Following the Great Plague and the Fire of London in 1666, aristocratic families started to move westwards and the development of the West End had begun. City tradesmen also started to move west to escape the effects of the Plague and Fire, encouraged by landowners who had lost heavily during the English Civil War and now needed to raise money from their estates and the movement of their client base.
George James Lock was one of these City tradesmen whose family had interests in importing coffee, chocolate and tobacco from Turkey. The patriarch of the family was Sir John Lock who lived in Goodman’s Fields while his sons lived among their merchandise in Tower Street and Rood Lane in the city. Their business was disrupted by the Fire of London and although they were back in business by the next year, the lure of the new developments in the west of London was calling them.
In 1686, funded from his successful trading concerns with Turkey, George James Lock became the leaseholder of seven houses in St. James' Street that had been built by Baron Dover, a nephew of Henry Jermyn. This was immediately next to St. James' Palace, which had been built by Henry VIII between 1531 and 1536. On the site there had once stood a ‘real’ tennis court built in 1617 for the then Prince of Wales, later Charles 1. Next to this were vegetable gardens providing produce for the palace. George lived in one of the houses and rented the others out to either merchants or private individuals.
St. James' Palace is one of London's oldest palaces
. Although no sovereign has lived there for almost two centuries, it has remained the official residence of the Sovereign
and is the ‘most senior’ royal palace in the UK. For this reason it gives its name to the Royal Court (the "Court of St James
") and is the ceremonial gathering place of the Accession Council
, which proclaims a new sovereign. Buckingham Palace close by and the obvious starting point for our introductory video on the website, is a much younger palace having been bought by King George III in 1762 when it was know as Buckingham House. It was Queen Victoria who made the greatly improved Buckingham Palace her primary residence in 1837, a status which has continued unchanged since and makes that building iconic with instant recognition worldwide.
So from the moment that St. James' Street was laid out, it was a very well respected location. In 1676, ten years prior to George James Lock’s arrival, Robert Davis, a Hatter from Bishopsgate, had become a leaseholder from the Crown of five houses in St. James's Street and had set up his shop in one of them. So both George James Lock and Robert Davis were significant and neighbouring entrepreneurs in St. James's Street.
Robert Davis had picked a good spot for his enterprise as it was a few doors up from The St. James’s Coffee House which was a popular haunt of the Whig political class. Looking through the earliest surviving order books from Robert Davis’s business you will see the names of great Whig families such as Marlborough, Bedford, Devonshire and Walpole.
Coffee Houses had become very popular and there were a number in St. James’s Street and records show that one of George James Locks’ tenants was a Coffee House.
At all except a few of the more aristocratic chocolate houses (explains an article in The National Review) smoking was allowed. A penny was laid down on the bar on entering, and the price of a dish of tea or coffee seems to have been two-pence; this charge covered newspapers and lights. The established frequenters of the house had their regular seats, and special attention from the fair lady at the bar, and the tea or coffee boys………To these coffee houses men of all classes who had both leisure and money resorted to spend both; and in them politics, play, scandal, criticism and business went hand in hand.
The house of which Robert Davis took possession of in 1676 was described by the Bailiff of St. James’ as:-
It was commodious. It possessed a glazed shop-front with shutters, a sash door with a fanlight above. It was strongly built and held two chimneys and two hearths, with the floor of the passage leading to the shop of good English timber; the flight of stairs up to the bedrooms of the same material. A Basement and ’necessary’ were of stone paving. Entry north of Middle Row that gave access to the Tavern Court.