Victorian London - Buildings, Monuments and Museums - St James's Hall

ST. JAMES'S HALL, Piccadilly and Regent's Quadrant, was built by a joint-stock company. The architect and artist was Mr. Owen Jones, and his labours have not been unsuccessful. The grand hall, on the first floor, is 136 feet long, 60 feet wide, and 60 feet high. The decorations are superb. On the ground floor are two smaller halls one 60 feet square; the other 60 feet by 55 feet. The restaurant, under the management of Mr. Donald, is one of the best in London. The hall was opened on the 25th March 1858.

source: Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865

ST. JAMES'S HALL and its appurtenances (originated by Mr. Willert Beale) are situated between the Quadrant in Regent-street and Piccadilly, and Vine-street and George-court. There is a frontage in Regent-street, and another in Piccadilly; the latter is characteristically embellished with a sculptured figure of Music, supported by two Cupids, in the tympanum over the upper windows; and between the upper and lower window is a frieze of children playing various musical instruments. The interior consists of a great hall and two smaller halls. The dimensions of time great hall are 139 feet by 60, and 60 feet in height; and it will seat about 2500 persons. It has a semicircular-headed ceiling, and a recessed orchestral gallery at one end, and an alcove at the other end, containing a large organ by Gray and Davidson. The walls and ceiling have been decorated by Mr. Owen Jones. The ceiling is divided into lozenge-shaped panels, by principal ribs that traverse the roof diagonally, and intersect each other; within these panels are others formed by lesser ribs. The semicircular- headed windows are surrounded with flowing scroll ornaments, on a ground of orange-chrome yellow; and the windows have 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, Cherubini, and other eminent composers. The ceiling is rich in colour and gilding; the smaller panels are Alhambran gold on a red ground. The Hall is 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 Monti; the other enrichments, by De Sarchy, are of plaster and canvas run into moulds. The floor of the Hall is of marqueterie. It was opened with a musical performance for the benefit of the Middlesex Hospital on the 25th of March, 1856. The Hall is not, however, appropriated exclusively to music. 

Public Dinners are given in this Hall. The first took place June 2, 1858, Mr. Robert Stephenson, M.P., presiding, when handsome plate and 26781. were presented to Mr. F. Pettit Smith, in testimony of his bringing into general use the system of Screw Propulsion in ships. The subscribers to time Testimonial were 138, chiefly eminent naval officers, engineers, ship-builders, ship-owners, and men of science; and the Festival intellectually commemorated "one of those bloodless triumphs of'civilization, of which this age and country have reason to be proud."

source: John Timbs, Curiosities of London, 1867

source: Routledge's Popular Guide to London, [c.1873]

Something vanished from the artistic life of London when St. James's Hall was pulled down. Not only do I associate Wagner and Brahms with its cheap, uncomfortable gallery, but also the hearing of Richter, Joachim, and Grieg accompanying his wife. I remember the face of the young Paderewski when he played. He was then the beautiful young man of whom Bume-Jones has left so vivid a portrait. I remember Pachmann in his prime when he neither scolded the piano nor spoke to the audience. But more than all these, I have kept till now one of my most cherished and sentimental recollections of the place. The reader must imagine an audience, unlike any of to-day, with a large percentage of quite elderly people, women of a grave and refined type, who might have been relatives of Florence Nightingale. Now one sees them no more; they died with the ceasing of the Joachim quartets. They wore lace caps, artificial Parma violets, and lilac; they had worn this kind of thing since they were forty, when to-day a woman of that age is at her sexual prime and is usually half-naked after sun-down. Sir Frederick Leighton was in the stalls, and there was a perceptible hush, then a ruffle of applause, when a little elderly woman appeared on the platform. She was trimly dressed in modest nut-brown silk, her grey hair crowned with lace and a velvet bow; her deportment was at once dignified and restrained, her bow that of a princess. Her deliberate movements before the piano suggested a very superior and respected governess or ladies' companion - do I exaggerate? - the face was kindly and serene, yet somehow determined under its tranquil expression. She played the Waldstein Sonata with delicate precision and an air of detachment, and acknowledged the applause. Her rendering had been flawless in its avoidance of all exaggeration; too refined, perhaps, too lacking in impulse, and too inward in emotion. She then played Schumann's 'Arabesque' rapidly, fluently, with a tender and ardent sense of beauty; on the pause, before the last few chords,are like a prayer and end on a question, she raised her head as if she looked to see. After the ovation she bowed like a queen. The player was Clara Schumann.

source: Charles Ricketts, Self-Portrait, 1884