow talk.
Rosa's expert cooking and caustic cockney wit kept the place humming for forty years. With her innate aversion to scandal, she never failed to advise her confidantes, of whom she had many, to burn all love letters. "No letters, no lawyers" was her sage advice.
Two gentlemen who maintained permanent suites were Sir William Eden, father of Anthony Eden, and Lord Ribbesdale, lord-in-waiting to Queen Victoria in 1880. Once when Lord Ribbesdale brought Rosa home from the theatre, friends called out to ask what the play had been like. "T'was the sort of play you'd take your cook to," she cracked back. Both permanent residents caused much comment and often appeared in public with the richly cloaked Rosa, but there is no concrete evidence that either of them was her lover. True to form, Rosa burned her own letters.
Continue west along Jermyn Street, crossing St. James's Street, to where it dead-ends at Arlington Street.
8. Residence of Lord Houghton
21 Arlington Street
It was at the Arlington home of Lord Houghton, an elderly widower and charming host, that Lillie Langtry inspired the oddest tribute of her career from the American poet Joaquin Miller, a man as purposefully unique and implausible as Oscar Wilde. Known as the "Byron of Oregon," the great interpreter of America burst upon London society dressed in fringed buckskin shirt and trousers like a road-company Buffalo Bill. He was a sensation.
"You are poetry!" he exclaimed upon meeting Lillie, awed at her startling beauty.
"Then write me a poem," she challenged jokingly, and moved along the reception line. Later she looked for him, but he seemed to have disappeared.
Then suddenly, toward the end of the evening, he reappeared as dramatically as an explosion. "I've done it!" he announced, holding up a torn envelope. Then he cleared his throat and tugged at his beard in the expectant hush.
"To the Jersey Lily," he read, bowing to her.
If all God's world a garden were,
And women were but flowers,
If men were bees that busied there Through endless summer hours,
O! I would hum God's garden through For honey till I came to you.
He then presented her with the torn envelope, the only poem he ever wrote to a living woman.
Another American was present at that same party-the guest of honour, General Ulysses Grant. Lord Houghton introduced him as "the victorious leader of the Northern armies in the war against the Southern rebels some years ago," adding as he brought him to Lillie that the two of them fittingly represented Venus and Mars.
General Grant had been chosen by the host to escort Lillie to dinner. She exhausted herself trying to engage him in conversation, but he was curt and ill at ease. Finally in desperation she asked, "And what did you do after the war, General?"
"Served two terms as president of the United States, madam."
9. St. James's Street
Return to St. James's Street and turn right. At number 37, the elegant railings and entrance lamps mark White's, a private club founded in 1693 as a chocolate house. The bow window was added in 1811. White's is London's oldest club and it’s most famous, having provided a model for every other gentlemen's club in the city. No longer a rendezvous for chocolate drinkers who gamble, its clientele today leans toward hard-drinking Conservatives, in spite of the fact that the Prince of Wales once abandoned it for being "too stuffy" and started his own Marlborough Club.
Just down the street is Boodles at number 28. It was founded as a coffeehouse in 1762 and acquired its bay window in 1824. It was here that the gambling addiction of Regency style setter Beau Brummel drove him into debt and forced him to flee to Paris to escape his creditors.
Number 69 on the west side of the street, now empty, was once the conservative Carlton Club, originally known as Arthur's. It was founded in 1832 by Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, who once professed that railways were a dangerous evil because "they encouraged the working classes to move about." Lord Randolph Churchill often lunched here with his Tory friends while his American wife Jennie lunched at home with the Prince of Wales, which gave birth to rumours of an affair. Since they were both discreet, no writings ever turned up to prove the point, but they remained close lifelong friends.
The club was damaged during World War II and again in 1990, when it survived a terrorist bombing by the Irish Republican Army, in which injuries were suffered by several members. It has now been incorporated into rooms once part of White's Chocolate and Gaming House.
