St James’s is one of London’s most aristocratic areas. Home to many of the longest established and best-known Gentlemen’s Clubs, St James’s Street itself boasts an array of shops, some of which have been in place for centuries. While the eventual destination was, of course, Berry Bros. & Rudd itself, home of the King’s Ginger, some exploring was definitely on the cards first. I’ve walked up and down St James’s many times, and never had an occasion to enter any of the imposing establishments. But that was all about to change! For Edward himself would have undoubtedly have entered every one of these shops, and as I am on his trail, so must I.
The first shop we entered was James J. Fox, the Cigar Merchant, situated in St James’s for over 200 years. Since 1787 to be precise.
King Edward was very much partial to a fine cigar. King Edward brand cigars, named for Bertie himself are still available; but when alive, the King would have only the very finest for himself. The shop is quite remarkably exempt from the smoking ban, and in fact has a smoking lounge, so the smell of tobacco enveloped Hanson and I as we entered. As well as being gracious enough to let us walk around snapping and snooping, it turns out they also have a museum in the basement, packed with historical mementos and ephemera.
This box of cigars actually dates from Edwards last years as the Playboy Prince.
Another famous cigar fan – Winston Churchill – was the subject of much memorabilia in the museum. And a rather regal chair and ashtray that I had to try out… of course.
Anyway, all the fumes from the smoke were making me quite lightheaded, so we headed out for some smelling salts. Well, to the chemist a few doors up.
D.R. Harris has also been in its present location for more than 200 years. It sells a vast array of traditional paraphernalia, from shaving equipment to brushes to gentleman’s nail clippers and so on; and a carries a huge range of toiletries. Soaps, scents and unguents, all packaged in sturdy, no-nonsense bottles and tubs. A truly splendid place.
Didn’t think much of the delivery chap’s outfit. Wellies in town… I mean, really.
While they don’t have a museum as such (and actually apologised to us for that!), they do have some wonderful old pieces on display, huge old advertising props for perfume and old glass bottles. Plus the antique pharmacist’s cabinet above.
The manager didn’t have any Bertie anecdotes for me, but I’m sure he or members of his household would have popped in. been Christmas may be over, but this would be a treasure trove of future gifts for grandads, and dads… and any vintage-appreciating men in your life, quite frankly.
Onwards and indeed upwards, for the next stop on our mystery tour was Lock & Co. Hat makers to Royalty, and found at No. 6 St James’s Street for more than 300 years.
The Lock & Co website states that, ‘established not later than 1676 to wait upon the Court at St. James’s, the business now serves customers from all corners of the earth. Its survival is the consequence of progressive conservatism, of confidence in quality and a demonstration of the effectiveness of persistent personality and individuality in an increasingly mass-minded world.’
Quite true, I would say. Its hats are the best of the best, as demonstrated by the popular radio DJ who was in there buying titfers for his dad and father in law at the same time as us. Hugely fond of dressing well as King Edward was, both before and after he ascended the throne; he would have had his pick of the toppers and felt creations on offer. Lock & Co also made the very first Bowler hat in 1849. A sort of hard hat crossed with a fashion statement, the bowler was a staple in comedy, in banking, and, remarkably, in the Wild West. Presumably due to its practicality when riding… or fighting!
The hat sizes of the Great and Good: Charlie Chaplin, Evelyn Waugh, Laurence Olivier… Lord Lucan even!
The sense of history you get in Lock’s is immense. From the antique hats lining the walls to the actual wood of the shop front itself. Three centuries of wear, tear and paint have given it the most amazing texture. You can’t help but run your hands over it… quickly in case the shopkeepers spot you! I’m only joking, they were all just as lovely as the others!
Next door to Lock & Co is Lobb the Shoemakers. Another stalwart of the street, Lobb himself was a Cornish farmboy with a limp, who learned the trade and came to London. Such was his skill at his craft that he won all sorts of awards, culminating in the Golden Ticket of the time – a Royal Warrant to make shoes for, of course, Edward, Prince of Wales. Edward’s taste for the finer things was truly from head to toe. His patronage ensured the success of the business, as where he went, others followed: ‘kings, maharajahs, actors, singers, politicians, business moguls and literati’.
We didn’t dare go in, as Hanson and I both have a particular weakness for shoes. It’s a truly dangerous place, and if anyone would like to stump up £7,000 so I can have a bespoke pair of snakeskin pumps made, I’d be most grateful.
Last but not least, it was on to visit the home of King’s Ginger itself, Berry Bros & Rudd. I don’t think I can do justice to its long and interesting history in such a short space, but I will try.
Berry’s has also been in its present location, no.3 St James’s Street, for over 300 years. The shop front is unchanged and has that same wonderful texture as Lock & Co.
Founded in 1698 by an enterprising widow named Bourne, the first Royal Warrant was awarded in the reign of George III, in the 1700s. They continue to hold it to this day, but not all Royals have had the honour of having libations created specifically for them. I have related the story of the creation of KGL several times on here, so you don’t need to hear it again. But, given the season and its reason for creation (protection from the cold), King’s Ginger was much in evidence in the window displays.
Inside, it was bustling with businessmen and ladies buying bottles of aged wine for the festive season, but they let me stand around ‘modelling’ a bottle of the ginger nectar among the warm wood panelling and random iron machinery. The famous weighing scales upon which famous customers used to record their own weight still stand in the centre of the room.
The sense of history stretching back over the centuries as you stand in Berry’s is immense. I thoroughly recommend popping in if you pass – there’s so much to look at on the walls and shelves.
If you were luck enough to receive a bottle of The King’s Ginger for Christmas, or can pick one up today, even; then here’s my top two festive and New Year’s Eve recipes.
King’s Ginger Mulled Wine
- 750ml red wine
- 250ml The King’s Ginger
- 50g caster sugar
- 2 lemons zested (plus flesh of 1 lemon)
- 1 orange zested
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- A dash of nutmeg
- 1 star anise
The recipe says to ‘simmer over a low heat for 3 hours, then double strain with fine sieve’, but I heated it up until it was hot… and that was perfectly fine. It’s so warming, and very very strong!
When you’re getting ready to party, this is guaranteed to get you in the mood…
The Ginger Royale
- 35ml The King’s Ginger
- 140ml Champagne
‘Pour a generous measure of The King’s Ginger into a flute. Add chilled Champagne to taste. Then find some attractive friends with whom to share this delicious and efficacious concoction.’ Sounds about right to me!
Last, but no least, let me tell you about my outfit!
I’m wearing a halterneck jumpsuit that actually came from ASOS (amazingly, still available!), after I saw it on Retrochick‘s blog. I am only wearing it on the bottom half, though – I rolled it down and used the neck ties as a belt! A 1930s style jumper that came from a high street shop is underneath a 1940s jacket that’s part of a suit. The A-line beige skirt does absolutely nothing for me, unfortunately; but the shoulder and hip detail of the jacket is exquisite. And the cut fits me like it’s bespoke. I’m also wearing my winter sheepskin shoes bought from Miss L Fire. Do excuse the rather unstyled hair! Thanks again to Hanson for snapping me.
Happy New Year to one and all of my amazing readers. I am heading to a vintage event locally, it’s called Die Freche Muse and it should be fabulous fun. I just can’t decide what to wear!
Have a good one, gang! See you next year.
Lots of love,