We’d hate to ruin it for anyone at St James’s Market, but in our opinion, some things are just too good to remain secret. The venue proudly describes itself as one of London’s “best kept secrets” but we think the market deserves to be enjoyed by the widest audience possible.
Whether it’s the cool mix of shops (everything from an uber cool SMEG outlet to the fashion forward Showcase.co), the tantalising selection of restaurants, or the achingly cool architecture, there is something very cool about St James Market.
The location certainly doesn’t hurt. Nestled in the bosom of fashionable St James, famed for its bespoke tailoring, the location lends the venue an air of grandeur and distinction.
However, at the end of the day, it’s the venue’s special atmosphere that really seals the deal. St James’s Market has the ability to feel both tucked away and yet easily accessible. It’s a difficult balancing act but the market has just the right mix of quiet and exclusive feeling venues and buzzing, high street friendly vendors.
The History of the Area
Once home to a leper colony, St James has certainly come up in the world since then. The colony, part of the medieval hospital of St James, was replaced with a royal palace in the 16th century.
St James Palace was built by Henry VIII during the 1530s, with the red brick building becoming the official residence of the sovereign when the palace of Whitehall burnt down in the 17th century.
The palace has been the setting for several royal births including those of Charles II, Queen Anne and Queen Mary. The palace has also played host to the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840.
In the 17th century, the area around the palace was gifted to the 1st Earl of St Albans, Henry Jermyn. The gift was recognition of the Earl’s support for the monarchy during the English Civil War.
Jermyn wasted little time in building on his new land, leasing out plots to such distinguished builder as Nicholas Bourbon and Richard Frith. In a few short years a booming residential area had sprung up with St James’s Square, Jermyn Street and the new church of St James key parts of the new development.
Jermyn’s development has been seen as a key development in the evolution of the West End, with the Earl referred to as the Father of the West End by the Survey of London.
In the 19th century the area would gain a reputation for its private clubs with the likes of Whites, Boodles and several other establishments of the great and good running up St James’ Street. By that time, St James was also known for its bespoke shops. Vendors like Berry Bros & Rudd, John Lobb Ltd and Lock & Co Hatters all grace St James Street.
The area is good for anything from a light bite (the bath buns at Ole and STEEN are to die for), casual dining (we recommend Duck and Waffle Local) or more sophisticated cuisine (you can take your pick here from traditional Japanese at Anzu, upmarket Nordic fare from Aquavit or even West African cuisine from Ikoyi.
Aquavit (a sister restaurant to Michelin starred New York eaterie Aquavit, New York) specialises in Nordic cuisine with a list of mains including Turbot, Monkfish, Whole Boned Trout, as well as the ubiquitous Swedish meatballs.
If that were not enough there’s also Venetian inspired fair from Veneta. The restaurant is the brainchild of Simon Mullins of the Salt Yard Group (the people behind The Opera Tavern and Ember Yard).
There’s good old reliable Jigsaw for work staples. The company specialise in well-made and extremely durable office/smart casual clothes. For men, there’s Paul & Shark. The Italian brand have a reputation for quality and for the quality of their fabrics and workmanship. Meanwhile, active types will love Assos of Switzerland. Not to be confused with the UK online fashion vendor ASOS, ASSOS make cycling gear that is so well made that you may be tempted to wear it even when you’re no where near a bike. The company’s clothes can withstand extremes of temperature (both hot and cold) which make them useful during the British winter.
The market is home to a plethora of events – with Christmas Markets, craft fairs, food and wine tasting events and sporting events on a big screen in the square.
We love the Showcase.co store and we think you will too. The company provides a platform for the work of up and coming designers with a carefully curated offering of cutting edge brands and young designers on show at any one time.
The company doesn’t just work with emerging talent, however. Showcase regularly partners with the world’s biggest fashion houses and brands for its phenomenally popular sample sales. The events give the public an opportunity to buy designer fashion hot off the catwalks in exclusive and fun events. The events are members only, but signing up is easy, with no fee involved.
Erdem, Helmut Lang, Aspinal of London and Mulberry and are just a few of the names to have worked with the innovative fashion company in the last few months.
The store also runs showcases art and design. On the day I visit, the store has a display by West Midlands photographic artist Thomas Wynne. Wynne’s work focuses on the “conceptual representation of landscape”. Several of the artist’s photographs are dotted around the store.