What’s in a name?…Pall Mall

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.

Where’s London’s oldest…red telephone box?

An iconic symbol of Britishness, these days the red telephone boxes found throughout the city may well have more use as a prop in tourist’s photos than for actually making phone calls. But where’s the oldest?

Nestled under the gateway into the Royal Academy of the Arts in Piccadilly sits a rather non-descript looking red telephone box.

Created in 1924, it is actually a prototype of the red phone boxes that later became ubiquitous across the country.

The phone box prototype was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, one of three architects who were asked to create designs for the boxes after the Post Office’s initial designs were apparently rejected.

Scott’s successful design is the only one of the three to survive and while it’s made of wood, the later boxes were made of cast iron and painted red for visibility.

What’s In A Name? – Piccadilly

One of the principal thoroughfare’s of London’s West End – and lending its name to that most famous of intersections, Piccadilly Circus, the name Piccadilly derives from the stiff ruffs known as ‘piccadils’ which were widely worn by the fashionable during the 17th century.

The street was known as Portugal Street until the 17th century. While there are several different stories explaining the name, the most widely accepted story is that the name’s origins go back to a tailor by the name of Robert Baker.

He’d made a fortune from making and selling piccadils and used that money to purchase a large tract of land in the area, then largely countryside, and 1611-12 built a mansion there which became known, probably derisively, as Piccadilly Hall in reference to his trade.

When the area came to be developing in the years after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the name stuck.

Famous sights along Piccadilly include grocer Fortnum & Mason, founded in 1707 by one of Queen Anne’s footmen (pictured above), the Royal Academy of the Arts, the Ritz Hotel, which opened in 1906 and indicated a new level in luxurious hotels, the Wren-designed St James’ Church, and the entry to the 19th century Burlington Arcade.