I’ve always loved exploring London, even when I lived there before I moved to Brighton, and I’ve always really liked wandering around more central areas; partly out of convenience because that’s where I’ve often had to be for work, but also partly because I love it’s history and searching for details I’ve never noticed before.
Whenever I’ve read a book set in London, like Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop or Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, I’ve adored walking around the streets cited in the pages which have been there for years but have morphed into something more modern, and I enjoy searching for it’s atmospheric clues to the past…
I am also a creature of habit, so once I find somewhere I like, I keep going back regularly; investigating it in more detail each time, wandering around, taking things in, discovering new streets I didn’t know where there, and then finding somewhere a bit special to have lunch or tea.
So when I was asked by St James’s to immerse myself in a project called #mystjames discovering and documenting their area, right in the centre of London, it was an irresistible and really exciting opportunity…also, brilliantly, it was an area which I wasn’t familiar with, so this is my introduction post and over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing lots of my discoveries and recommendations on here, Instagram, Steller and Snapchat ( I’m @five5ftinf on there )…
I’ve obviously been familiar with the Royal Academy before, and over recent years Fortnum and Mason has become a bit of a new love…there’s something about that light duck egg colour they use, their packaging, their tea, their restaurants, and just being in the building feels a very special and a proper treat…( their window displays are always worth stopping for too… )and everything inside is gorgeous… …not to mention their chocolates, which I basically can’t leave the shop without…and as it’s coming up to Easter, it’s more dangerous than ever in there at the moment, as so many of their chocolate eggs are incredibly pretty!!
The quality is always fantastic too, and what’s brilliant is that you could leave with a very expensive, very special treat or… you can just treat yourself to a bit of amazing chocolate and some biscuits for about a fiver and eat them on the way home! So, Fortnums seemed a very natural place for me to start my exploration of the area…although I also knew that the logo for St James’s is the Pelican, which were brought over as a gift from the Russian Ambassador in 1664, and which still live near Duck Island in St James’ Park today, so I thought it only right to go and have a look!
…visiting the park is obviously a big touristy thing to do, as it’s such a pleasant place to be and right next to Buckingham Palace, but it’s really the more tucked away and traditional buildings and businesses of St James’s, which I wanted to focus on with this project, as well as some of the newer elements of the area…So I started basically where the 38 bus from Victoria drops me off on Piccadilly, outside Fortnum’s, the RA and St James’s Church…which has the most magnificent magnolia in bloom at the moment…and directly behind it, in Jermyn St, is a really sweet florist……and almost directly opposite that is the perfumers Floris which was established in 1730…( and which has an amazing display of paper flowers made by fellow Brightonian, the very talented Sue Beech from @apetalunfolds )Jermyn Street is, I think, probably my favourite street in the area…It has so many really old and very traditional businesses that it feels like you’re shopping in way which feels slower and more specific; more exact and not as rushed…with old businesses ranging from traditional shirt makers, hat makers, shoe makers, cheese mongers and perfumers, Jermyn Street is a living, breathing piece of beautiful history… Having briefly studied History of Design at Manchester, I’m always looking out for interesting architecture and design, and the area which, was the vision of Henry Jermyn in the 1600’s, has really wonderful buildings designed by, amongst others, by John Nash, Christopher Wren, Edwin Lutyens, Thomas Cubitt and Samuel Wyatt, and with so many blue plaques of historical occupants on them that you could spend a whole day just taking in the area on your own architectural tour without even spending anything.
St James’s Street and leading on to Pall Mall also has some amazing old traditional shops and a couple of really wonderful little 17th Century alleys… and this is Lock and Co Hatters, which is the most incredible place and deserves a whole post of it’s own as I was lucky enough to be shown around the shop last week, and work on some images with their hats which are beautiful works of art, and which I’ll post in a few days , although here’s an initial taster… ( trying on hats always makes me very happy!! ) As well as exploring the area on foot…( in all weathers! ) I also wanted to use the area to inspire some compositions on my own table at home…and after an afternoon tea at Villandry whilst sheltering from a massive rain storm, I was able to take a few of the sweetest bits home……and make the whole experience last even longer on the table!I’m also really looking forward to discovering the Haymarket a bit more, and the art galleries, particulary The White Cube in Mason’s Yard… and the ICA on The Mall……as well as some more of the traditional shops like Floris, Trickers Shoes, Paxton and Whitfield’s and D R Harris and The London Library amongst others, and I’ll also be exploring a few of the restaurants and cafes too…
There’s nothing like discovering a new area for lots of inspiration, and also one of the massive plusses for me where St James’s is concerned is that I can wander around ( obviously taking lots of photos ) without literally bumping in to people and jostling for space on the pavement…I hadn’t realised that there was a quiet, beautiful and completely fascinating place just behind the manic-ness of Piccadilly Circus.And although you can walk away with very expensive purchases, you can also walk away with really beautiful, quality bits and pieces which don’t cost the earth…( and work out how to save up for the best hat in the world! )So, over the next 3 months I’ll be posting more about my travels and trips into St James’s as well as putting together some collections and arrangements on the table!
You can see the Steller Story version here and if you do find yourself in the area taking pictures, it would be great if you wanted to use the #mystjames hashtag too, on Instagram, Twitter and Steller, and we can share our independent discoveries!