St. James’s Square: A Fashionable Regency Era Address

Researching locations to use in my novels in one of my favorite things to do when I’m preparing to write a book. An Unexpected Countess, my upcoming book, is a historical romance that pits my hero and heroine against each other in a race to find a piece of the missing French Crown Jewels. Before I wrote the book, I traveled to London to search out interesting locations to use in that story and became enchanted with another of its picturesque squares.

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St. James’s Square was the first of London’s west end squares and was conceived and created by Henry Jermyn, Earl of St. Albans when he was granted a freehold by the Crown in 1665. The Earl wanted to build thirteen or fourteen houses, “fit for ye dwellings of Noblemen and other persons of quality”. By the time of the construction, his plan was enlarged to include twenty-two houses to be built on the north, east, and west sides of the square with an large unpaved area in the center. The south side wasn’t included in the Earl’s design since there were properties already there that fronted Pall Mall.

By 1726, the south side of the square was an eyesore. It included a 30-foot long coach builder’s shed, and piles of garbage and cinders littered the area. Needless to say, the genteel residence of the square weren’t happy and petitioned the House of Commons to address the situation. An Act of Parliament was passed that year which appointed Trustees from the properties fronting the north, east and west ends of the Square to clean, adorn, and beautify it. That Trust still exists today.

A year after the Trust was formed, the Square was paved and Charles Brideman was commissioned to design an aesthetically pleasing central open area. He created an octagonal space that included a round water basin in the center that spanned 150 feet in diameter and was 4 feet deep. He enclosed the space with outer railings and made walkways extending straight from the corners of the railings to the basin.

In 1799 the octagonal was changed to a circle, and in 1807 an equestrian statue of William III was set in the center of the water basin. The basin was demolished in 1854, but the statue continues to dominate the center of the park today.

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By 1817, the Trustees wanted to revamp the Square and called in John Nash to redesign it. Nash kept the above-mentioned basin but surrounded it with curving walks, added shrubbery around the outside perimeter, designed a summer house beside the south entrance, and added additional serpentine paths through rich landscaped gardens. He enclosed the Square with handsome cast iron railings set on a Portland stone base. Nash’s plan was implemented that year and completed in 1818.

 

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Today, seventeen of the houses that overlook St. James’s Square are “listed” properties of special importance. The Square has had some notable residents. Here are a few and where they lived:

#4 was built in 1728. This was the home of the Astor family for thirty years. It is now home to The In and Out, Naval and Military Club and is the only remaining building that has a mews at the rear.

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#5 was built in 1749 and the second story was added in 1854. This was the London residence of the Byng family (The Earls of Stafford) for 260 years.

#9 & 10 were both built in 1736 and today they’re combined to form Chatham House, which is the office of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. No. 9 was originally occupied by the Hoare banking family until 1836. And, No. 10 was the home to both William Pitt, the 1st Earl of Chatham and Prime Minister of England (1708-1778), and Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1889).

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#15 was built in 1766 and designed by architect James Stuart. This was the London residence of the Earl of Lichfield for fifty years.

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#16 is an important building for those of you who love the Regency era. On the evening of June 21st, 1815 a soiree was being held in this home hosted by Mrs. Edmund Boehm that included the Prince Regent, later George IV. The festivities were interrupted when the Honorable Major Henry Percy, 14th Light Dragoons, an aide de camp to the Duke of Wellington, knocked on the door. He traveled from Brussels with a dispatch from Wellington that informed the Prince Regent of the victory at Waterloo and laid two French Imperial Eagles that were captured on the battlefield at the feet of the Prince. Imagine being able to boast that news of this important victory was announced first in your home.

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#20 was built in 1774 and designed by architect Robert Adam. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother lived here from from 1906 to 1920.

#32 was built in 1818 and for much of the 19th century this was the residence of the Bishops of London.

To find out how I used St. James’s Square in An Unexpected Countess, order your copy today.

An Unexpected Countess

Sarah Forrester, an American diplomat’s daughter, must locate the fabled Sancy diamond or her family will be ruined by a mysterious blackmailer. But the Earl of Hartwick has also been tasked by the Prince Regent to find the diamond. Little does he know the feisty young lady he met on a rooftop is his competition. As they each follow the clues hidden in a bracelet, Sarah and Hart realize they will have to work as a team. Being together may be as dangerous to their hearts as the hunt is to their lives…and finding the jewel is only the beginning.

