A quiet masterpiece that hides itself away in a London side-street between Buckingham Palace and Westminster Cathedral. To find it, you have to search it out, turning off busy Victoria Street into a muddle of lanes that have been shaped by a history of charity schools and almshouses reaching back across four centuries.
Go halfway down Buckingham Gate and there on the left is St. James Court. You could easily pass it – because the street is almost too narrow to let you stand back and enjoy the full panorama of its Victorian-Edwardian stone-trim-and-brick-façade. However, you might pause to peer through the tracery of a massive wrought-iron gate set in a dark archway, and you would do well to do so, for beyond is a mystery of delights: the hidden inner sanctum of St. James Court. You may just catch a glimpse of a fountain playing in a quadrangle of porches and pillars that glitter with a sea-green Faience glaze. Linking the eight mansion blocks that surround this court is an endless frieze of figures carved from the bricks that dance right round the quad, reputedly the longest frieze in existence anywhere in the world. Restored – like the rest of the building – to its original glory. It typifies the concealed charms of one of Britain’s finest hotels.
What makes St. James Court all the more special is that its builder was not a famous architect or hotelier, but an almost unknown English gentleman. Major Charles Pawley was a retired military man who had learned his skills in the Royal Engineers.
St. James Court was a Major Pawley’s masterwork, raised just at the turn of the century when Britain ruled the waves and a third of the world besides. In their impartial self-confidence, Englishmen like Charles Pawley believed they could do anything they set their minds to. Furthermore, they felt no need to trumpet their success. Reserve and understatement became the hallmarks of an English gentleman.
Charles Allen (born 1940) is a British writer and historian. He was born in India, where several generations of his family served under the British Raj. His work focuses on India and South Asia in general. In the book Kipling Sahib, Allen paints a more sympathetic picture of Rudyard Kipling than other authors have.
Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces
Established in 1901, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces is one of Asia’s largest and finest group of hotels, comprising 99 hotels in 57 locations across India and 17 international hotels in the Maldives, Malaysia, Australia, UK, USA, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Africa and the Middle East. From world-renowned landmarks to modern business hotels, idyllic beach resorts to authentic Grand Palaces, each Taj hotel offers an unrivalled fusion of warm Indian hospitality, world-class service and modern luxury. For over a century, The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, the iconic flagship has set a benchmark for fine living with exquisite refinement, inventiveness and warmth. Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces is part of the Tata Group, India’s premier business house. www.tajhotels.com
The Tata group comprises over 100 operating companies in seven business sectors with operations in more than 80 countries across six continents. Tata has more than a century of experience and leadership in the UK, its leading international market, with combined revenues exceeding $7 billion. Having established Tata Limited in 1907 to represent it in Europe, Tata has grown to become the largest Indian employer in the UK, comprising 19 companies and a 50,000-strong workforce spread across the region. Today, Tata is also the largest foreign investor in UK industry. In addition to the Taj Group’s hotels, Quilon, and The Bombay Brasserie, Tata companies include well-known brands in the UK – Tetley Tea, Tata Steel Europe, Jaguar, Land Rover, Tata Consultancy Services and significant players in their respective fields – Tata Communications, Tata Chemicals Europe (formerly Brunner Mond), Tata Motors. www.tata.com