10. Pied-à-teere of Ian Malcolm
3 Pickering Place
On the left, through a panelled archway to the north of Berry Brothers and Rude Wine Merchants, is Pickering Place, built in 1731. To get a closer look, wait until you reach the bottom of St. James's Street, cross, and then walk back through the archway into the court. If the gate is closed, you will only know you are at Pickering Place by the number three. The quaint little dark-brick house standing behind a stone sculpture of Wellington in the court was presented by the Iron Duke (Wellington) to an ancestral Malcolm. In the mid-1900s it was inherited by Ian Malcolm, the unacknowledged son-in-law of Lillie Langtry-unacknowledged because when he married Lillie's daughter, Jeanne Marie, neither he, his noble family, nor her daughter would have anything more to do with Lillie, who had kept the true identity of Jeanne Marie's father secret until her wedding day. (More about this on the Mayfair walk.)
11. Residence of Oscar Wilde
10 St. James's Place
Pass Blue Ball Yard, then turn right onto St. James's Place. At the height of Wilde's success, he took a flat on this tiny street at number 10, opposite the charming Duke Hotel, in order to elude the curious eyes of his wife while he was engaged in his nefarious homosexual affairs. He did not elude the eyes of a curious porter, however, who took note of Wilde's visitors and later appeared as a witness against him at the infamous trial which sent Wilde to prison for two years.
12. Spencer House
St. James's Place
At the end of St. James's Place rises the Palladian grandeur of Spencer House, the London residence built by the Spencer ancestors of Lady Diana Spencer, who became the Princess of Wales in 1981.
13. St. James's Palace, Lancaster House and Clarence House
St. James's Street
At the end of St. James's Street, where it meets Pall Mall, lies the large compound enclosing St. James's Palace, Lancaster House and Clarence House. In spite of destruction and alterations, the palace still offers a fine example of brick Tudor architecture in its gatehouse and clock tower. Charles II, James II, Mary II, Anne and George IV were all born here.
After the old palace at Whitehall burned in 1699, St. James's Palace became the official residence of the monarch, until it gave place to Buckingham Palace. Foreign ambassadors are still posted to the "Court of St. James," however.
On January 22, 1901, eleven months before his sixtieth birthday, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, finally became king. The traditional Accession Council was held at St. James's Palace, where the oath was administered by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In a spontaneous address the new king announced that he would drop his father's name-for there could only be one Albert-and be called Edward VII. Among intimates, of course, he was still known as Bertie.
The stucco-fronted mansion on the west side of the group of buildings was built by John Nash for the Duke of Clarence before he became King William IV. Then, before her accession, it was the London residence of Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh. Now it is the home of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.
Lancaster House, on the opposite side from Clarence House, is now used for government receptions and conferences, but it was begun in 1825 for the Duke of York, who died before the house was completed, leaving enormous debts. In 1840 it was acquired by one of his creditors, the Marquess of Stafford (later Duke of Sutherland), who renamed it Stafford House. The magnificence of its state apartments led Queen Victoria to say to the Duchess of Sutherland, "I have come from my house to your palace!"
Millicent, the Duchess of Sutherland, was a half sister to Daisy Warwick, the Prince of Wales's officially recognized mistress who followed Lillie Langtry. Although Millie was not plagued with the untameable passions of her sister, she, too, knew romance. The man to whom she, shimmering in diamonds, discreetly offered her hand while greeting guests at the top of the staircase in Stafford House was handsome, secretive Lord Reginald Esher. This gentleman's genius lay in writing confidential memoranda for Queen Victoria, so he, like Millie, was a master of discretion. It is doubtful that his wife was aware of the throbbing of his heart as he exchanged a meaningful meet-me-in-the-garden look with the stunning lady in the tiara at the top of the stairs.
History only remembers Lady Esher for her futile advice on the subject of husband keeping. "You must make the teakettle exciting," she said, meaning that a good woman must make ordinary life exciting if she hoped to keep her husband. Little did she suspect for whom his noble pot boiled. Such was the Victorian tradition-anything was acceptable except scandal.
Turn onto Pall Mall and follow it eastward from the St. James's Palace compound.
This famous street, named for the seventeenth-century French version of croquet (pallemaille) first played along its tree-lined avenue, later became the site of a row of imposing gentlemen's clubs of truly palatial dimensions. Buildings on the opposite side of the street provided small establishments for bachelors or living quarters for politicians while they were meeting in the city. Exclusive shops occupied some of the ground floors.
