I thought that I’d visit just a few more places for this last blog post, but then each place I visited in St James basically deserved more space than just within a blog post. A blog post would only give a flavour of some of the really fantastic businesses and buildings in the area and I am genuinely so pleased to have been able to discover an alternative part of central London with a very distinct character.
So in this post I will share some of my photos from visits to Paxton & Whitfield, Tricker’s Shoes, The London Library, Dover Street Market, The ICA and Fortnum’s Gallery Restaurant for a lunch, but I have also put up individual stories on the Steller app ( which is brilliant by the way if you don’t already have it ) so you can see an clutch of concentrated images for each place which I’ll put a link to as and when I mention them in this post…Firstly I’ll start with lunch at Fortnum and Mason’s which was really wonderful and rather unique as there was a Northern Irish menu being served. Northern Ireland isn’t a place I immediately consider when I’m eating out, so I used the opportunity to try a Northern Irish eel and bacon salad to start, an Irish rump steak for my main course and then Varlhona chocolate mousse with raspberries as a complete pudding treat. I adore eating out and can’t bear it if the waiting staff don’t seem to want to be there, but we had a really brilliant waitress called Maja who was a complete joy and made the whole experience even more special, especially when she brought me a bag of goodies which included a tin of their Royal Blend tea!
Next up was The London Library which I have to say absolutely exceeded my expectations and now I’m trying to convince myself that gym membership should be forfeited ( and added to! ) for London Library membership!
I was given a tour by Alisdair, ( who was very patient with my photo taking and question asking ) and he explained that the library has always functioned without funding and is run independently utilising memberships, donations and legacies.
The London Library has existed since 1841 and was founded by Thomas Carlyle, and now houses over a million books with over 17 miles of bookstacks, as well as having reading and study rooms ( you can find out more on their website here )
I’ve put together a Steller Story here so you can see all the photos and get a real sense of the atmosphere, which is the element I was really taken with; some parts like The Bookstacks, spread over 4 floors, almost felt like the backstage of a theatre and the steel floored stacks form part of one of the first steel framed buildings in London…and apparently if the books there were taken away, the building would rise 6 inches!
When I was about 6 I was asked at school what I wanted to be when I grew up, and my answer was a librarian; I wanted to stamp books and be very important… however I think I’d overlooked the element of silence which I always found difficult!
The following week I visited 2 places which had been at the top of my list since starting this project…Paxton and Whitfield cheesemongers and Tricker’s Shoes.
Firstly I adore cheese… even though I’ve been trying to cut down over the last few months due to my trousers suddenly not fitting during last summer, and secondly I adore brogues, so these trips were always going to be a treat and they certainly didn’t disappoint.I started at Paxtons, which was great because after the visit, it meant I could have one of their pork pies in St James’ Square for lunch!Paxton and Whitfield was established in 1797 and has been in it’s current spot in Jermyn St since 1896.
I met Hero Hirsh; cheesemonger and manager, who gave me a ‘tour’ of their 150 artisan cheeses, two thirds of which are from the UK and 25% of which are French with others from Spain, Holland, Italy, Switzerland and one cheese from Norway; ‘Geitost’. we drove around Norway for a family holiday when I was 8 and I remember the vast arrays of cheese at breakfast in each hotel. We loved trying all of them, but geitost remained in my taste memory as one of the few cheeses I didn’t like…it was like it had tricked me; it wasn’t a cheese, it was surely fudge, or something sweet anyway, and after nearly 35 years I was offered it again…all the memories came flooding back; the family shock at the discovery there was a cheese we didn’t like, the strange, sweet taste of this boiled whey goat’s cheese and although I still felt exactly the same about the taste, I LOVED the fact that it was in the shop, and that it has apparently been a good seller for years!I also learned that a double Gloucester is ‘double’ because it has a combination of cow’s milk from the morning milking as well as the evening milking. A single would just be from the evening…seems so simple but I’d never really thought about it before… It’s a truly wonderful experience to visit this shop, particularly if you’re into cheese, and I guarantee you won’t leave without a small selection…and maybe even a pork pie in the park!
You can read more about their heritage here on their website and see more of my photos from the visit here on Steller.I then visited Tricker’s, knowing that It was an inevitability that I would be desperate to save up for a pair of their shoes the moment I caught a whiff of a leather brogue. And of course that happened, but I hadn’t anticipated how welcoming Eamon and Clive in the shop would be; making it almost impossible to leave.
Tricker’s was established in 1829 and they have been making shoes in Northampton in the UK ever since. Not only is there evident pride in the shoes themselves but also in the shop in Jermyn Street which has original fittings from 1939; cupboards I can only wish I possessed which would keep a vast collection of handmade, customised or bespoke brogues…what can I say; I LOVED this shop, the shoes ( and the 2 men in the shop! )
You can see more of Tricker’s on their website www.trickers.com and more of my photos here on Steller. So from the very traditional, I was about to venture to the very contemporary, although I couldn’t resit the old traditional Chequers Tavern near Mason’s Yard as well as the gent’s hairdressers to the other side of the yard…
I wanted to visit Dover Street Market…I didn’t know much about it at all, but now I feel like I’ve discovered not only a new tea and cake stop in the midst of exciting, and sometimes strange fashion, but it’s a brilliant place to have a wander around in. It made me feel inspired, just how fashion inspired me when I was in my late teens; discovering Kensington Market and Hyper Hyper in about 1991 ( I was very proud of a pair of white sequined hot pants I bought there… )
You can see the Steller story with a few extra images here
…and what better other contemporary space to visit, just down the road, is the ICA.
Again I was reminded of my late teens/early 20’s when I performed in a devised physical theatre piece at the ICA, but this time I was going to look at typewriters at the launch of Olivetti: Beyond Form and Function; a small exhibition which I loved. There was also an artist’s film biennial happening there that evening and an exhibition by Guan Xiao. I also love the shop there and came away with 2 great books including ‘Badly Repaired Cars’, as well as some1920’s Dada films for my teenage son who’s always up for a bit of surrealism.
I have SO enjoyed discovering the St James area of London and I thoroughly recommend that if you fancy a day in town, make it a day trip there, and allow yourself time to wander around exploring and looking… Take away any thoughts of pressure to buy a hand made cashmere dressing gown, because whether you come home with a couture hat from Lock and Co, a bespoke scent from Floris, a hand cut shirt from Budd’s Shirts, or simply a crystalised tangerine piece from Fortnum and Mason ( and maybe some Stinking Bishop cheese from Paxton & Whitfield ), I guarantee that you’ll feel like you’ve had an experience, rather than just an aimless look into the ordinary high street shops a couple of streets away along with everyone else…this is an area not to be missed and one definitely to be explored!