St James’ it a fairly sharply defined area defined on the south and west by two Parks, S James’s and Green, on the north by the main thoroueltfare of Piccadilly, and on the cast, less sharply, by the twin routes of Lower Regent Street and the Haymarket. Its origins are equally dear; St James’s began as a court purhcu, almost precinct, materialising in the magnetic field of force set up first by Charles IPs dominant affection for Whitehall Palace as a residence after the Restoration of 1660, lapsing perhaps a little as William III preferred the suburban amenities of Kensington, then reviving, re developing as the Hanoverians in the eighteenth century settled for St James’s Palace itself. In Victoria’s reign, as the main town house of the Crown became Buckingham Palace, Belgravia became the new focus for the aristocratic residences of the high servants of the Crown, and the big establishments in St James’s began the slow proccss of yielding to dubs and commerce.
I have chosen to approach from Trafalgar Square; either of the two exits westwards from the Square, Cockspur Street and Pall Mall East, will serve, for they converge. Cockspur Street is the home of some of the great shipping companies, now strangely old fashioned. It is adorned though by the only modest equestrian statue I knowGeorge III (by Wyatt, 1836); he was born up the road, in St James’s Square. It is a touchingly affectionate image, offering neither support for the animosity of long memoricd republicans nor any indication of the terrible madness that benighted the king’s later years.
There he goes, sitting his safe bronze hone most comfortably, his cocked hat held low at his side as though he has just given one discreet, almost bourgeois, cheer for constitutional monarchy; admirable object, it gets less attention than it deserves.
And, also easily missed, round the back of Cok spur Street, south, approached by a crack from it called Warwick House Street, an extraordinary oasis Carlton Mews. Copious.,, labelled as not public, it is an established thoroughfare for cognoscenti from Trafalgar Square to Carlton House Terrace, and is a simple, functional, stable yard left over from earlier days into the twentieth century. The horses have long departed, but you can still all but hear the echo of their hoofr in the abrupt twilight ot the yard; it should not really be mentioned aloud, this place, or, as has been threatened, some tycoon will snap it up and tear it down.
Westward from the bottom of the Haymarket strctches the vista of Pall Mall between its massy masonry; immediately on your right, behind the New Zealand House, another charming left over, the Opera Arcade a passage way roofed with a sequence of elegant lanterns, and a miscellany of little shops. It used to be full only of the noise of your own footsteps, but its re smartening, as almost an extension of New Zealand House, may bring it back to fashion; though it lose its secrecy, this will be good, for it is the most purely handsome of all London arcades (by Nash and Rcpton). Then comes Waterloo Place (bottom of Lower Regent Street); north, Edwardian banks open about the Crimean War Memorial, which is moulded from real Russian cannon, slightly absurd, touching, with a female Honour poised above bear skinned guardsmen whom she appears to have just won by skilful quoiting of the wreaths in her hands. In front, unreasonably (and unhis torically) sweet and mild, the tender figures of Florence Nightingale (with lamp) and that admirable statesman, Sidney Herbert, whom Florence ruled with a rod of iron. And another of those tremendous Trafalgar Square typc lamp posts. South of Waterloo Place, the splendid, for once ample enough, flight of steps leads down to St James’s Park behind the round, pink granite, column built for the Duke of York in 1831 34 (much more satisfactory in design than Nelson’s Column, Tuscan as against Corinthian). The Duke, 124 feet above you (so high, they said, to get him out of reach of his creditors) has a crisp and satisfactory silhouette; he is approachable by steps inside the column, but these have been dosed to visitors lor years owing to the suicidal invitation of the open top. He was a good Royal Duke, as George Ill’s sons went; an able administrator as Commander in Chief, but his reputation condemned irrevocably by a nursery rhyme, as he who led his troops up the hill and down again.