14. Red Lion Pub
When a few yards east of St. James's Street, turn into Crown Passage, a narrow seventeenth-century street with tiny shops. If you are ready for lunch, the popular Red Lion Pub here is the second oldest pub on London's west side. An excellent, typical pub lunch, featuring steak and kidney pie, salads, and "ploughmans" (the hearty bread, cheese, pickled onion and chutney combinations which are to England what the hamburger is to America), is served in the upstairs lounge.
Crown Passage leads to King Street's antique shops and art galleries. Christie's International Auction House at number 8, founded in 1766, was a favourite haunt of Wilde's, especially when he was in the nearby St. James's Theatre every day in February of 1892 for rehearsals of Lady Windermere's Fan (which he wrote with Lillie Langtry in mind).
15. Site of the St. James's Theatre
Golden Lion Pub
Although his novel The Portrait of Dorian Gray had been hugely successful, Lady Windermere's Fan was Wilde's first major success as a playwright. When he took his curtain call after its opening in the St. James's Theatre, he complimented the enthusiastic audience upon its good taste and intelligence in appreciating his play! A few years later, when The Importance of Being Earnest opened at the same theatre and the audience roared its applause and demanded an appearance by the playwright, Wilde amused them by announcing from his box, "Mr. Wilde is not here tonight." Later in the greenroom the Prince of Wales complimented the play by advising him not to cut a word of it.
The St. James's Theatre was torn down in 1957 in spite of a strong protest movement led by Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. The Golden Lion Pub, with its elaborate sign, still stands adjacent to the old theatre site, and retains the aura of Victorian glamour that once permeated it when stars, writers, actors and managers stopped in for a relaxing drink.
Now you might like to wend your way eastward along King Street for a block or two, weaving in and out of the little side streets filled with antique shops and fine art galleries that run off to the right and left. Then return back through Crown Passage to Pall Mall and continue walking east.
16. Residence of Benjamin Disraeli
15 Pall Mall
At age twenty-seven, with a mite of literary recognition under his belt, Disraeli left his family home in Bloomsbury to take a flat in Pall Mall, which he considered the "right" part of town in which to pursue a political career. To his chagrin his application for membership was rejected by both the exclusive Athenaeum and Travellers clubs across the street. His only recourse, it seemed, was to acquire more powerful friends. Thus he set in motion a strategy of social climbing that probably has never been surpassed.
Impressed by her address on King Street, he first wooed and won Clara Bolton, the exquisite wife of a physician who used her as a decoy to attract wealthy patients. The affair with Clara, however, only lasted until "Dizzy," as his friends called him, acquired social contacts more important to his career. As his social skills improved, he began to cut quite a figure with his black ringlets, black velvet suit lined with white satin, and elaborately embroidered waistcoats. Across his breast sparkled a mass of gold chains. Rings adorned his fingers, and attached to his wrist by a tasselled cord hung a cane. Women loved him.
As he wormed his way into the political arena, he improved his living arrangement by moving a short distance away to 35 Duke Street. Meanwhile he had acquired a political sponsor, Sir Francis Sykes, as well as a new inamorata, Sir Francis's wife, Henrietta Sykes. This gentleman's health conveniently dictated long sessions at spas on the Continent, leaving Henrietta free to visit Dizzy's rooms, where she revelled in being "snugly placed by him on the comfortable couch, sipping coffee and kisses at the same time."
All did not remain calm in paradise, unfortunately. Clara Bolton, his former paramour on King Street, became aware of what was going on on Duke Street and didn't like it. She turned her considerable charm upon her rival's husband, Sir Francis, when he returned from his sojourn at the spa and managed to poison his mind against his political protégé, Dizzy. In the process, steeped in resentment toward her former lover, Clara succumbed to Sir Francis's retaliatory action and became his mistress.
Following a. series of bitter accusations and counteraccusations which could have ruined Dizzy's career almost before it had gotten started, Henrietta had the good fortune to arrive home early one afternoon and surprise her errant husband in bed with Clara. To avert scandal, they came to an agreement. Henrietta would cover for her husband and his mistress Clara so long as he didn't make trouble for Dizzy. To seal the pact, Henrietta cheerfully accompanied Clara and Sir Francis on a "goodwill" trip to Paris, while Dizzy moved to 31A Park Street in Mayfair to be nearer to Henrietta, who was still living with her husband at 34 Upper Grosvenor.
