The Grocer of St James’s Street | Part 1

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Our home at No.3 St James's Street

Some 300 years ago, William Pickering laid the foundations for our business. This article is the first of two parts, originally published in Spring 1958. It dives into 17th-century St James’s Street, opening the doors on the Heraldic Painters and Coffee Mill which paved the way for the wine and spirits shop to come.

Amongst the legion of ghosts that must surely drift over the gnarled floor of No.3, or linger dimly in the cellars, it is pleasant to think that the approving spirit of William Pickering, “The Grocer of St James’s Street”, returns at times to witness the continued prestige and prosperity of the business he did so much to further over two centuries ago.  

When William Pickering came to No.3, he came not merely to buy but to enter the business as the virtual founder of our firm in its present form. A key figure in our history, his life draws together the threads of the 16th and 17th centuries and those of a later age to give us a glimpse of both our business and its environment in the making: the St James’s Fields of his ancestors’ day developing into the St James’s Street known to his descendants; Stroud’s Court reassembling as Pickering Place; and Bourne’s Italian Warehouse taking shape as Berry Bros. and Rudd wine merchants.  

He was born in 1675 in Edenham, Lincolnshire, where his father Thomas Pickering was a tailor. Thomas died when his son was 17, leaving £5 each to William and his daughter Avis “when they shall attaine to the age of 21 years”. Two years later, the scene shifts to London, where we find that on 5th September 1694, William Pickering was bound apprentice for seven years to Zachary Hutchins, Painter Stainer or Heraldic Artist.  

St James’s Street in Tudor times

Several Pickerings before him had belonged to this fraternity, which flourished in the colourful days of the Middle Ages, when its main source of income was the armorial painting of saddle-bows for tournaments. The Painter-Stainers also boomed during the time of Henry VIII, when the Field of the Cloth of Gold typified the vainglorious extravagance of the age.

Typical, too, was Henry VIII’s demolition of St James’s Hospital, originally endowed by the citizens of Norman London for the benefit of 14 leprous maidens. This had grown to a considerable establishment when Anne Boleyn, riding gaily through the green fields of St James’s with a hawk at her wrist, cast calculating eyes at the hospital, and suggested to her lover that it would be the ideal place for her to dwell, “where the eyes of Whitehall could not gaze on her”, and yet within easy reach.  

Henry bundled off the leprous virgins to Chattisham in Suffolk, and built a “goodly manor house” in 1532 on the hospital site, which later became St James’s Palace. After Cranmer had declared Henry lawfully married to Anne, she did not live very long to enjoy her new royal residence; but the “ferme house” that stood opposite the Palace against the North Gate, and which had probably supplied the hospital with milk, butter and eggs, was no doubt a beneficiary of royal custom.  

The transformation of St James’s Street

When young Will Pickering came riding up to London to try his fortune, however, the “ferme house” had vanished, and in its place was a block of buildings that had been built during the intervening years, as the district of St James’s gradually emerged from a lonely hamlet into a village, and finally, a new suburb. There is every reason to believe that the foundations of the farm house, and perhaps even some of the original timbers, were contained in those buildings, two houses of which occupied the site of No.3.  

St James's Street during the reign of Queen Anne

James I, that canny hypochondriac, issued proclamations in 1607 and 1609 forbidding the erection of buildings on new foundations in the City, or within two miles of it. This was partly because he foresaw the danger of overcrowded areas, and partly to keep the plague-ridden popular breath well clear of his shambling Majesty at Whitehall. There was therefore every incentive for building speculators to use old foundations such as those for the farm house. 

According to the Rate Books of 1695, Thomas Stroud occupied one of the houses at No.3, and is the first known resident there; he also gave his name to the four houses of Stroud’s Court that he built, which was approached at that time by a narrow passage running between the two houses at No.3. By 1696, Thomas Stroud had left St James’s, and the new tenants at Stroud’s Court are listed in the Rate Books as “Lowls Burdoffo” and “Cuarios Caproolo” — obviously the rate collector’s stab at spelling Italian names. It is possible that “Burdoffo” was the founder of the Italian Warehouse or Grocery known as the Coffee Mill that was certainly in existence a few years later when the Widow Bourne began, or possibly took over, a business there in 1698.  

By this time, Will Pickering was two years short of completing his apprenticeship. The Widow Bourne and her Coffee Mill must have become well known to him as he went about his business in St James’s Street – as must have been the bright gaze of the widow’s pretty daughter, Elizabeth. We have no means of guessing how long William’s courtship of Elizabeth was, especially as the Rate Books for 1703 and 1704 have been lost. But in 1705, the Rate Book lists “Will Piccaring” as paying £16s 8d in place of the Widow Bourne. William Pickering had arrived at No.3 at last. He had captured the widow’s daughter, her house and her business. 

