The LondonShop History

Berry Bros. & Rudd has been at 3 St James’s Street for over 310 years and has a fascinating history. The company’s fortunes are inextricably linked to St James’s Palace. Prior to the building of the palace by Henry VIII, the area now known as St James’s was little more than meadow and an area of woodland. There was a tiny settlement here, outside the walls of the city, consisting of the Hospital of St James from whence the palace and surrounding area takes its name. The hospital was for victims of leprosy, originally home to ‘fourteen sisters, maidens that were leprouse, living chastely and honestly in divine service’.

Henry VIII was known to enjoy the area and would ride here with Anne Boleyn or to hunt deer. In 1532 he acquired the land and all that was upon it and demolished the convent-hospital, replacing it with a hunting lodge that was to serve as a retreat from the gossip of the Palace of Westminster, as well as a love nest for him and Anne Boleyn.

The building of the palace laid the foundations for the development of the entire area and by 1662 Henry Jermyn had begun his ambitious building programme, starting with St James’s Square. A small row of houses had been built along the eastern side of what is now St James’s Street and it was in number three that a lady we know as ‘the Widow Bourne’ lived.

At this time, a major part of fashionable London life was an outing to a ‘coffee house’ to meet with friends and political allies to plot, scheme and gossip, and this is where the Widow Bourne spotted her business opportunity. In 1698 she set up business at number three, buying our now famous coffee scales and the mill – that are still in the shop today complete with records of customers’ weights spanning three centuries – and began supplying coffee to Boodles, The Carlton Club and the like. These were the beginnings of what is now Berry Bros & Rudd.

Lord Byron’s visit to our London Wine Shop

George Gordon Byron was a leading figure in British poetry and indeed a leader for the Romantic Movement itself. Among his best known works are the short poems 'She walks in beauty' and 'When We Two Parted' and the narratives ‘Childe Harold's Pilgrimage’ and ‘Don Juan’. He is just as famous however for his many indulgences, numerous love affairs, his debts and his general prominence as 'bon viveur'; he was famously described by Lady Caroline Lamb (with whom he had a highly public and scandalous affair) as "mad, bad, and dangerous to know".

Despite his many and varied excesses; from dining heartily on meat and three bottles of fine claret or simply making do with 'a damned anchovy sandwich', George Gordon Byron was nevertheless as obsessed with his weight as many of us are today. His struggle with corpulence is well documented and inextricably linked to Berry Bros. & Rudd as it was on our scales where he learned the results of his dieting efforts. When first weighed at the age of 17 'in boots but no hat' he came in at a splendid 13 stone 12, quite an achievement for a chap at 5'8".

Sorties up to London with his friends to explore the demi-monde and gambling hells (one of the most fashionable was to be found in Pickering Square behind the shop) made him a familiar figure in St James's and on his return to Number Three he was registered on the scales at 10 stone, much more the ideal for a man of his height and much to his delight. Indeed writing from the Gordon Hotel in Albermarle St he expresses his satisfaction to a lady confidante:

"One thing I do not regret, which is having pared off sufficient quantity of flesh to enable me to slip into an eel skin and vie with the slim beaux of modern times... as violent exercise in London is impracticable; I attribute the phenomenon to our evening squeezes at public and private parties"