At age thirty-five, Dizzy finally married and settled down with a rich widow ten years his senior. His political career soared. He served two separate terms as prime minister under Queen Victoria, who adored him, and he made enough money on his last novel, Endymion, to buy a seven-year lease on a mansion in Mayfair when he retired after being defeated in the 1880 election. Above all Disraeli ended up as Earl of Beaconsfield, a title well earned.
17. 48 Pall Mall
In 1874 Jimmy Whistler organized a show of his own work in a gallery at this location to spite a Royal Academy show that had opened with nothing of his included. Too far ahead of its time, his exhibition of thirteen paintings and fifty prints was not a huge success. A public that preferred "foolish sunsets to the poetry of the night" was not yet ready for his stark portraits and the little arrangements he called "symphonies."
18. Site of the Marlborough Club
52 Pall Mall
A few buildings away, at number 52, the Prince of Wales founded the elite Marlborough Club in defiance of the policy committee at White's, which refused to allow smoking in the morning room. Here his friends were permitted to smoke, drink, gamble and dine whenever or wherever they wished. The club eventually disbanded. The clubs lining the south side of Pall Mall, however, remain as active and exclusive today as they were in the nineteenth century. Among them are:
19. Reform Club
105 Pall Mall
The elegant Reform Club is a home of liberalism and a favourite among writers. It was here that Jules Verne's Phineas Fogg made the wager that he could go around the world in eighty days. It was also here that the uninhibited expatriate American, Jimmy Whistler, when he was introduced as a potential member, erupted with his raucous peacock laugh and awakened a lustily snoring gentleman who was snoozing over his paper in the reading room. "No gentleman laughs like that," the old gentleman grumbled. Needless to say, Whistler was disqualified.
20. Travellers Club
106 Pall Mall
Standing side by side with the Reform Club in an identical Italianate building is the Travellers Club, which was founded in 1819 for those who had taken the "grand tour." A prerequisite for a proposed member required that he should have travelled a minimum of five hundred miles outside the British Isles in a straight line from London. (Today it is a thousand miles.) Distance was less important than personality, however. The Prince of Wales resigned when a member insisted upon blackballing Cecil Rhodes, whose African exploits the prince greatly admired.
21. Athenaeum Club
107 Pall Mall
On the corner of Pall Mall and Waterloo Place is the home of the prestigious Athenaeum Club, built on the site of the prince regent's Carlton House. Its first-floor drawing room is considered one of the grandest in London. Always known for its distinguished members, the club is favoured by the hierarchy of the Anglican church, as well as by prominent men in science, art and literature. Disraeli did much of his writing in its rooms, but not at the beginning of his career when his application for membership was turned down.
Another prominent member was Sir James Barrie. On his first visit he asked an octogenarian biologist the way to the dining room. The biologist burst into tears. He had been a member of the club for fifty years. No one had ever spoken to him before.
Turn off Pall Mall to the north into St. James's Square.
22. St. James's Square
Dating from 1673, St. James's was the West End's first square, built by Henry Jermyn on land presented by Charles II. The equestrian statue replete with a molehill, shaded by lovely plane trees in the centre of the square, depicts William III. It was the molehill over which the king's horse stumbled at Hampton Court in 1702 that caused the injury that brought about his death. Most of the buildings you see are nineteenth century, with the exception of some Georgian town houses on the north and west sides of the square and a few modern offices.
Chatham House, numbers 9 and 10 on the square, was occupied at various times by three prime ministers-William Ewart Gladstone (briefly), William Pitt the Elder and Lord Derby.
23. Residence of Waldorf Astor
4 St. James's Square
This aristocratic brick mansion, with its white columns, large ballroom and two dining rooms big enough to seat forty guests each, was once a social centre hosted by the great-great-grandson of the American, John Jacob Astor, who made a fortune in fur trading.
