What’s in a name?…Pall Mall

November 22, 2010

This curiously named street in the heart of London’s St James district traces the origins of its moniker back to the 17th century when the game of “pall mall” (“pell mell” and “paille maille” being among a host of alternative spellings) was played there.

The game, mentioned by Samuel Pepys in his famous diary, involves the use of a mallet and ball similar to that used in modern croquet but, according to some commentators, pall mall was more likely a predecessor of golf than croquet, with players attempting to belt the ball as far as possible along a pitch before putting the ball through a hoop suspended high off the ground.

Pall Mall, which runs parallel to The Mall from St James’ Street in the west to Haymarket in the east with an eastern extension, Pall Mall East, completing the journey from Haymarket into the northern end of Trafalgar Square, became famous in the 19th and early 20th centuries for housing numerous ‘gentlemen’s clubs’. Among those still in business are the Travellers Club, the Athaenaeum Club, the Reform Club, the Army and Navy Club, the Oxford and Cambridge Club, and the Royal Automobile Club.

St James’s Palace sits at the street’s western end and it is of note that nearly all of the southern side of the street is still part of the Crown Estate (the exception being a home Charles II is believed to have given to the actress Nell Gwynne, who apparently sensibly demanded the freehold on the property).

Other buildings along the street include Schomberg House, built for the Duke of Schomberg in the late 17th century (only the facade of which remains), and the Sir Christopher Wren-designed Marlborough House, which is tucked in between Pall Mall and The Mall and sits opposite St James’s Palace. The National Gallery and the Royal Academy also both briefly had homes in Pall Mall.

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