This is a space that will be very familiar to art fans, and a mystery to many, for this hidden square in posh St James is also home to a very famous art gallery.
There are two entrances, a narrow alley from the East which can only be found down the far end of a seemingly posh row of mews houses, or on the West, a narrow path beside an old pub.
That’s part of the charm of London, you can walk down a road, find a small chink in the wall, and suddenly, a whole new world is revealed on the other side.
Quite why there’s a large yard in the middle of the area seems odd, but when you look at the history, it becomes clear.
Until the later 17th century, all around here was still fields, but in 1665, the Earl of St Albans acquired the freehold of the lands to build St Jame’s Square, and leased the surround lands to speculative builders.
By 1682, the street layout that forms Mason’s Yard was complete, although it was shown as a stable yard at the time, called Halburn Yard Mews. The stable yard being essential for the horse drawn traffic of the time, but also wanting to be hidden away from the noblemen living in fine housing nearby.
By 1740 the yard was also being called Mason’s Stable Yard. At about this time Henry Mason had bought a stable in the north-east corner of the yard in May 1730 and was the owner of two houses fronting Duke Street and backing onto the yard. Notably, there had been occupants of premises in the yard named Henry or William Mason back to 1717, and the present name doubtless derives from that family.
At the time, a central building of uncertain function existed, which by the 20th century had been replaced by an electricity substation.
In 2006, the substation was demolished and the site rebuilt as an art gallery – the White Cube. The gallery, designed by MRJ Rundell & Associates, is the first free-standing building to be built in the St James’s area for more than 30 years.
Today the site is a curiosity, seeming to be lots of backs of buildings, the arrival of the art gallery, and the public, has seen a number of back-doors turned into shop frontages. More recently, the London Library bought up a corner for its own expansion.
If you’re feeling rich, a one bedroom flat here now costs £1 million.
Location map and local interesting places
- 1] Mason's Yard, SW1
- 2] Angel Court
- 3] Crown Passage, SW1
- 4] Blue Ball Yard, SW1
- 5] Pickering Place, SW1
- 6] Whitcomb Court
- 7] Long's Court
- 13] Spencer House
- 14] Royal Institution (inc Faraday Museum)
- 15] Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA)
- 16] Mall Galleries
- 17] British Council London
- 18] Canada House Gallery