Bond Street

Ritz Magazine 00-07-1986

The events leading up to Bond Street's 300th anniversary are described by Christopher Long, one of the most prolific and well-known chroniclers of life and times in and around London.

When a place like Bond Street decides to celebrate its 300th birthday, it's hardly surprising that the flags go out, the world arrives, the street puts on its party clothes and there are celebrations all round.

This is, after all, London's most famous, most fashionable and most exclusive high street. For three centuries it has catered to those who expect the best, seldom count the cost and prefer to do their hopping in a considerable degree of unruffled, unhurried and highly civilised style.

And who can blame them, though there has been a rumble or two of protest, it must be admitted.

The City of Westminster, for example, thinks 300 years is far too young to warrant so much fuss. But then the old boy has just finished celebrating his own 500th birthday.

Up in Hampstead they're not very impressed either. They are currently celebrating their 1,000th anniversary.

Meanwhile, in the old square mile of the City of London, the ghosts of many a Roman governor are whispering that they are well over 2,000 years old.

But despite such relative youth, this season has seen a non-stop series of spectacles, pageants, recitals and street parties to mark three centuries of pre-eminence in London which culminated in a spectacular ball for 1,500 guests at Sotheby's on June 5.

And curiously there's something appropriate in the fact that American Express of all people are the major sponsors of this festival. The earliest origins of Bond Street were in fact in 1644 when all the land around Bond Street was turned from wild countryside into an imposing palace and gardens by the Earl of Clarendon. That was also the very year Peter Stuyvesant gallantly tried and failed to prevent the British from turning the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam into what is today New York.

So, in 1986, the United States is making a more peaceful invasion in return – this time with a deal. Five pence will be donated to the volunteers of the St John Ambulance Fund every time an Amex card is used in Bond Street.

Nevertheless, it was in 1686 that Sir Thomas Bond, a wily property speculator, replaced the palace and its gardens with the fashionable streets we know today.

In the 18th Century the street was filled with the 'Bond Street Loungers' who cultivated a special walk called the Bond Street Roll which was much imitated. Beau Brummel and the Regency Dandies frequented the clubs and high-class brothels which catered to a predominantly male population. Ladies, it seems, could only decently be seen on the streets before midday!

By 1840 there were 22 tailors, 17 milliners and shirt-makers, 12 hatters, 12 wine merchants, 12 booksellers and a variety of grocers' shops. Then as now there were suppliers of porcelain, glass and china, alongside gunsmiths, silversmiths, goldsmiths and cabinet-makers.

Admiral Lord Nelson lived at no fewer than four addresses in Bond Street at different times. At No. 130 and 147 he lived with his mistress, Lady Hamilton; at No. 141 he lived with his wife after losing his arm at Santa Cruz. Both ladies apparently went to the chemists Savoury & Moore (still there today) to find ointments and drugs to help the hero.

William Pitt the Elder lodged in Bond Street, as did Henry Feilding who wrote part of Tom Jones there. It was at the home of James Boswell in Bond Street that the famous literary gatherings took place – which included Sir David Garrick, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Dr Johnson. Lord Byron was a member of the Pugilistic Club at 13 Old Bond Street and was entertained by Sir Walter Scott at Long's Hotel for the last time in 1815.

And after 25 years of almost total seclusion after the death of her husband, Prince Albert, Queen Victoria chose Bond Street for an extraordinary reappearance. Perhaps this wasn't too surprising. Even today Bond Street can claim 37 shops with Royal Warrants to supply goods to royal households.

In was in Her Majesty's Secret Service that James Bond, 007, was once told that he might be the heir to the original Thomas Bond. He was offered the opportunity to claim an inheritance on the most valuable piece of real estate anywhere in the world. But the world's most famous secret agent was too busy chasing arch-criminals (or was it a woman?) to be much interested in becoming the proprietor of Bond Street.

Bond was possibly very wise. In truth there's no such place as Bond Street. There's Old Bond Street which runs due north from Piccadilly for about 200 yards and then there's New Bond Street which continues on to Oxford Street. Together they make up the single most exclusive half-mile of shops, galleries, jewellers, furriers and other luxury emporia anywhere in Britain.

This is probably the only street in London which sells nothing essential to man's survival and just about anything for the man or woman who already has everything.

This is London's equivalent of the Rue Faubourg-St Honore in Paris, upper 5th Avenue in Manhattan and the Via Condotti in Rome. Inevitably it is twinned with all three.

