Sunday, 24 November 2013

St James's Bazaar, 10 St James's Street, SW1

Just yards away from Berry Bros & Rudd, which has thrived for over 300 years, is 10 St James's Street, site of a rather less successful retail venture but which is a notable example of the bazaar – a popular new retail development in early Victorian Britain (London's first was the Soho Bazaar, opened in 1816).

This stuccoed building stretching round onto King Street, where it has an impressive wide porch with Tuscan columns, was once St James's Bazaar, a gallery of individual shops set across two 150ft-long floors. It was constructed in 1830-32 at a cost of £20,000.  

Opened in April 1832, it was an opulent development – an issue of The Morning Post that same month noted its palace-like interior, although was amused that this was devoted only "to the display of bijouterie, toys and minute elegancies and trifles of every description".

Shoppers wandered among stalls "tastefully distributed in curves, lines and circles". Gas lighting illuminated the bazaar in the evening. There was also a magnificent display of looking-glass arranged among the shops, according to The Morning Post. Here's a small ad from the time, mentioning one of the retailers in the bazaar – Howe, a glover.

However, about one year after opening, the bazaar closed. By 1839 it had apparently stood empty for six years. Owner William Crockford blamed the "change of fashion [which] has affected not only this property but all property of a similar description in the Metropolis".

In the early 1840s the building hosted a couple of notable exhibitions. In 1841, a diorama of the funeral of Napoleon proved popular, and in 1844 the decorative works for the New Houses of Parliament were exhibited, including designs for doors and stained glass windows. This was less popular – The Standard of May 28, 1844 reported that the exhibition "although better attended yesterday than on any other day since its opening gratuitously to the public, was nearly deserted, the number of persons visiting it not reaching to more than 200 or 300 during the day". The picture below is from The London Illustrated News at the time of the decorative works exhibition.

In 1847, Crockford's widow converted the building into chambers. It has subsequently been used as offices, apart from when it was the Junior Army and Navy Club from about 1881 to 1904, and a two-year stint as a confectioner's run by Paris firm Rumpelmayer from 1907.

The building has been altered over time by its various owners – the current St James's Street entrance was constructed in the early 20th century, and the exterior was heightened in 1897 and 1914.

Go here for more on the history of the Victorian bazaar.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Berry Bros & Rudd, 3 St James's Street, SW1

After the Great Fire destroyed the City of London, shopping moved westwards, to Covent Garden, Strand and Holborn. And when the Palace of Whitehall burnt down in 1697/8, the court of William III moved to St James's Palace, and St James's Street quickly became a fashionable locale.

Businesses serving this wealthy clientele sprung up, particularly on the street's eastern side, and thanks to its coffee/chocolate houses and clubs it became the epicentre of masculine aristocratic society.

The firm now known as Berry Bros & Rudd was set up as a grocer's in 1698 by Widow Bourne. Her daughter married William Pickering and this family business supplied the area's coffee houses - the sign of the coffee mill still hangs over the shop.

The store remained in the same family, although the names of the family heads changed from Pickering to Clarke and then, in 1810, to Berry. It was around this time, when the company was led by George Berry, that wine became the principal focus. In 1920, Hugh Rudd, previously a wine merchant in Norwich, became a partner and in the 1940s his name was added to the fascia.

Although non-family directors began to be appointed after the Second World War, Berry Bros & Rudd is still run by members of the Berry and Rudd families, over 300 years since its creation. It remains a retailer to the aristocracy, currently holding royal warrants for HM The Queen and the HRH The Prince of Wales.

The three-storey building was originally two terraced houses with one shop, built circa 1731-2 by the Pickerings to replace their original structure. In 1800 it was altered to become a single property.

The oldest (the right-hand side as you look at it) part of the wooden shopfront, which has an interesting quasi-gothic design, dates from 1800; the left-hand part is a convincing 1930s imitation. There are vast wine cellars below, which stretch out 150ft to the centre of St James's Street.

The store retained its wooden shutters long after the introduction of roller shutters (the first London shop to use rollers shutters was Swan & Edgar of Piccadilly in the 1830s). These cumbersome wooden panels were carried in and out each day by the apprentices. They slotted into a groove and were pinned into the ledge above the stallboard. To see a pic of the store in 1980 with its shutters up, go to and check out the London Shops & Pubs section.

The wooden shutters helped prevent serious damage to the shop front during the Second World War. They're now kept in the side alley leading to Pickering Place (pictured), but were pressed into action in 2011 during the London riots.

Stepping inside is like entering the 18th century, as the interior has changed little over the years, with wood-panelled walls, plenty of original fittings and shelving, and rickety, uneven wooden floors leading into small, separate rooms.

The scales that were used to weigh tea, sugar and spices began in 1765 to be used to record the weights of aristocratic customers - "people of fascination", according to Henry Fielding. Six generations of English and French royalty had their body sizes recorded for posterity; it was a sign of social status to have your name written into the books. The scales are still inside the shop today.

But Berry Bros & Rudd isn't a business relic. It has constantly moved with the times - after all, the family motto is 'Don't stop changing'. More recently it was the first wine merchant to launch a website,, way back in 1994, and set up the Berry's Broking Exchange, in which customers buy and sell wines that are stored in the company's temperature-controlled Basingstoke warehouse.

I paid a visit on a bright winter's day, with the sunlight reflecting off the handsome shop front's blistered black paintwork. Although I enjoyed visiting Twining's the other week, my enthusiasm for wine easily beats that for tea, so I was looking forward to picking up a nice bottle.

When a shop assistant approached, I asked to see the port wines. Apart from two bottles, the whole lot were in the cellar, so after a brief chat in which he displayed his extensive wisdom but didn't patronise my very limited knowledge, I came away with a nice bottle of 2006 crusted port that was uncorked later that evening. He said when I returned, we could explore my tastes further...

Some of the pics (the first and third, ie the good ones) were sent to me by Berry Bros & Rudd's press office, and were taken by Joakim Blockstrom in 2011.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

35 Swinton Street, WC1

The shop's not much to look at, but along with the corner house this dates from circa 1835-44 and is Grade-II listed.

The Post Office Directory of 1898 lists it as a chandler's shop run by a Mrs Amelia Bowerbank. I had a look through some earlier directories, but as the listings weren't by street I couldn't find anything for it ... so that's pretty much all I know.

Architecturally, it's a wooden shopfront with pilasters, entablature (although with some rectangular panels attached) and bracketed cornice, but there's nothing fancy.

Swinton Street's first houses were built in 1776, and it was originally a small cul-de-sac. The first occupant was able to gaze across the meadows to Fleet Brook. The western end of the street dates from that period, but the later houses that extended eastwards, including number 35, were begun in the late 1830s and completed by 1844.

And the street has pretty much remained the same since, despite major developments in the nearby area, notably the building of the railways and King's Cross station. I had a look around to see if I could find any old images of Swinton Street and the best I could do was this from a London Illustrated News of 1862, which shows the construction of the first section of the Metropolitan tube line, between Paddington and Farringdon. A small section of Swinton Street can be seen jutting out to the left behind the front-facing building just left of centre. The few houses furthest away are Britannia Street.