To be continued…

Category: History

Meet our Good Ordinary Claret artist: Poppy Lennox

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Poppy Lennox, photographed in our London Shop by Alistair Jones
This year’s limited-edition Good Ordinary Claret label has been created for us by artist Poppy Lennox, who works with paper, wood and thread. Here, we speak to her about her inspiration and process, and the experience of collaborating with Berry Bros. & Rudd

Usually, you can tell quite a lot from an artist’s space – disordered and chaotic; calm and minimal; frenetic or peaceful. So, talking to Poppy Lennox over a temperamental WhatsApp call should have made it harder to get a sense of her, and how she creates her art. But – from the considered way she speaks to her artwork itself – it quickly becomes clear that her demonstrable creativity is balanced by order, structure and precision.

Poppy, 40, lives and works in north-west London. Her studio is a small space at the top of her family home – transformed from its previous designation as “the spare room” to become her sanctuary. “It’s my haven of quiet; there is something very important about coming up to my own space,” she says. “It’s somewhere you can enter into; your creative mind begins at that point. I’m always thinking and exploring but I consolidate those ideas when I come to sit at my desk. It’s tiny, but it’s my own.”

It’s here that, surrounded by neat rows of thread and pencils, she creates her pieces: stitched and drawn designs. “I predominantly work with paper and wood, always using the mediums of 23-carat gold leaf, paint and gouache,” Poppy explains. “I finish the designs stitching into paper or wood. The way in which the stitch sits on the surface gives it a slight sculptured textural element; the texture gives extra impact.”

Poppy’s background and training as an artist, working with sculpture, has very much informed the pieces she produces today. “I studied sculpture and art history, working in 3D materials,” she explains. “I worked a lot in wood which I think led me on to this fascination with it as a material. But I’ve also worked in many different creative industries – advertising, set design and in exhibition management, and I think it’s this combination of art school and facilitating jobs that has influenced my work.

“I have a creative mind and thought process twinned with design-led and organisational focus. I think that’s where my work is quite organised and considered.”

COLLABORATING WITH BERRY BROS. & RUDD

The artwork Poppy created for our new limited-edition Good Ordinary Claret label is striking, geometric and beautiful. For her canvas, she chose to use the wooden lid of one of our wine boxes.

“I really wanted there to be a connection between the physical space at St James’s and the artwork,” she explains. “At the start of this process, I went on a wonderful tour of the Berry Bros. & Rudd buildings and saw all these old wine box cases; I thought that using one would be such a nice canvas – the ratio of the box-lid to a label was perfect and just immediately sprung out to me that that is what I’d like to create the artwork on.”

Next, Poppy painted the box lid a deep, rich blue before marking out “Good Ordinary Claret” in a font which she felt combined contemporary and vintage design cues. “When I spent time at No.3, there is very much a sense of this rich heritage alongside a really contemporary push – you walk through the amazing vaults downstairs that are steeped in so much history, then come up into the contemporary shop, which in itself is home to hundred-year-old bottles of wine. I wanted my piece to have this same harmonious mix.

“The font I chose, Graphique Pro, reflects this. I see it as having quite a vintage 1920s element; I love its elegance, and this sense of the shadow. It is also important to me that when looking at the final piece you can still see the faint trace of the Berry Bros. & Rudd logo; a connection between my artwork font and the Berry Bros. & Rudd one.”

DELIGHTING IN THE ORDINARY

Good Ordinary Claret. “The name was really important to me,” Poppy says. “It speaks so much to the confidence that Berry Bros. & Rudd has in presenting this wine with absolute transparency and authenticity. It shows total trust in the quality of the product, the brand and the wine. And I really wanted to celebrate that.

Here, then, the typography and layout of the design were crucial. “The way I split ‘Ordinary’ is balanced and symmetrical, and for me that’s very necessary. I always draw myself back to symmetry and order.” It’s big and bold, and – in the artwork, if not on the finished bottle label – glitters with real gold.

“It’s quite striking, and typographic, and so I was confident it would shrink down well to a bottle label,” Poppy says. “I don’t know if you remember when you could put a crisp packet in the oven and it would shrink right down – immensely satisfying in its smaller form – well, it was a bit like that. It worked really well.”