When young Waldorf Astor's heart showed signs of strain (1908) and he was forced to give up polo, his father suggested he take over the Pall Mall Gazette for something to do. But even office work was too stressful, so as a last resort he opted for a political career. With Waldorf Astor in politics, a town house became a necessity, and at that time St. James's Square was one of the finest addresses in the city, which prompted the Astors' move here.
Nancy Astor, his American wife, took a lively interest in his new endeavour. All London was astonished that this rich society hostess could rough it in the slums as she canvassed door to door to get votes. Had it not been for the experience she gained then, she would not have been the first woman to get into Parliament when her husband succeeded to the peerage in 1919, and she was elected to his old seat of Plymouth.
As you walk around the square, you will pass King Street on its west side. Exit here after you finish browsing.
24. Residence of Napoleon III
8 King Street
Louis Napoleon lived here in exile after the fall of his uncle, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, and prior to becoming president of the Second Republic in 1848 and later proclaiming himself emperor of France. In London he busied himself by collecting books and family portraits and dabbling in real estate. He owned several houses, occupying another one nearby at number One Carlton Gardens from 1840 to 1841 and maintaining a third on Berkeley Street, which he purchased for a Miss Howard, who later in Paris was endowed with the title of Comtesse de Beauregard.
Now return through St. James's Square and cross Pall Mall into Carlton House Terrace. Continue east on Carlton House Terrace. On the way you will pass Waterloo Place on the left.
25. Residence of Lord Curzon, Viceroy to India
1 Carlton House Terrace
Among the concentration of monuments on Waterloo Place is one to the statesman Lord Curzon. Historically referred to as "a very superior person," he once bragged that, upon discovering a housemaid who had allowed a footman to spend the night with her, he "put the little slut out into the street at a moment's notice"-this from a gentleman whose affair with Lady Ribbesdale (whose widower later escorted Rosa Lewis, the proprieties of the nearby Cavendish Hotel) was hardly a secret, and who later became the enamoured escort of novelist Elinor Glyn after she wrote about a Balkan queen clad in diaphanous garments, who received her lover while lying on a tiger skin.
Later, when Lloyd George was prime minister and "the superior person" was still foreign secretary, a colleague said to Lloyd George, "If you treated me half as badly as you treat Curzon, I'd resign tomorrow morning."
"Oh, he does resign," replied George. "But there are two messengers at the Foreign Office. One has a limp; he comes with the resignation. The other was a champion runner; he always catches him up."
26. Residence of William Waldorf Astor
18 Carlton House Terrace
This first American Astor to take English citizenship arrived in 1890 with a fortune inherited from his father, John Jacob II. He had hoped that his son would marry into the English peerage, so Waldorf's choice of the American Nancy Shaw was a disappointment, compounded by the fact that she was a divorcee. After he had met her, however, he said, "If she is good enough for you, Waldorf, she will be good enough for me."
His generosity was greatly appreciated in London. He built and endowed the Children's Clinic at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
27. Residence of William Ewart Gladstone
22 Carlton House Terrace
William Gladstone may have been Lillie Langtry's dear friend, but Queen Victoria vowed that she'd rather abdicate than see "that half-mad firebrand" oust her favoured Disraeli as prime minister. Nevertheless a general election in 1880 voted out the Tories, and the Liberal Gladstone came into power. Victoria, of course, didn't abdicate, much to the disappointment of the Prince of Wales. Instead she delayed making the appointment official for weeks, until Bertie, influenced by Lillie, sent a note to his mother suggesting that it would be far better to take the initiative than have it forced upon her.
The queen was shocked at his impertinence. Having condemned the prince since boyhood as a poor reflection of his late father, she had refused him even the most insignificant role in governing. Until now, however, she hadn't had to contend with the lovely Lillie. When Lillie had inadvertently learned that Gladstone held a high regard for the prince's potential in foreign relations, especially with France, she had urged Bertie to risk the note, hoping Gladstone's rising influence might provide an opportunity for the prince to prove himself.
As it turned out, the note did more to enhance Lillie's influence than the prince's. When in her own time Victoria at last sent for Gladstone, the imprudent old man fancied an indebtedness to the prince's paramour. He encouraged Lillie to use his name as a social credential and after her fall from favour, saw to it that nobody in society snubbed her. The kindly old man also permitted Oscar Wilde to use his name when Wilde was attempting to get his early poems published in The Spectator.
