St. James's Street

Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1960.

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'St. James's Street', in Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, (London, 1960) pp. 431-432. British History Online [accessed 19 April 2024]

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St. James's Street

In 1531 Henry VIII acquired St. James's Hospital and 185½ acres of land from the Provost and College of Eton (see page 26). A Crown lease of 1552 states that nine acres of the demesne lands of the former hospital had been laid into roads, (fn. 2) and it seems likely that the thoroughfare now known as St. James's Street was one of these. There is no doubt that such a road was in existence a few years later, for the northern end of it is marked on a plan of 1585, (fn. 3) and St. James's Fair was held in the road for many years (see page 215).

The ratebooks for the first half of the seventeenth century suggest that there were a few houses beside the road. By 1658 there were fifteen houses on the west side between the future Park Place and Cleveland Row, of which the largest were (Sir) William Pulteney's (on the site of Nos. 75–85) and Sir Henry Henne's, on the corner of Cleveland Row. Some of the ramshackle development which took place in Pall Mall Field in the 1650's was probably along the east side of the road (see pages 25–6). The name 'St. James's Street' first appears in the ratebook for 1660. (fn. 4)

In 1661 the Bailiwick of St. James was leased by Henrietta Maria's trustees to the trustees of the Earl of St. Albans, who in the course of the next eight years granted some twenty leases of ground facing St. James's Street. (fn. 5) Ogilby and Morgan's map of 1681–2 (Plate 2) shows houses along the whole of the east side, and also on the west side south of Park Place. None of this seventeenth- century building development now survives, but it may still be traced on the map in the courts leading off St. James's Street, notably Little St. James's Street (which was in existence in 1651 as a stable yard), Blue Ball Yard (c. 1700) and Pickering Place (1690, then Stroud's Court); a number of others marked on Horwood's map (Plate 6) have since been built over.

After the formation of the Bailiwick ot St. James in the reign of Henry VIII the freehold of all the ground on both sides of the future street became Crown property and remained so until the reign of Charles II. On the west side of the street the freehold of all the ground between No. 69 (now occupied by the Carlton Club) and Piccadilly was sold by the Crown between 1672 and 1697— the sites of Nos. 64–68 and the southern half of Blue Ball Yard to Sir John Duncombe in 1672 (see page 460); of No. 63 and the northern half of Blue Ball Yard to Thomas Freke in 1697 (see page 459); and of Nos. 61 and 62 and the southern side of Park Place to the Duke of Grafton in 1690 (see page 542). The ground between Park Place and Piccadilly (in the parish of St. George, Hanover Square, and therefore not included in this volume) was granted to the Earl of Arlington in 1682. The freehold of the site of No. 85 was granted by the Crown to the trustees of the Pulteney estate in 1722 but was restored to the Crown by exchange in 1830 (see page 28).

On the east side of the street the ground between King Street and Pall Mall formed part of the area granted freehold by Charles II to the Earl of St. Albans's trustees in 1665 (see page 56 and fig. 3). At the time of the erection of the St. James's Bazaar (now No. 10 St. James's Street and Nos. 20 and 21 King Street) in 1831–2 a narrow strip of ground now occupied by the south side of this building was re-acquired by the Crown, and in more recent years the Crown has also purchased the freehold of Nos. 7–9 St. James's Street. At the northern end of the street the freehold of some 130 feet southward from the corner of Piccadilly was granted by Charles II to Colonel Edward Villiers in 1674; White's Club now stands on part of this ground (see page 450). The freehold of the whole of the rest of the ground on the east side of St. James's Street is still Crown property.

In 1662 St. James's Street was included among several streets 'thought fitt immediately to be repaired new paved or otherwise amended', and was placed under the control of paving commissioners appointed by an Act of Parliament. (fn. 6) One of the commissioners was John Evelyn, who records that the street had previously been 'a quagmire'. (fn. 7)

There are references to a pillory in the street in 1690. (fn. 8)

In the eighteenth century there appears to have been a steep gradient at the north end of the street, where the houses had 'before them a Terrace Walk ascending by Steps, with a Freestone Pavement'. (fn. 9) In 1765 the Westminster Paving Commissioners obtained statutory power to remove a terrace and steps on the west side of the street, where there had been frequent accidents to pedestrians and passengers in sedan chairs. (fn. 10) Their efforts at improvement do not, however, appear to have been immediately successful, for according to a correspondent of The London Chronicle 'some of the ground-floors, that were almost level with the street, are now eight, nine, and some ten steps, and these very steep, from the ground; while others, to which you used to ascend by three or four steps, are now as many below the surface. Cellars are now above ground, and some gentlemen are forced to dive into their own parlours . . . some persons, not thinking of the late alterations, attempting to knock at their own door, have frequently tumbled up their new-erected steps, while others, who have been used to ascend to their threshold, have as often, for the same reason, tumbled down.' (fn. 11) Some improvement was evidently made, probably through the rebuilding of many of the houses in the street, for in 1808 Malcolm records that 'nothing can be more convenient than the gradual declination from Piccadilly to the Palace'. (fn. 12)

The fame of St. James's Street rests mainly upon its association with the coffee or chocolate houses and clubs which for some two and a half centuries have made it and Pall Mall the social rendezvous of masculine aristocratic society in London. This association dates back to the reign of William III, and more particularly to the fire of January 1697/8 which ravaged the Palace of Whitehall and resulted in the removal of the Court to St. James's. Only two chocolate houses— White's (1693) and Ozinda's (1694)—are known to have been in existence in St. James's Street and Pall Mall before the fire, but the succeeding years saw the establishment of the Cocoa Tree (1698), the Smyrna (1702), the Thatched House Tavern (1704 or 1705) and the St. James's Coffee House (1705), all catering for the new clientèle created in the neighbourhood by the presence of the Court of St. James.

St. James's Street thus became a centre of fashionable trade rather than of fashionable residence, and although Strype described it in 1720 as 'a spacious Street, with very good Houses well inhabited by Gentry', (fn. 9) another commentator, writing in 1764, stated that it was 'chiefly inhabited by people in trade'. (fn. 13) In 1815 Brayley recorded that the west side 'is chiefly composed of stately houses belonging to the nobility and gentry, (fn. 1) one or two extensive hotels, bankers, etc. The opposite side consists of elegant shops, which appear to a stranger rather as lounging-places than the resorts of trade and the busy pursuits of merchandize.' (fn. 14) With this emphasis on trade it is therefore not surprising to find that, with the exception of the three great club-houses of White's, Brooks's and Boodle's, the eighteenth-century buildings of St. James's Street were, by the standards of the time, undistinguished (Plate 54a).

A list of distinguished residents and lodgers in St. James's Street whose names are not mentioned in the text of Chapters XXIV–XXVI is contained in the Appendix (page 546).


  • 1. These were in the upper part of the west side which lay in the parish of St. George, Hanover Square, and are not within the area described in the present volume.
  • 2. P.R.O., LR1/41, f. 190.
  • 3. Reproduced in C. L. Kingsford, The Early History of Piccadilly, Leicester Square, Soho . . ., 1925.
  • 4. W.P.L., ratebooks of St. Martin's parish.
  • 5. B.M., Add. MS. 22063 passim.
  • 6. 14 Chas. II, c. 2, public.
  • 7. The Diary of John Evelyn, ed. E. S. de Beer, 1955, vol. iii, p. 328.
  • 8. W. J. Hardy, Middlesex County Records. Calendar of the Sessions Books, 1689 to 1709, 1905, p. 5; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1689–90, p. 431.
  • 9. John Strype, A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, 1720, vol. ii, bk. VI, p. 78.
  • 10. 5 Geo. III, c. 50, public.
  • 11. The London Chronicle, 15–17 Aug. 1765.
  • 12. J. P. Malcolm, Anecdotes of the Manners and Customs of London during the Eighteenth Century, 1808, pp. 471–2.
  • 13. Rev. George Reeves, A New History of London, 1764, p. 182.
  • 14. E. W. Brayley, J. Nightingale, and J. N. Brewer, London and Middlesex, 1815, vol. iii, part ii, pp. 639–40.