10 Things I learned About St. James’s London

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On a fine Sunday afternoon, the last of the warm and bright summer days, the kids and I decided to wander into central London for a walking tour involving history and sweet treats.  We took the Piccadilly and Petits Four walking tour of the neighbourhood around St. James’s London with Yannick Pucci.  Yannick is not only a tour guide at the British Museum but he also runs his own tours through London Unravelled.

The Piccadilly and Petits Fours Walking Tour

Our tour group was small which made visiting places easy.  It turned out to be just me, the kids, Yannick and Angie from Silverspoon London.

st. james's London tour of pica dilly and petits fours

You meet Yannick near the entrance to Green Park as you exit from the Green Park tube station.  Unlike other tours I’ve been on, the meeting point was very easy to find.  The tour covers a relatively small area but it is packed full of interesting places and history.

The petits fours portion of the tour lets you try out some of the internationally-renowned sweet treats that the area has to offer such as French macarons, English chocolates and Japanese wagashi confectionary.

St. James’s London Trivia

I don’t want to give too much away about the tour (trust me, Yannick is a font of knowledge) but I love trivia.  I thought I’d share my favourite pieces of trivia from the area around St. James’s London.

In no particular order, did you know:

  • Green Park has no flowers because Catherine of Braganza ordered all the flowers ripped up when her husband, Charles II, picked some flowers from the park to take to his mistress.  Charles was a known womaniser but this thoughtless behaviour was too close to Catherine’s home.  Literally.  Green Park at that time would have been part of the royal palace grounds.
St. James's London Green Park
Lots of green at Green Park but no flowers.
  • Before it became Green Park, the area was a graveyard for lepers.  Henry VII built St. James’s Palace where the leper hospital, dedicated to St. James, had been located.  And, property values immeasurably skyrocketed.
  • Piccadilly was originally named Portugal Street in honour of Catherine of Braganza.  Maybe Charles II was trying to placate his wife after the mistress incident.
  • Mr. Fortnum of Fortnum & Mason fame made his fortune by recycling Queen Anne’s candles.  Queen Anne insisted on fresh candles every day and so her old candles were thrown out even if they were still usable.
st. James's London
The grocery store where you send your butler to pick up some sugar.
  • The Georgian male fashion plate, Beau Brummell,  was credited with bringing in the modern fashion for a 3 piece suit.  Even though he favoured an understated, elegance, it still took him 5 hours a day to get dressed.  I can only imagine how long it took to achieve the artfully tousled curls in his hair as shown on his statue.
st. James's London
Even the London pigeons are afraid of Beau Brummel’s haughtiness.
  • These beautiful mews houses are used by the Stafford Hotel for people who want a long-term stay in London.  They started off as the stables for the fancy houses of the aristocrats in the neighbourhood.
st. James's London
This charming courtyard used to be stables.
  • Some of the streets around Piccadilly still have some of the original gas lamps from Victorian times.
st. James's London
A glass lamp flickering on a side street
  • The Embassy of Texas was in an alley behind Berry Brothers wine merchants for the four years that Texas was an independent republic.
st. James's London
The Texas Embassy chose their location well.
  • One of the prototypes for the famous British red phone boxes is tucked into the entryway of the Royal Arcade.  The phone box is listed on the historic register.
st. James's London
The winner of the design for London’s telephone box
  • Burlington Arcade was created next door to Burlington House (now the Royal Academy) so that people would stop littering in the alley next door to the house.

Our Verdict of the Tour

We had a really good time!  The tour was fairly fast-paced even though it the area around St. James’s London is pretty small. I discovered all these random side passages to get between places.  In addition, there were enough snack breaks and interesting historical anecdotes to keep my kids interested.

The Picadilly and Petit Four tour costs £15 per person and lasts approximately 2 1/2 hours.  You get 5 tastings included in the price. You should wear comfy shoes as there is a fair bit of walking. The tour begins and ends near Green Park Tube.


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18 thoughts on “10 Things I learned About St. James’s London”

  1. Well there you go – I worked just by St James for a few years (in Whitehall) and I didn’t know any of that stuff! I don’t think they did tours like this in those days though, otherwise I might have gone on it!

  2. I love all this trivia – makes a place come to life. My husband keeps saying he fancies a walking tour and this sounds perfect.
    I do love the mews houses – they always appear like tiny villages in the middle of the metropolis. #mondayescapes

    1. I love the mews too! They are so cute. But then it occurs to me that the aristocrats’ horses lived in better conditions than the poor people.

  3. I love these factoids about St James! That’s often what’s fun about walking tours: while you can get the overall history of a place like London through a guidebook, a tour guide can entertain you with trivia.

  4. This is just fabulous, what a great post! I loved seeing updates from great places like London, what a great experience for you. Well done!

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