.’. A Secret Cellar .’.

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Located at 3 St. James Street since 1698, Berry Brothers. & Rudd is Britain’s oldest wine merchant. The shop has the quality of a (very expensive) museum. Its underground cellars, previously part of Henry VIII’s royal residence and later a hideout for the exiled Napoleon III (the famous Napoleon’s nephew) have been converted into meeting rooms.

However, a secret tunnel, now blocked by wine bottles, leads to St. James Palace. It was used by philandering royals to pay clandestine visits to the ladies of the night who hung out at the shop in the 18th century. Or perhaps they just wanted a nightcap.

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.’. Pistols Drawn Pickering Place .’.

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Pay close attention when looking for this tiny courtyard tucked away behind swank St. James Street. If the gate is closed, the only indication you are at Pickering Place is the number 3 on it. The narrow, arched alleyway leading to the courtyard retains its 18th century timber wainstcoting.

A relatively unspoil Georgian cul-de-sac still lit by original gaslights, Pickering Place is named after William Pickering, the founder of a coffee business in the premises now occupied by the famous wine merchants Berry Bros and Rudd.

In the 18th century, Pickering Place was notorious for its gambling dens. Its seclusion also made it a favourite spot for duels, although the limeted space suggests that fooling around with a kind of weapon – let alone pistols – would have been instantly fatal. It is claimed tht the last duel in England was fought here, although an episode with pistols between two Frenchmen at Windsor in 1852 is more likely contender.

Graham Greene, who lived in a flat in Pickering Place, housed his fictional character Colonel Daintry from The Human Factor in two-roomed flat looking out over the paved courtyard with its sundial. In real life, Pickering Place was the base of the diplomatic office of the independent Republic of Texas, before it joined the United States in 1845.

 

.’. Holland House .’.

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The Holland House was built in 1605 for Sir Walter Cope, a courtier of King James I, and was known as Cope Castle.

It presided over a 500 acres estate that stretched from Holland Park Avenue to the current site of Earl’s Court tube station, and contained exotic trees imported by John Tradescant the Younger.

Following its completion, Cope entertained the king and queen at it numerous times; in 1608, John Chamberlain, the noted author of letters, complained that he was “not allowed to touch even a cherry because the queen was expected”.

Following the death of King James I’s son Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales in November 1612, he spent the night at Cope Castle, being joined the following day by his son Prince Charles and granddaughter Princess Elizabeth, and Frederick V, Elector Palatine.

Cope’s son-in-law, Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland eventually inherited the house. He was later beheaded for his Royalist activities during the Civil War and the house was then used as an army headquarters, being regularly visited by Oliver Cromwell. After the war, it was owned by various members of the family and renamed Holland House. In 1719, Joseph Addison, the English essayist, poet and politician, died in the building.

Holland House passed to the Edwardes family in 1721. Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland died at Holland House in 1774 and thereafter it was inherited by his descendants until the title became extinct with the death of Henry Edward Fox, 4th Baron Holland in 1859; however, his widow continued to live there for many years, gradually selling off outlying parts of the park for development.

In 1874, the estate passed to a distant Fox cousin, Henry Fox-Strangways, 5th Earl of Ilchester. Through his son Charles James Fox it became the social centre of the Whig Party in the 19th Century.

Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother and King George VI attended the last great ball held at the house a few weeks before the outbreak of World War II. In September 1940, the building was badly hit during a ten hour bombing raid and largely destroyed. It passed into the ownership, with its grounds, of the local authority. Today the remains form a backdrop for the open air Holland Park Theatre, home of Opera Holland Park.

.’. The Licensed Victuallers’ Asylum .’.

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In 1827 the Licensed Victuallers’ Asylum was founded, on six acres of freehold land lying just off the Old Kent Road. It consists of a group of onestoreyed houses, chapel, chaplain’s residence, board and court rooms, library, &c., set round two green lawns. The Duke of Sussex was its first patron in 1827, and he was succeeded by the Prince Consort, on whose death the Prince of Wales assumed the office. The idea of establishing an institution wherein the distressed members of the licensed victuallers’ trade, and their wives or widows, might be enabled to spend the latter part of their days in peace and quietness, was conceived by the late Mr. Joseph Proud Hodgson, in the year 1826, when he called a meeting of several influential gentlemen in the trade, and ventilated his views; and, after serious consideration, it was determined that a society should be formed under the title of the Licensed Victuallers’ Asylum.

Subscriptions were solicited, and the hearty response that was accorded to the scheme by those most deeply interested in its success enabled the committee to purchase the land above mentioned, upon which it was resolved to erect an asylum, to consist of one hundred and one separate houses, containing three rooms each, besides the requisite conveniences. In May, 1828, the foundation-stone was laid, with full Masonic honours, by the Duke of Sussex, in the presence of a distinguished company, many of whom in after years exhibited a sincere attachment to the institution. At this time it was determined by the promoters of the institution to erect the central portion of the building, to consist of forty-three houses, which were perfected, and speedily became the abode of as many deserving individuals.

