Monday, January 12, 2009

The Gentlemen of St James's

For all government ministers throw up their hands in astonishment at ‘social immobility’ and ‘class divide’, they're embedded in England’s institutions, such as ‘The Gentlemen’s Club’. We spent Sunday afternoon being reminded of this, in St James’s.

J. is training as a Westminster Guide and generously treated friends to an inaugural walk , taking in the arcades and passages, shops and clubs located around the church of St James. It’s an area redolent with the notion of the ‘English gentleman’, and shops which provide the accessories, from fine wines to country house clothes. Woolworths may go to the wall, but here it’s Floreat Asser and Turnbull.

Here, too, are the gathering places. Boodles and The Atheneum, Whites and The Reform Club are concealed behind discreet façades while we listen to tales of gambling, fine dining, and political chicanery within. Admission is by election and our privilege is to be allowed to stand on the pavements and gawp.

That epitome of the English gentleman, George 'Beau' Brummell, commemorated in bronze in Jermyn Street, didn’t worry about pavements. After washing from head to toe, in an age when few people bothered to bathe, he took five hours to dress. Then he had his sedan chair brought into his house so as not to sully his boots by London’s mud on his way to his club.

R once trained as Greenwich Guide and was impressed by the research that had gone into preparing the walk. I was amazed at J’s mastery of a tortuous route and memory for the facts.

The area is not so compact as Greenwich, but the walk was pleasantly varied. Greenwich has some real heroes, of course, unlike the effete and privileged drones of St James’s, for all their tourist appeal. I may be biased, of course.

Beau Brummell :

St James's :'s

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