My little jaunt to the ‘Smoke’ this week, took me to “Pickering Place” – a little alley that leads into to a public square, just off of St. James Street in the Pall Mall district.
Now – there are more than 600 public squares in London, but “Pickering Place” is by far the smallest – in fact it has the accolade of being the smallest public square in Great Britain.
Although Pickering Place may be small – it is steeped in history.
It is not that easy to find, but it is an alley way right down the bottom of St. James Street, next to the famous wine merchants ‘Berry Bros & Rudd Ltd’, the oldest wine merchants in London, who have been trading since 1698.
It is said that the tunnels and cellars running beneath Pickering Place, there are stored up to 2000,000 bottles of wine at any one time.
It was Berry Bros & Rudd Ltd who designed and built Pickering Place back in the 1700’s, and access to the square is via a narrow oak panelled tunnel right next to the wine merchants.
Entering into the square is like stepping back in time, with its Georgian terraces, original gas lamps and lanterns, and its wrought iron railings.
With its seclusion and dimly lit area – it is no wonder that is was notorious for being a gambling den – a brothel – and a bear baiting site throughout the centuries.
It is even said that Pickering Place was the location of the very last public “duel” to be held in London. The well-known term ‘pistols at dawn’ derives itself from when pistol duels were held to solve on-going disputes between 2 parties – and because it was an illegal practice, these events were held at dawn, when there weren’t any the authorities around.
Throughout the past few centuries, Pickering Place has had many famous residents.
The fine Regency dandy and ‘close’ friend of King George IV, Beau Brummell (1778-1840) who invented the cravat, used to live there, and it is said that he won a few ‘duels’ there as well.
Lord Palmerston (1784-1865), twice Prime Minister of Great Britain, was also a resident.
Pickering Place was also the location of the Texan Embassy, at a time when Texas was an independent state – before it joined the United States of America. In fact there is an old brass plaque on display just inside the entrance to Pickering Place that commemorates the time when the embassy was located there.
The famous author Graham Greene (he of Brighton Rock / The end of the Affair fame, and many other popular novels) also used to live in a flat within Pickering Place.
With its Georgian architecture, its gas lighting and old wrought iron railings, and all of the history that goes with it, it is no surprise that this tiny square is Grad II listed.
Just across the road from Pickering Place, tucked away down the end of Blue Ball Yard, right behind the Stratton House Hotel – is a site where a ‘barn’ that used to be owned by Henry VIII, was located. Over the years there has obviously been some major structural changes – however, the ruling has always been that the actual design of this barn, should remain intact – and you can see from the building that stands there now, that this ruling has clearly been adhered to.
All in all Pickering Place is a good place to visit for a couple of hours – to simply step back in time and get a ‘feel’ for its history.
On my way home I stopped off at the “Jamaica Wine House” (Jamaica, not Amy) – which is a very City old pub on the site of what was, back in 1652 – London’s very first Coffee House.
The “Jamaica Wine House” is located down a tiny alley off of Cornhill in the old financial and insurance district of London.
Now – the pub has nothing whatsoever to do with Pickering Place, but with its old wood panelled walls and vintage décor, it made a really good place to stop off for a well-deserved cheeky beer.
Hope you find the accompanying photos interesting.