Gladstone was intensely religious and, unlike his neighbour Curzon, dedicated many a night to roaming London's dark alleys giving money to prostitutes and trying to reform them. On more than one occasion, he even brought one home to shelter.
Mrs. Gladstone often hosted church socials in their home. One time a guest launched into a spirited argument over an interpretation of a biblical passage. Aware of Mrs. Gladstone's apparent discomfort as the discussion grew heated, one of the party tried to put a stop to it by remarking piously, "Well, there is One above who knows all things."
Mrs. Gladstone's face brightened. "Yes," she said, "and Mr. Gladstone will be coming down in a few minutes."
Serious as he appeared, the grand old man did have a sense of humour. He once admired a seventeenth-century oil painting in an antique shop, which depicted an aristocrat dressed in an old Spanish costume with a ruff, plumed hat and lace cuffs. He wanted it badly, but thought the price too high. Sometime later at the house of a rich London merchant, he came upon the portrait. His host, noticing Gladstone's admiration, approached him. "You like it?" he asked. "It's a portrait of one of my ancestors, a minister at the court of Queen Elizabeth."
"Three pounds less and he would have been my ancestor," Gladstone retorted.
When Gladstone resigned his office as prime minister, he reluctantly sold his prized collection of china and Wedgwood along with the Carlton Terrace house. "I had grown to the house," he wrote, "having lived more time in it than in any other since I was born, and mainly by reason of all that was done in it."
Another neighbour on Carlton House Terrace was Lord St. George Lonsdale, a rake whose turf winnings barely outstripped his boudoir accomplishments. While his pleasure-loving lady (who after his ignoble demise remarried and became Lady Ripon) was in the south of France, Lord Lonsdale suddenly took ill, not in his usual London abode, but found himself dying in a house he maintained to wine and dine freewheeling actresses. For the sake of respectability, his dead body was smuggled, sitting upright, in a cab from 30 Bryanston Street to the Lonsdale mansion on Carlton House Terrace, where it could be put to rest "discreetly."
Walk back to Waterloo Place and turn down the few steps leading south to the pink-surfaced Mall, the royal processional road that leads to Buckingham Palace.
28. St. James's Park
As you walk along the Mall, St. James's Park with its lake is on your left. It is the oldest of London's royal parks and was created, like the others, by Henry VIII from land seized from Westminster Abbey. In 1829 the great architect John Nash redesigned it, creating the lake and giving it the appearance it has now. At night it is particularly romantic, with its illuminated fountains and the flood-lit Buckingham Palace beyond.
29. Marlborough House
Before reaching the Queen Victoria Memorial, you will pass Marlborough House on your right, to which the Prince of Wales brought his bride of the fast-turning cartwheels. Built by Christopher Wren in 1709-1710 for Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, and later enlarged for Prince Leopold until he became Leopold I of the Belgians, it awaited the marriage and subsequent occupancy of the Prince of Wales in 1863 to become the liveliest spot in town.
As Princess Alexandra relied more and more upon an ear trumpet, her enjoyment of social life waned, and eventually mothering took precedence over partying. Thus the prince, in his lusty mid-twenties, lost interest in his beautiful, delicate wife.
The strictest of codes existed between them, however. No scandal would be allowed to embarrass her. On state occasions and at Marlborough's coveted garden parties, she appeared at his side, even after Lillie Langtry came into his life. They were utterly discreet. Perhaps Alexandra simply closed her eyes to Lillie; or perhaps she felt relieved that the prince had settled down to a single paramour. Whatever the case, Lillie was accepted at Marlborough House functions when Alexandra was present, and later, during Lillie's career as an actress, Alexandra attended most of her London openings with the Prince of Wales.
Although the Prince of Wales accepted Oscar Wilde as Lillie's confidante, and they frequently met at social functions in the houses of other aristocrats, the elegantly attired prince did not always approve of Wilde's showy costumes. Wilde was not numbered among the exclusive "Marlborough Set."
30. Buckingham Palace
The end of the Mall is dominated by the Queen Victoria Memorial in the front of Buckingham Palace, originally built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703. Since Victoria's accession in 1837, it has been the residence of the royal family.
