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14 March 2012
If you should jump into a London cab and direct the driver to Locks he will drive you to number 6 St. James's Street. That is according to the website of London's most famous hatters, James Lock of St. James's, but just don't ask for a bowler while you're there, at Locks it's called a Coke hat, after William Coke a farmer from Holkham, Norfolk, for whom Locks made that first such headgear in 1850.
But this cabbie was surprised to find after reading David Long's Tunnels, Towers & Temples that Locks have a rear entrance giving onto Crown Passage. For years I've driven down Pall Mall little realising that alongside Quebec House, with its blue and while flag, lies the entrance to Crown Passage as perfect example of a Georgian shopping centre as you'll find in London.
Many of the little shop fronts in this side street are Georgian, Lock's small wooden bay window on its serpentine brackets is a reminder of the period when shopkeepers were starting to be a bit more assertive in their architectural display, pushing their windows out towards the street to attract passers-by. But they were only allowed to invade the pavement-space by so much - there were strict regulations about how far they could protrude. In a narrow street like this - it's little more than an alley, really - your windows were only meant to stick out 5 inches or less.
Next door is the Red Lion pub which calls itself London's last village pub, this little alleyway has a village feel about it with shops for all your daily requirements: hats, shoes, groceries, papers, dry cleaners and a sandwich shop, there is even a chimney sweep.
The Red Lion also plays a part in a curious custom on 30th January each year when The Royal Stuart Society laments the death of the monarch, Charles I executed in Whitehall on that day in 1649.
Wearing full Cavalier attire they first lay wreaths at the base of the King's statute at Charing Cross, on the southern side of Trafalgar Square, itself the point where all distances are measured from in London. The statute by Hubert Le Sueur in 1633 has a curious tale. In 1649 John Rivett, a brazier, was ordered to destroy it by Cromwell, but he buried the statute in his garden and made a fortune by selling souvenirs allegedly from the metal. He then gave the intact statute back to his son Charles II upon the Restoration of the Monarchy.
Having done their duty for King and country like many societies The Royal Stuart Society repair to the pub after a job well done, The Red Lion in Crown Passage.