The applicants for admission being numerous, it was deemed advisable to perfect the asylum as early as circumstances would permit, and consequently, in the year 1831, the south wing was erected, and in 1833 the north wing, thus completing the original design of the institution. The friends of the society, being relieved of the anxiety of erecting additional houses, in the year 1835 turned their attention to the advisability of granting weekly allowances of money to the inmates of the asylum, in order to provide them with the necessaries of life, and, as might be imagined, the proposal met with cordial approval, and allowances were then commenced, since which period they have been increased from time to time, until they have reached the sum of twelve shillings per week for married couples and eight shillings for single persons—members of the Incorporated Society of Licensed Victuallers receiving one shilling per week extra. In addition to the allowances, a weekly supply of coal is granted to each inmate, besides being supplied with medical attendance, medicine, and wine, when recommended by the medical officer. In 1842 a charter of incorporation was granted to the institution, and in the following year, on the death of the Duke of Sussex, Prince Albert became patron.

In 1849 was commenced the “ladies’ wing,” comprising twenty-three habitations, the foundationstone being laid by H.R.H. the Prince Consort: this wing was completed in the following year. Several years having elapsed since an addition was made to the asylum, this important subject was considered, and so readily approved of by those who had the management of the institution, that in the year 1858 a new wing was commenced, the asylum being again honoured by its royal patron condescending to lay the foundation-stone. These buildings were designated the Albert Wing, in compliment to his Royal Highness, and consist of thirty-four houses.

A donation of one thousand guineas having been made to the institution in 1866, by a Mr. William Smalley, it was resolved that the only remaining space on the asylum grounds available for building purposes should be utilised. This was accordingly carried out, and ten additional houses built, which were named the Smalley Wing, the foundation-stone being laid by the Duke of Edinburgh. This addition completed the asylum as a building, and it now consists of one hundred and seventy separate and distinct houses.

The beautiful little chapel is enriched with stained-glass memorial windows, and also several handsome marble tablets, in memory of donors to the institution; whilst upon the grounds in front of the building, and facing the Asylum Road, is erected a marble statue of the late Prince Consort, which was unveiled in 1864 by the Prince of Wales.

The expenses attending the institution were about £7,000 annually, which was met by the subscriptions among the members of the trade, by bequests, by the proceeds of a ball given annually at Willis’s Rooms or the Freemasons’ Tavern, and also by the proceeds of the anniversary festival.

World War Two to the present day

During the Second World War, the LVBI evacuated its tenants to Denham, in Buckinghamshire. The asylum was bombed, and the chapel was almost completely gutted by an incendiary device, with the astonishing exception of its important stained-glass windows and fascinating collection of carved stone funerary monuments.

After the war, the chapel was stabilised and made watertight by filling the crypt with concrete and adding a rudimentary asbestos-cement roof.

The board of management decided that it preferred the new site in Buckinghamshire and, in 1959, the last tenants moved to Denham, along with the statue of Prince Albert. The asylum was sold to LB Southwark in 1960, which to this day uses it as social housing. Southwark renamed it “Caroline Gardens” after Caroline Secker, a former resident and widow of James Secker, who was the marine in the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) said to have caught Nelson when he fell.

Although the cottages are still in use, the chapel was never really used again. In 1960, the local paper described how it was to become “a little theatre”. However, this did not come to pass.

Around 1977, plans were put forward for the chapel’s restoration by the Jubilee Celebrations Committee. At that point, it was being used as a costume store by LB Southwark’s “Entertainments Department”. It was felt that just £20,000 would be enough to restore “the roof, internal walls, guttering, plasterwork, bricks and windows.”

This endeavour came to nothing and, apart from evidence of a temporary wooden room having been built inside the chapel for use by artists in the 1990s, the building appears to have been disused ever since.

Nowaday this amazing place is used by artists and recentely by : Dirty Market Theatre’s with the play: Something About You (makes me want to hurt you).

.’. Queen Alexandra Memorial .’.

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Tucked away on Marlborough Gate, beside St. James’ Palace, is this dreamy (but not necessarily in a pleasant way) Art Nouveau memorial to Queen Alexandra, long-suferring wife of King Edward VII.

Commissioned in 1926, the memorial was sculpted by Alfred Gilbert, who created the famous statue of Eros on Picadilly Circus.

The memorial is set into the garden wall of Marlborough House, once Queen Alexandra’s London home. Cast in bronze and finished in blackened enamel, the statue has a ghostly, neo-Gothic apperance. The Queen is seated behind allegorical figures representing faith, hope and charity.