 

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St. James’s Church – A Fashionable Place to Marry During the Regency Era

Not too long ago, I traveled to London to celebrate the release of An Unsuitable Duchess. It seemed an appropriate place to celebrate since my Secret Lives of the Ton series takes place there during the Regency era. While in London I had fun searching out locations to include in the third book of the series entitled An Unexpected Countess, which will be released June 1, 2017.

Whenever possible, I like to use locations for my stories that still exist today so readers can visit them if they have the opportunity. I knew I needed a church for this story, and most Regency romances that I’ve read use St. George’s Hanover Square in Mayfair. I wanted to find a unique location and knew there had to be other churches from that time period that members of the British aristocracy would have gone to. I just needed to find one. My search led me to St. James’s Church on Piccadilly in the exclusive area of St. James’s, and I thought I’d give you an armchair trip to see it with me.

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The Piccadilly entrance to St. James’s Church.

When St. James’s Square and the area around it began to be developed in the 17th century, it created a need for an extra church to accommodate the additional parishioners of St. Martin in the Fields. Henry Jermyn, the 1st Earl of St. Albans, gave some of his land for an additional church and churchyard. In 1672 he hired noted architect Christopher Wren to design an Anglican church. It was finished in 1684, and in 1685 the separate parish of St. James was created.

Wren designed the church to be built of red brick with Portland stone dressings. Grinling Gibbons, who was a noted sculpture and woodcarver of the day, made the carved marble font and limewood altarpiece.

 

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According to the church’s website, “accounts by visitors to St. James’s during the eighteenth century stress the fashionable element in the congregation. John Evelyn remarked that a sermon which he had heard elsewhere on the subject of costly apparel would have been more appropriately delivered at St. James’s or some other of the theatrical churches in London, where the ladies and women were so richly and wantonly dressed and full of jewels. James Macky complained that a stranger had to pay for a convenient seat so that it cost one almost as dear to see a play, but he still thought the church worth a visit on a holiday or Sunday, when the fine assembly of beauties and Quality come there. In later years, James Boswell confessed that his mind was distracted when he attended a service at the church but excused himself because his warm heart and a vivacious fancy made him give in to love and to the most brilliant and showy method of public worship.”

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The back entrance of the church from Jermyn Street.

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The door leading up to the spire.

The interior of the church, which had been admired for its beauty by contemporary writers, owed its brilliancy not only to the richness of the congregation’s dress but also to the whiteness of the walls, the gilded fittings, and the handsome furniture all illuminated in winter by scores of candles.

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The English poet and painter William Blake was baptized in St. James’s Church in 1757 and the musician George Thomas Smart was baptized here in 1776.

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William Ince and John Mayhew, who were partners in a successful furniture business, married sisters in a double wedding in St. James’s in 1762. Fredrick de Horn married the artist Angelica Kauffman here in 1767. For those interested in scandal, the groom was an imposter who was already married. And Philip Hardwick, the architect, married Julia Shaw in St. James’s in 1819.

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James Gillray, the famous caricaturist was buried in St. James’s in 1815. Mary Beale, one of the first professional women artists, was buried here in 1699. And William Douglas, the 4th Duke of Queensberry, was buried here in 1810.

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A simple gravestone, now used as a paver stone at the entrance of the church.

In May of 1940, a bomb destroyed the rectory and vestry, and incendiary bombs also took out the spire and most of the roof. The churchyard and outside graves were destroyed as well. While I roamed around the churchyard, I had the opportunity to talk with Reverend Lucy Winkett. She informed me that after the explosion many of the tombstones were left scattered about the churchyard. Because supplies were scarce due to the war, the parish decided to use those tombstones in front of the church as pavers leading to the building when they rebuilt the church in 1947. You can see them today if you enter the grounds through the Piccadilly entrance.

 

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The churchyard is raised and behind this wall on Jermyn Street.

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St. James’s Church is the black square you see under the “i” in Piccadilly. Map courtesy of Greenwood’s Map of London from 1826.

