Esoteric London

No. 312: St James’s Street, SW1

Posted in Shops by esotericlondon on May 10, 2011

Berry Bros. & Rudd, St James’s Street, London, SW1. Photo © Roger Dean 2011

Underground London, Travels Beneath The City Streets – Stephen Smith, 2004:

Berry Brothers can trace its origins back to the restoration of the monarchy. It set up in premises which were considered highly desirable among tradesmen and courtiers by dint of their handiness for St James’s Palace, which Henry VIII had fashioned out of the unpromising material of a medieval leper colony. In 1698, the Widow Bourne established her grocery, or ‘Italian warehouse’, opposite the palace, facing the royal tennis court. The weighing scales in the shop are a relic of the origins of the business as a general goods store. At first, the firm measured out bags of coffee, tea, spices and snuff for its customers. But by 1765, it had become fashionable to place your own personage on Berry Brothers’ apparatus. This was in the days before you could reckon the pounds in the privacy of your own bathroom. Napoleon III included, the substantial figures who tipped the scales at 3 St James’s Street amount to a veritable Who’s Phew! Of historical avoirdupois. To the gambler Charles James Fox, who plied his trade in the clubs of St James’s, Berry Brothers was what a weighing room is to a professional jockey. The family’s scales also took the strain of Pitt the Younger in 1783, shortly before he became Britain’s youngest prime minister at the age of twenty-five; the seven sons of George III; Queen Victoria’s ‘wicked uncles’, including the Prince Regent, later George IV: Robert Peel; Lord Byron; and Beau Brummel. The celebrated dandy had himself weighed no fewer than forty times, including once in 1822, six years after he had supposedly quit England for France in order to outrun his creditors.

[ Esoteric London would like to thank the staff at Berry Bros. & Rudd, particularly Vicky Williams, for their assistance with this post.

Stephen Smith’s book Underground London can be purchased here. R.D.]

One Response

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  1. Jo Hall said, on May 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    When I worked in the City, we would get a bottle of Berry Brothers Whisky each Christmas – our first in 1983, lasted about 2 days!

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