The secret to discovering Bond Street is the same as for everything else in Britain – avoid anything that looks too obvious and expect to find revelations where you'd least expect them.

One of the least obvious and most fascinating shops is Sac Frères at No. 45 Old Bond Street. Here you find amber. Nothing but beautiful amber jewellery, amber carvings and amber cigar holders.

Behind the discreet frontage are probably some of the rarest amber objets d'arts to be found anywhere in the world. Here you'll discover that the ancient fossilised gum comes in a bewildering variety of colours and forms – a suitable alternative to investing in silver, for example, at the A.D.C. Heritage shop across the road at No. 2. Heritage has a special festival collection of Georgian silver this summer.

A little further up Old Bond Street, past the gleaming white marble frontage of that oh-so-English firm of Yardley (scents, soaps and the famous lavender fragrances) is one of the street's older and more distinguished dealers in antique jewellery and old English silver, Holmes. And just beyond that is Royal Arcade – [a little mall] full of little shops selling lovely little things. Further on is Gucci and those two great couturiers, Chanel and Loewe.

This is where Bond Street becomes 'New', though you'd hardly believe it. This is just where some of the oldest and most distinguished jewellers have decided to set up shop. Boucheron, Chaumet and Cartier stand almost side by side with their uniformed commissionaires making quite certain the right people get in and the wrong ones don't get out without a struggle.

By now the visitor will have seen more examples of the Royal Coats of Arms discreetly positioned in shop doorways than anywhere else in London. These are Royal Warrants granted by members of the Royal Family to firms which particularly please them and which supply them with goods or services.

The large and famous suppliers of untold luxury goods and gifts, Asprey's, is a good example. Quite what they supply to the Queen one cannot tell, but it probably does not include a solid silver British passport cover at £1,175 or an engine-turned silver holder to contain fifteen £1 coins at £125. Surely the Queen doesn't need a passport and certainly she never carries money!

Asprey's, however, deserves a visit and is guaranteed to have that very special something to take back to a very special somebody. Aladdin would have thought this was Christmas and Easter all rolled into one. By this stage we're only about a third of the way up the street and only skimmed the surface of what's worth seeing. Just beyond the flower-seller's barrow, the road dips down to Conduit Street on the left. This is where one can rather enjoy a quiet and well-deserved drink at the half-timbered Coach & Horses pub on the corner of Bruton Lane.

Over a refreshing drink it's worth reflecting that you're sitting on the edge of what was London's first main water supply. In the early 1500s a piped supply of fresh water ran along a wooden conduit for several miles from Oxford Street to the old City of London – hence Conduit Street.

From this point onwards there is a gradual shift of emphasis in Bond Street. Haute couture fashion slowly gives way to more modern shops as one approaches Oxford Street. There are still big surprises, of course, with outstanding antique furniture at Mallet & Sons, photographic equipment at Wallace Heaton and the ultra-smart firm of stationers, Smythson's.

At this point on Bond Street one encounters the rather chic and very feminine department store, Fenwicks. Then, while one's female companion shops, it's worthwhile drifting into Milton's at No. 71 for a glass of wine, a cup of coffee or something to eat.

Here, half a mile up the road, one is still sitting in what was once the Duke of Clarendon's gardens. And if the Duke had not fled the country as a traitor it might still be a garden to this day. Instead it was bought by the young and spendthrift Duke of Albermarle who in turn was forced to sell up for £36,000 to Sir Thomas Bond.

Thus it is to Sir Thomas that we owe the existence (at latest count) of 25 shops selling shoes, handbags and luggage; 27 menswear shops; 2 linen specialists; 32 jewellers, goldsmiths and silversmiths; 4 furriers; 3 hairdressers; 18 fine art galleries; 34 fashion houses; 10 major antique dealers; and 4 specialists in china, glass and porcelain.

There are one or two other rarities as well. Charbonnel & Walker, for instance, who sell individually numbered chocolates at No. 28 Old Bond Street; a celebrity information service at No. 10 New Bond Street which will tell you who's in town today; and even the famous Heather Jenner marriage bureau at No. 124 New Bond Street – especially for those who almost have everything.

All of which makes one wonder how James Bond 007 could have resisted the temptation to claim his inheritance. Perhaps it was the marriage bureau that scared him off.

Written for a predominantly North American, tourist, readership.

© (1986) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
The text and graphical content of this and linked documents are the copyright of their author and or creator and site designer, Christopher Long, unless otherwise stated. No publication, reproduction or exploitation of this material may be made in any form prior to clear written agreement of terms with the author or his agents.

Christopher Long

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