Tragic as was Victoria's loss of her beloved Prince Consort Albert, and as reputably austere as were social occasions in her palace, she still enjoyed infrequent moments of mirth. In order to hear how the HMS Eurydice, a frigate sunk off Portsmouth, had been salvaged, the queen invited Admiral Foley to lunch. Having exhausted this melancholy subject, the queen then inquired after her close friend, the admiral's sister. Hard of hearing, the admiral replied in a stentorial voice, "Well, ma'am, I am going to have her turned over, take a good look at her bottom and have it well scraped." The queen put down her knife and fork, hid her face in her handkerchief, and laughed until the tears ran down her cheeks.
The good queen died at Osborne House on the isle of Wight on January 22, 1901. As she lay on her deathbed, a member of the royal household conversing with her son, about to become King Edward VII, mused, "I wonder if she will be happy in heaven?"
"I don't know," said the prince. "She will have to walk behind the angels-and she won't like that."
On the day in June set for the Prince of Wales's coronation, throngs lined the streets, flags waved and bands played all in vain. Suddenly the crowd stilled. Word spread that the prince was ill. He had appendicitis. Thus the coronation ceremony was postponed. Two months later in the heat of August, once again flags went up, crowds gathered and the famous eight cream-colored horses appeared, drawing the antique golden coach with its crystal panels through which, this time, could be seen the king and the queen. Popular enthusiasm knew no bounds. The roar of continuous cheering echoed from the palace to Westminster.
"The three women I have most admired," Oscar Wilde said a year before his death, "are Queen Victoria, Sarah Bernhardt and Lillie Langtry. I would have married any one of them with pleasure. The first had great dignity, the second a lovely voice, the third a perfect figure."
Although Wilde never made it to Marlborough House, his wife Constance was presented to the queen in 1887. At that time Constance, inspired by Oscar, was busy giving talks advocating a departure from French fashion in favour of looser, lighter clothing. For her presentation, however, she donned an exact copy of the fashion at the time when Victoria had ascended the throne.
Lillie Langtry had been presented earlier, in 1879, at one of Victoria's Buckingham Palace "afternoon drawing rooms." For her presentation she wore a gown of ivory brocade with a long court train, lined with the same pale yellow as the Marechal Neil roses she carried (a gift from the prince), hanging from her shoulders. Atop her head were three huge ostrich plumes, reminiscent of the prince's crest.
When the sovereign is in residence, the royal standard flies over the palace night and day. On state occasions the sovereign appears with members of the royal family on the central balcony.
A visit to the palace should be timed to coincide with the changing of the guard, which occurs daily at 11:30 A.M. Also worth a visit is the Queen's Gallery, where there are various displays of items from the royal art collection.
Now retrace your steps along the Mall to the Queen's Walk, where you can turn left and continue north alongside Green Park to Piccadilly.
Turn right toward Piccadilly Circus where you began, stopping for tea in the refined Palm Court of the Ritz Hotel if you are appropriately dressed (jackets and ties for men).
Further along Piccadilly you will surely want to stop at Fortnum & Masons for lunch or tea if you missed the Ritz. This is the grocery store of the royal family, and certainly Wilde must have stopped here on his perambulations down Piccadilly. It is world famous for its morning-coated assistants and the great clock over the door where, on the hour, figures of Mr. Fortnum and Mr. Mason emerge to the tune of the "Eton Boating Song." The store was established in 1707 by Mason, a grocer, and Fortnum, one of Queen Anne's footmen. It is now beautifully stocked with delicatessen food and gourmet items, and also has a tearoom.
At number 187 is another haunt of Wilde's, Hatchard's bookshop, established in 1797. This and Fortnum & Masons are the sole remaining shops of this once-thriving eighteenth-century shopping area. When Wilde was released from prison and preparing for his self-inflicted exile to France, the only appearance he made in public was a stop at Hatchard's to stock up on books. Even though his weight had dropped from 190 to 168 pounds and two years of confinement had taken the edge from his buoyant personality, the bookseller recognized him and greeted him with affection.
When you arrive back at Eros on Piccadilly Circus where you began, you have finished the St. James's walk.