This is a large yard hidden behind a covered walkway in posh St James that may have been named after an old coaching inn, but no one is entirely sure.
It certainly appears on maps as the Rose and Crown Yard from the early 17th century, surrounded by buildings, one of which could have been an inn, but nothing appears in the records to show one was there.
The entrance to the yard today is dominated by Almack House, a large office block that stretches above the top of the yard. The name of the offices comes from Almack’s Assembly Rooms, a fashionable social club on King’s Street set up in 1764-65 that stood on the site of the current offices.
In a letter of 14 February 1765 to Lord Hertford, Horace Walpole described the opening of the new rooms. “The new Assembly Room at Almack’s was opened the night before last, and they say is very magnificent, but it was empty; half the town is ill with colds, and many were afraid to go, as the house is scarce built yet. Almack advertised that it was built with hot bricks and boiling water—think what a rage there must be for public places, if this notice, instead of terrifying, could draw anybody thither. They tell me the ceilings were dropping with wet, but can you believe me, when I assure you the Duke of Cumberland was there? . . . There is a vast flight of steps, and he was forced to rest two or three times.”
The building flourished though, and by the start of the 19th century was at the height of its popularity, but started to decline by the 1830s and pretty much closed in the 1860s.
The building was taken over by a firm of auctioneers, Messrs. Robinson and Fisher, who sublet some of it to shops and other art dealers. There seems to have been a cluster of art restorers as well operating from addresses inside the yard.
However, the former social club building was destroyed by a bomb on 23rd February 1944. A replacement office block was erected in 1949, and that was in turn replaced by the current building on the site in the early 1990s.
The site is also significant in politics, as it’s where the Liberal Party was founded, on 6th June 1859, as a number of liberal-minded Wigg and Radical politicians formally split off to form their own party. Once one of the major two parties in the UK alongside the Tories, they faded somewhat with the rise of the Labour Party, and although most of the Liberal Party merged with the SDP in 1988 to form the Liberal Democrats, there is still a freestanding Liberal Party in the UK.
Inside the alley, it’s bounded on all sides by high buildings. To the west is the back of the Almack House offices, but opposite is a set of mid-1990s apartment flats. When the flats were built, it was a condition of the planning that there be garages provided for cars, but living in central London hardly any of the residents had cars, and recently the council allowed them to be used for storage space.
At the far end, the modern looking building is a recent contemporary back of an office development on Pall Mall behind a retained Edwardian facade, which itself had been retained behind a less than appealing 1950s office block once occupied by the Royal British Legion until they moved out in 2008.
Today, it’s a large yard space that’s candidly a bit bland and lacking in character, but doubtless, the quiet space is appreciated by the residents in the flats around it.