BUCKINGHAM PALACE ROAD takes its name from nearby Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II and the only royal home named after a subject. The site of the hotel forms part of the grounds and stabling of a much earlier house on this site, once owned by John Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave, whose haughty manner earned him the nickname ‘Lord Allpride’. Queen Anne was well-disposed to ‘Lord Allpride’, perhaps because of the mild flirtation in which the pair had indulged when she was a plain and relatively insignificant princess of fifteen. In 1703, a year after coming to the throne, Queen Anne created him Duke of Buckingham. He at once began work on a new house to match his new station in life. Unfortunately, his reluctance to pay his bills meant that progress was very slow; and the architect was only able to extract his fees by tricking Buckingham on to the roof and threatening to throw the pair of them into the courtyard below unless his account was settled immediately - in cash.
When the Duke died his widow lived on in Buckingham House. As haughty and proud as her husband she remarked, after listening to a sermon, that it ‘is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl the earth’. When she lay on her deathbed she exacted a promise from her ladies-in-waiting that none would sit in her presence until her surgeon had pronounced all life extinct. In 1762 her former home was purchased by a young George III who renamed it Buckingham Palace.
By this date, houses had begun to spring up over part of the site of what is now Buckingham Palace Road. It was called Chelsea Road because it led to the then very rural village of Chelsea. This was a dangerous place at night and in 1752 the local residents offered a reward of £10 for the capture of a particularly troublesome highwayman. The shops which originally stood on the site of No.41 were numbered in Queen’s Row, ‘opposite the Royal Mews’, until the present street name and numbering were adopted. Most of the tradesmen set up here to serve the Palace and its occupants, frequently letting the rooms above their shops to middle-ranking Palace servants such as housekeepers and footmen.
At the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 one of the shops on the site of No.41 was occupied by a glazier named William Pullman. Because the glazier’s business involved the melting of lead, its practitioners were said to be more subject to the palsy - or paralysis - that any other trade. Pullman would have spent at least a portion of his time tramping the area, looking for business. He would have carried the glass strapped to his back in a protective wooden frame. If he was less than scrupulous he might also have kept a small supply of stones to hand, to drum up trade when business was slack. [His greatest enemy would have been street urchins, similarly armed.]
Another business on this site during the period of the Regency was the coach-making house of Weller & Soames. Coach-building was a complex art which required many skills. Consequently the master coach-builder employed a host of craftsmen - a skilled carpenter to design and fashion the body, a wheelwright to make the spokes and wooden rim, an upholsterer for the interior, embroiderers for the cushions, a man to varnish, a heraldic artist to paint the coat-of-arms on the door panel, a leather-worker to make the harness and a blacksmith to cap the wheels and to make the handles for the doors. Whiskeys, chaises marines, noddies, pochays, one-horse chairs and gigs, as well as the aristocrats’ glorious coaches - state apartments on wheels - all were made here by Messrs. Weller & Soames.
About 1834 part of this site was occupied by Thomas Gregson, ‘windmill-man’. Windmill men like Tom Gregson worked from a cart pulled by a donkey. They exchanged their wares - hand-made toy windmills on sticks, similar to those available today - for empty bottles, rags and bones. The rags were sold to paper-makers, the bones to the makers of glue and size. A later occupant of the site who also used a donkey and cart was Henry Osborne, described in the directories as ‘oilman’, or seller of paraffin, of which his premises must have smelled very strongly. Although petroleum was known to Herodotus, it was not until Dr. James Young patented the process of obtaining paraffin oil from bituminous coals that the use of the fuel became widespread. Most of the Victorian poor depended on it for lighting. Henry Osborne would have sold it directly from his shop here. He would also have toured the district with his donkey and cart, with a barrel mounted at the rear from which containers could be filled by means of a tap. Ordinary oil cost a penny a pint. Additionally, most oilmen kept a ‘special’ oil at tuppence, which they represented as ‘a wonderful remedy for the killing of bedbugs’, although in reality it was the same as the oil in the barrel. Oilmen such as Osborne were eventually driven out of business not so much by the arrival of gas but by the penny-in-the-slot meter which enabled the poor to purchase it in small quantities.
From about 1840 until almost the end of the nineteenth century, the vast majority of this site was occupied by the linen-drapery emporium of John Parton & Son. This was one of the largest businesses of its kind in London. The 1851 census shows John Parton living above his shop, aged thirty-seven. He gave his place of birth as ‘Tenterden, Kent’. He was sharing the living quarters with his wife, Mary 37, and with their children: Alfred 4, Charles 2 and Hannah 1. He employed a housekeeper and six personal resident domestics. In the house adjacent, then numbered 4 Queen’s Row, he housed twelve of his fifteen shopmen, all male, all young. By 1871 he had moved to the suburbs leaving the care of the shop, at least overnight, in the care of a resident manager. By this date there were eight shopmen living on site, three apprentices, and six young saleswomen. Other residents included a cook, a housemaid, a kitchen-maid and four porters, all under the charge of the housekeeper, Annie Nettleton 32.
John Parton seems to have been an enlightened employer. He treated his staff considerately and was one of the earliest supporters of the ‘Early Closing and Saturday Half-Holiday Movement’. His shop sold every conceivable item of haberdashery:- fan-spread knitting patterns, twisted skeins of pure wool, each in their own pigeon-hole - grey for socks, brown or grey for pullovers. Corsetry would have been discreetly stored, tissue-wrapped, in long flat boxes under the counter or in an adjoining room. The drapery stock was extensive and completely reliable. With Parton & Son nothing was ever ‘out of stock’. Its clients demanded nothing less. Butter muslin was kept for the curd-cheese makers, for jelly bags and for the making of those beaded covers which kept flies from milk jugs in summer. Unbleached sheets were popular. There would also have been a small range of patterned net, to protect parlour windows from the prying eyes of the curious. The shop’s chief stock in trade, however, would have been cloth. When an order was placed, an assistant would have unrolled the bolt, thumping it over and over on the table, until he had released sufficient to be able to measure it with his brass-tipped yardstick.
John Parton died about 1886. The business then devolved upon his second son, Charles, who continues to feature for it in the directories into the 1890s. By 1896 the business had gone. It was replaced by Rowley & Cook, ladies’ outfitters. When the present building was completed in 1912 No.41 passed into use with the firm of C. Vandyk Ltd., photographers. [Was the proprietor of this enterprise really called Vandyk, or did he simply wish to benefit from the artistic associations of the Hotel Rubens next door? Both Peter Paul Rubens and Sir Anthony Van Dyck found favour in their time at the British Court.] C. Vandyk Ltd. continued here until the early 1950s, although during its tenure some part of the building was occupied at first floor level by the ballroom of the Hotel Rubens, a focus for debutante dances and Court balls most weeks during the Season. By 1953 some part was occupied as offices by the Federation of British Industries.
It continued in office use until acquired about 1998 by Red Carnation Hotels, the new owners of the Rubens, who converted it to hotel use.