St James’s Hall, Piccadilly and Regent Street

Image scans and text by Jacqueline Banerjee.

From: The Victorian Web:

“St James’s Hall, with doors on both Piccadilly and Regent Street, London. Originally designed by Owen Jones (1809-1874) after his great success with the interior design of the Crystal Palace at Hyde Park, and built by Messrs Lucas. The main structural element was cast iron. Opened on 25 March 1858, it would be London’s grandest concert hall for nearly half a century. It was demolished in 1905. There were two small halls on the ground floor, and a huge auditorium above. Dickens gave several series of readings here, in 1861, 1866, 1868, and 1870. Many other famous people performed here, including Dvorák, Liszt, Grieg, Tchaikovsky and Paderewski (see Weinreb et al., 766).

Owens’s interior, as the Survey of London says, “must have been impressive and in many ways beautiful.” Following on from that assertion is a usefully detailed description, partly quoted from John Timbs’s Curiosities of London, of 1867:

the gallery … had a railing of cast iron, with geometrical frets in panels, rather Moorish in character. In every bay of the side walls was a tall round-arched recess, containing a decorative panel below a “Florentine” window of two lights, the marginal frames of these recesses being decorated with “flowing scroll ornaments, on a ground of orange—chrome yellow. The round arches were, in turn, set in recesses with two-centred arches, forming tympana that were modelled with “groups of figures in bold relief, holding scrolls on which are inscribed the names of Mozart, Handel, Beethoven, Haydn, Auber, Meyerbeer, Spohr, Weber, Gluck, Purcell, Rossini, Cherubin, and other eminent composers.” On the piers between these pointed arches were slender colonnets, supporting the ribs outlining the groins over the recesses, and traversing the surface of the great semi-circular barrel-vaulted ceiling, forming a pattern of lozenge-shaped panels over which smaller lozenges were placed, the whole being decorated with arabesques “rich in colour and gilding; the smaller panels . . . Alhambran gold on a red ground.” The wide marginal surrounds of the great east and west arches were simply treated, being divided by ribs into three concentric bands, and the semi-dome of the western apse was divided by interlacing ribs into a pattern of lozenges, diminishing in size towards the crown. The hall was “not lighted at night by a central chandelier, but by gas stars of seven jets each, suspended from the ceiling. The figures in the various designs were modelled by [Raphael] Monti; the other enrichments, by De Sarchy, are of plaster and canvas mn into moulds.” The floor of the hall was of marqueterie.

John Timbs’s account ends by stating that “[t]he Hall is not, however, appropriated solely to Music” (427).

Extra frontage along Piccadilly was developed in Gothic Revival style after the purchase of three adjoining shops, and the result was featured in The Builder of 24 February 1883. At that point, there were still plans for its enrichment, notably a new “withdrawing room” for the Prince of Wales and other members of the royal family when visiting the Hall (“The St James’s Hall”). It was all very lavish, but in the end it could not stand up to competition from other venues like the Royal Albert Hall, completed in 1871, and the newer Wigmore Hall (completed in 1901).”

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