In 1661 Henry Jermyn, Earl of St. Albans and former Ambassador to Paris and The Hague obtained a grant of Crown land from Charles II to develop a residential neighbourhood in the area known as St James’s Field.
St. James’s Square was the first development undertaken by Henry Jermyn, and was to be surrounded by approximately fourteen grand houses, with four streets – King Street, Charles Street, Duke Street and York Street – leading from it.
The newly completed development flourished and became a fashionable address from the outset. More building work followed and by the time of Jermyn’s death in 1683, the fabric of the area was virtually complete. From this time, Henry Jermyn was regarded as the true founder of London’s West End.
In its early days Jermyn Street was more residential than commercial. It was a bustling scene of houses, lodgings, hotels, taverns and schools, which was dominated by the beautiful Church of St. James’s designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Inside the church, visitors can admire the fine carvings on the altar and organ case, which were designed by Grinling Gibbons.
Over the years Jermyn Street’s distinguished residents have included the likes of Sir William Stanley; Sir John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough; Sir Isaac Newton; William Pitt; Sir Walter Scott; the poet Thomas Gray; William Gladstone; and W. M. Thackeray.
In its 300-year history Jermyn Street has always retained its distinctive character. This applies to the ambience of the street, the services it offers, and to the shops and businesses and the people who own and run them. Inevitably there have been changes in the architecture over the years, with the old houses converted into shops and some facades modernized. However, much of the original essence of Jermyn Street lingers on and it still provides a quintessentially British experience.