But, though the strength of the design translated well to the bottle, it lost some of its nuance. “You don’t get the textured elements of it on the bottle,” Poppy says. “What I enjoy in my work is that at first glance you don’t necessarily notice the thread until you get up close, but then when you do it adds this over dimension. For the bottle label, it had to become more of a graphic.”

The stitch, then, is important to Poppy. “Every part of the process of my work is a layering; it takes time. Each element can’t be rushed; sanding, painting, mapping out and marking hundreds of pinpointed marks that I have to draw and drill – it’s a very methodical process and there is a meditation in that. It’s careful and precise.”

This meditative, precise stitching; is it a craft, or an art? “I shy away from the term craft,” Poppy explains. “The process of stitching is a craft, but the work itself? That’s art.”

Poppy’s limited-edition Good Ordinary Claret is available now

Category: Miscellaneous

Jean-Michel Cazes: An unforgettable harvest

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An image of legendary Bordeaux winemaker Jean-Michel Cazes at Ch. Lynch-Bages

Charming, eloquent and energetic, Jean-Michel Cazes is one of Bordeaux’s legendary winemaking figures. Here, the man behind Ch. Lynch-Bages gives us an insight into the harvest that no one will forget.

Wednesday 23rd September: The day’s yield at Ch. Lynch-Bages

Tonight, we have completed two thirds of our 2020 harvest at Ch. Lynch-Bages. So far the weather has been favourable; we’re expecting a little rain at the end of the week, but most of the harvest will be safe in our vats, and we no longer have any real worries.  The silhouette of the vintage is already taking shape. The bunches are numerous and well formed. The grapes, which are very ripe, have remained small because of the drought that affected the region during the summer. The skins are thick and healthy, and the juice is not abundant.   

We can already say that the 2020 vintage will be colourful and concentrated and will have a significant tannic load – an asset necessary for making a wine for laying down. Nature has spoken. Now it’s up to the cellar master who, in the coming weeks, will have to bring a great deal of tact and care to the vinification process. It’s up to him to give the finished wine the elegance and balance which, along with concentration, are the hallmarks of a high-quality vintage. In our vineyard, harvest time is the high point of the wine-growing year, the moment when the winemaker’s work finally comes to fruition.  

In the vineyard at Lynch-Bages

It is also the annual meeting of the men and women of the estate and the seasonal grape-pickers. At Lynch-Bages, about 300 people live together for a fortnight. Most of them are regulars. Many come from the region; others have arrived by special bus from the villages around Mirandela in northern Portugal; others come from Spain or Eastern Europe. The foreigners find their accommodation in the comfortable bungalows of the nearby campsite of Saint-Laurent-Médoc. All languages are spoken in the rows of vines. At the stoves, 12 hours a day, the eight cooks are at work to keep the hungry fed.   

This year, the grape harvest has a new dimension. Our new vat room facilities, which we started building in 2017, are at last ready and we are using them for the first time. We have to get used to the premises and master the new equipment. It takes us one or two days to get up and running, and to learn the ropes; but we’re quickly up to speed. Our equipment works perfectly, and is everything we hoped it would be.

After three years of work and three vintages produced in temporary facilities, our entire team is now seeing our hopes and plans become a reality. As the days pass, we come to understand that we are now able to carry out our vinification with even greater precision, and to make the most of the quality of the Pauillac terroir.  

The challenge of Covid

In addition to these long-planned technical changes, there is – of course – an unforeseen event; the vast, destabilising imponderable which has upset our organisation. Above all, 2020 will remain in our memory as the year in which the coronavirus erupted. For several weeks now, the epidemic has been threatening the smooth running of the harvest. The fear of contagion is everywhere. In the vineyard, of course, where our three harvesting teams operate. And, above all, in the cellars where the appearance of a “cluster” could lead to a paralysis of operations – the consequences of which would be difficult to predict.  

We have prepared ourselves with the greatest of care and have taken every possible precaution. First of all, we had to make sure that everyone coming to help with the harvest had taken a Covid-19 detection test. In Mirandela, a local laboratory tested the entire Portuguese team before they travelled to France. In Pauillac, the Lynch-Bages staff underwent the same test at the nearby laboratory. For the seasonal workers, the Regional Health Agency, the official body, did it very well and delegated two nurses to take the samples. Everyone played the game. Over two days, last Monday and Tuesday, we were able to test everyone.  

Aware of what was at stake, all the health services were mobilised. We didn’t have to have to wait long for the results – they were with us within 24 hours. Only one positive case was detected among our potential harvesters, and, thankfully, we were able to isolate them before there was any risk to the others. 

