The Garden Guide

Book: London and Its Environs, 1927
Chapter: 9 Piccadilly


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Piccadilly, from the top of Haymarket (where it officially begins) to Hyde Park Corner, is about 1 mile in length. Beyond Piccadilly Circus its east half, to the south of which is the region of St. James's, is occupied on both sides by handsome shops, restaurants, and hotels, but its west half is flanked on the north side only by a stately row of luxurious clubs and fashionable residences overlooking the Green Park, which borders it on the south. Behind this west half lies the aristocratic region of Mayfair, reached by various side-streets abounding in private hotels and expensive lodgings, whose harvest is the London Season. The east end of the street began to be built in the 17th century, and the name gradually extended westwards along what was the old road to Reading and Bath. The name of Piccadilly is supposed to be derived from 'pickadel,' a fashionable 17th century ruff, or from 'pickadil,' the hem of a garment. It occurs as early as 1630. On the south side of Piccadilly, a few yards from the Circus, is the north facade of the Geological Museum. Nearly opposite is the Piccadilly Hotel, with its bold colonnade on the upper story and another facade in Regent St. On the left is St. James's Church, in the paved forecourt of which is an open-air pulpit. This church, the interior of which is especially admired, was built by Wren in 1682-84. It was the most fashionable church in London in the early 18th century, and three of its rectors became Archbishops of Canterbury, viz. Tenison in 1694, Wake in 1716, and Secker in 1758. The font, at which Lord Chesterfield and Lord Chatham were baptized, and the carving over the altar are by Grinling Gibbons. Charles Cotton (died 1687), the friend of Izaak Walton, Dr. Sydenham (died 1689), Van de Velde (died 1693), marine painter, Tom d'Urfey (died 1723), Mark Akenside (died 1770), and 'Philidor' (Francois Andre Denican, died 1795), chess-player and composer, are buried here. To the west is the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, with Princes Restaurant on the ground-floor. On the north side of Piccadilly, nearly opposite St. James's, is Sackville St., notable for being without lamp-posts. Next, on the same side, is the Albany, styled simply 'Albany' by the quidnuncs, a private 'no thoroughfare,' devoted to suites of bachelors' chambers, which occupy the house in front, and flank the covered passage running through the former gardens to Burlington Gardens. The house, designed for Lord Melbourne by Sir William Chambers and afterwards in the possession of the Duke of York and Albany, was converted to its present use in 1803. Lord Byron lived here in 1814-15 (Block H 6) immediately before his marriage, and Bulwer Lytton afterwards occupied the same suite. Macaulay lived here from 1841 till 1856 (E 1). 'Monk' Lewis, Canning, and Gladstone, besides the heroes of many fashionable novels of last century also had rooms here. Immediately to the west of the Albany is Burlington House, the home of the Royal Academy, the Royal Society, and several other learned societies. The building next the street, with an imposing but somewhat heavy facade in the Italian Renaissance style, pierced by three lofty archways, was built by Banks and Barry in 1872. The wings flanking the courtyard are of the same date. On the north side of the quadrangle stands Old Burlington House, with a modern facade, completed by the addition of the top story in 1873. The statues in the niches represent Pheidias, Leonardo da Vinci, Flaxman, Raphael, Michael Angelo, Titian, Reynolds, Wren, and William of Wykeham. Behind is a large block of exhibition-galleries and rooms added by Sydney Smirke in 1868-69 for the Royal Academy.