St James’s Palace is probably one of the most overlooked of the royal palaces, and this is due to a number of reasons: no one from the royal family lives there permanently; it is generally not open to visitors; and it just doesn’t have the ‘grandeur’ that other royal residences have, such as the likes of nearby Buckingham Palace, or Kensington Palace, or Windsor Castle or Balmoral. Further, from a visual point of view, it’s quite bland and almost unattractive - a pile of red brick with a few archers turrets and chimney pots.
But aficionados of royalty should at least take a peak at its exteriors. It’s the most senior of the royal palaces. It was built largely between 1531 and 1536 by Henry VIII, and much of the original red-brick building he had erected still survives today, including the gatehouse, some turrets and some surviving Tudor rooms in the State apartments. It was built on the site of a leper hospital dedicated to St James the Less from which it takes its name. The palace was popular between the Tudor and Georgian times, until Queen Victoria moved to Buckingham Palace in 1837.
And whilst no royals permanently reside there (some use the state apartments as London residences from time to time), it holds an important place in royalty as it is technically regarded as the official residence of the sovereign, though the current monarch lives just across the way. It is the headquarters of the royal court (the Court of St James’s) and of a number of royal organisations. The palace hosts the receptions for the many charities associated with members of the Royal Family, and is the home to ceremonies relating to the Diplomatic Corps.
The main entrance, the North Gatehouse, is its grandest part, and is located towards the western end of Pall Mall. You will see its two crenellated towers (if you can call them that), with an unusual clock in-between them. Check out the boot-scrapers by the various doors, to take the mud off the shoes of the nobility before sealed pavements became de rigueur. Around the corner in Marlborough Road you’ll be able overlook the courtyards of the palace.
If you are exploring Royal London, you should include it in your itinerary. And if you are walking The Mall to or from a visit to Buckingham Palace, it’s an easy diversion along Marlborough Road.