Taking precautions

Wearing a mask is compulsory everywhere. In the vineyards as in the cellars, we obey the instructions with great discipline. Everyone is aware of what is at stake. We’ve had to make lots of changes, for example instead of the usual communal fountain where the pickers can go to get a drink, everyone has individual water bottles. The team leaders are equipped with electronic thermometers; they take temperatures at the slightest alert. Hand sanitiser dispensers have been installed everywhere. Everything is constantly disinfected. And, of course, we wash our hands again and again and again. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to have our meals together. Some receive trays, boxes or single-use bags. Others are welcomed in turn, in small groups, into the huge dining tent set up in front of the château, where guests can maintain the necessary distance from each other.  

In the vat room, there are no more visitors. There are no invitations to the harvest kitchen either. Gone are the many friends, neighbouring château owners or Bordeaux wine merchants who come every year to share our table, taste a few wines and soak up the harvest climate. This year, we have sacrificed the joyful atmosphere of the harvest and the cheerfulness of the meals for the sake of safety.  

Now, there are only three days left. Soon, the big doors of the vat room will close and the pickers will be back on the road. Like me, they will regret having been deprived of this year’s gerbaude, the traditional celebration of the end of the harvest, by the arrival of a visitor as malicious as it was unexpected. 

But, there is hope; we will meet again next year. 

Category: Bordeaux Wine

Extraordinary designs: Four years of Good Ordinary Claret label art

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The technique used by filmmakers Iain and Jane in 2019 involved mirrors to create illusions of multiple wine glasses

Good Ordinary Claret. Beguilingly simple, it alludes to the dependable familiarity you’d expect from an old friend – while hinting, ever so subtly, that this wine is more than just ordinary.  

Our everyday label depicts a timeless scene: our home at No.3 St James’s Street. It situates Good Ordinary Claret at the heart of our brand, in a corner of London which has long been associated with life’s good ordinary pleasures. 

It’s a bottle we love to drink, share and celebrate. Each year, we collaborate with a different artist or designer to release a limited-edition label that re-interprets the spirit of GOC. Each label, though vastly different in style, draws out an imaginative playfulness that has always married happily with wine.  

Ahead of our latest release on 6th October 2020, we look back at four years of GOC label designs which have been anything but ordinary.  

Sir Paul Smith, 2016

Our collaboration with Sir Paul Smith in 2016 resulted in this vibrant label design

Our very first collaboration was in 2016, when we paired up with British fashion designer Sir Paul Smith. Released in February, Smith’s stylish, romantic design came just in time for Valentine’s Day. He said, “I’m probably just an old romantic but I’ve always taken Valentine’s Day seriously, with a nice card and a gift for my wife. These labels are a great bit of fun; a nice thing that you can give to a loved one.” 

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Luke Edward Hall, 2017

An image of our Good Ordinary Claret with a label design by Luke Edward Hall

In 2017, we collaborated with artist-come-interior-decorator Luke Edward Hall. The label payed homage to Greco-Roman heritage: a portrait illustration of Bacchus, ginger hair crowned with grapes. He told us, “I draw a lot of people; I like drawing faces, so I thought it would be fun to do a face. And I do a lot of ancient Greece and ancient Rome inspired-drawings, so a Bacchus seemed like a fitting idea. He has that mischievous vibe about him.”  

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Kate Boxer, 2018 

Kate Boxer's design for Good Ordinary Claret in 2018

2018 saw us collaborate with painter and printmaker Kate Boxer. The resulting label depicts a dandy figure shooting a pistol, with a small dog at his feet. “It’s not Beau Brummell,” she explains, “but he is a Beau Brummell-y figure, with Figgy my dog… It’s like the things I’ve done for my last few shows – painting very well-known people, from Mary Shelley to Fellini. I find that, from reading their books or watching their films, they lurk around in your head, and they become part of your psyche. It was like that with Beau Brummell.” 

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Iain and Jane, 2019

Our 2019 label was designed by filmmakers Iain and Jane

Our most recent – and innovative – collaboration was with artists and filmmakers Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. This photographic label utilises the multigraph technique; at first glance, the label appears to depict five glasses of wine atop a table – but when you look closely, you realise there’s only one real glass in the image. “We were doing a project on spiritualism and the exposure of fake mediums. We came across a photograph that, at first glance, looked very much like a photograph of a séance – of a group of people holding hands. When we looked more closely, we realised that it was the same person – or five identical people sat around a table holding hands.” 

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A sneak preview of the 2020 label

The latest addition to our Good Ordinary Claret labels is due to be unveiled on 6th October. This image, captured during the making process, gives you the faintest hint of what’s to come…

Category: Miscellaneous