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This is a map of the parish boundaries for St. James’s Church.

If you have the opportunity to travel to London and are in the area, it’s worth a stop to see this lovely church which I found a way to use in An Unexpected Countess. You’ll have to read the book to find out how.

 

A Luxury Hotel in Regency London

I’m trying to squeeze in one last trip before summer vacation is over, and I’m challenged with finding a charming place to stay. Today, going online to search for a hotel is relatively easy, and I am a bit obsessive about reading guest reviews to help me find the perfect place for us to rest after a busy day seeing the sights. All this research had me thinking about travel during the early nineteenth century. Where did the fashionable people stay if they were planning on spending a brief amount of time in London?

Temple of Concord with rockets bursting overhead in Green Park. 1814

Temple of Concord with rockets bursting overhead in Green Park. 1814

During 1814, London was full of foreign dignitaries who had come to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon at the Prince Regent’s Grand Jubilee celebration. When Napoleon sailed for Elba, France’s King Louis XVIII left Buckinghamshire for London and took rooms at Grillon’s Hotel on Albemarle Street. Another popular hotel among foreign royals staying in London was the Pulteney Hotel.

The Pulteney Hotel’s name came from Pulteney, Earl of Bath, who had resided in the building before it became a hotel. The Pulteney was located on the west corner of Bolton Street at 105 Piccadilly. It was close to Green Park, Hyde Park and St. James Park where many of the Jubilee celebrations were held.

Catherine Pavlovna, the Grand Duchess of Oldenburg, in her fetching bonnet.

Catherine Pavlovna, the Grand Duchess of Oldenburg, in her fetching bonnet.

In late March of 1814, the Pulteney Hotel played host to Catherine Pavlovna, the Grand Duchess of Oldenburg. Catherine was the widowed sister of Tsar Alexander I, and her hotel arrangements had been made by the Russian Ambassador, Count Lieven. It cost 210 guineas a week for her stay.

Tsar Alexander I of Russia

Tsar Alexander I of Russia

On June 7th, Tsar Alexander I arrived in London for the victory celebration and was invited to stay in the Duke of Cumberland’s apartments at St. James’s Palace. He declined the invitation and decided to join his sister at the Pulteney Hotel instead. Upon his arrival at the hotel, he stepped out onto the balcony to acknowledge the cheering crowds who had gathered in Piccadilly to see him.

What was it like to be a guest at the Pulteney Hotel?

While staying in London, guests had access to the well-trained Pulteney footmen. These footmen could assist you in delivering your calling cards around town to announce your arrival. Should you decide to shop along fashionable Bond Street, these footmen would carry your growing stack of purchases. And, if you were without your own carriage and understood the importance attached to handsome equipage, the Pulteney could arrange the hire of the expensive but necessary carriage to drive you about town during your stay.

After all those visits and all that shopping, you would hope you’d be able to have a restful night’s sleep. But during the early nineteenth century, London was not a serene place. In Sisters of Fortune, a biography of the Caton sisters by author Jehanne Wake, there is an excellent description of what life was like for someone residing at the Pulteney.

“The Pulteney Hotel, for which the highest prices in London were extracted from guests, was all that was most comfortable, but there was no rest to be had there. At first, the sisters took a suite of rooms arranged with their bedchambers at the back overlooking the mews. Over the cobblestones from about half-past six o’clock every morning came the dust carts with their bells and the dustmen with their chants of ‘Dust-ho!’ Then came the porterhouse carts rattling with pewter pots; then the milk carts; and then the vegetable sellers so that ‘the succession or cries, each in a different tune, so numerous when mixed with the stables housed there and stirring for the day, meant that there was an unholy noise throughout the morning.’ This cacophony was not well received by women who had only gone to bed at three o’clock in the morning. Next they moved to a suite at the front of the hotel, looking out onto Piccadilly. From about midnight…until about five o’clock in the morning a steady flow of carriages drove up and down Piccadilly, taking their occupants to and from routs and balls and gamming clubs. Should there be one half hour’s quiet, it was sure to be punctured by the watchman’s call reporting on the state of the weather.”

With a night like that, I wonder how many stars the Pulteney would have received had their guests been given the opportunity to give it a review.

Sources used include: