In 1661, Henry Jermyn, Earl of St. Albans, obtained a grant of Crown land from Charles II to develop a residential neighbourhood in the area known as St James’s Field. His first development was to be St James’s Square, and he would come to be regarded as the true founder of London’s West End. From the outset St James’s flourished and was immediately a fashionable address. It has played host to a plethora of well known people: some famous, some infamous, and others fictional. Lord Byron frequented its clubs and tea rooms while he resided at Albany, the apartment complex on Piccadilly, famous for its bachelors. Oscar Wilde would base the bossy Jack Worthing here in The Importance of Being Earnest, and just to the south, Jermyn Street alone was the residence for the likes of William Pitt, Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Walter Scott, William Gladstone, and W.M Thackeray.
St James’s is also the home of many of the best known gentlemen’s clubs in London; sometimes being referred to as “Clubland”. One of the most famous is the Atheneum Club in Pall Mall. Its members have included, amongst others, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Winston Churchill. However, none of these distinguished men were treated quite as well as the Duke of Wellington, who requested that a pair of raised kerb stones be put outside the club for him to mount and dismount his horse !
The ‘Iron Duke’ may have fought his battles abroad but St James’s has also witnessed its fair share of violence and disturbance, including, it is said, the last duel in London. This was thought to have been fought in the tiny courtyard off Pickering Place which, interestingly, was the site of the Texan Republic’s embassy (until it joined the United States in 1845). The Squares seclusion made it notorious for its gambling dens, bear baiting and duels; and it is even said that Beau Brummel, close friend to King George IV and inventor of the cravat, once fought here.