St James’s was once part of the same royal park as Green Park and St James’s Park. In the 1660s, Charles II gave the right to develop the area to Henry Jermyn, 1st Earl of St Albans, who proceeded to develop it as a predominantly aristocratic residential area with a grid of streets centered on St James’s Square. Until the Second World War, St James’s remained one of the most exclusive residential enclaves in London. Famous residences in St James’s include St James’s Palace, Clarence House, Marlborough House, Lancaster House, Spencer House, Schomberg House and Bridgewater House.
St James’s is the home of many of the best known gentlemen’s clubs in London. The clubs found here are organisations of English high society. A variety of groups congregate here, such as royals, military officers, motoring enthusiasts and other groups.
It is now a predominantly commercial area with some of the highest rents in London and, consequently, the world. The auction house Christie’s is based in King Street, and the surrounding streets contain a great many upmarket art and antique dealers.
Office space to rent in St James’s is among the most expensive in the world, costing up to five times average rents in New York, Paris and Sydney.
The area is home to fine wine merchants including Berry Brothers and Rudd, at 3 St James’s Street. Adjoining St James’s Street is Jermyn Street, famous for its many tailors. St James’s is home to some of the most famous cigar retailers in London. At 35 St James’s Street is Davidoff of London, 19 St James’s Street is home to J.J. Fox and 50 Jermyn St has Dunhill.
The iconic English shoemaker Wildsmith – which designed the first ever loafer – was located at 41 Duke Street, St, James’s. It is now currently located at 13 Savile Row.
The area has a good number of art galleries, covering a spectrum of tastes. The White Cube gallery, which has represented Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, originally opened in Duke Street, St James’s, then moved to Hoxton Square. In September 2006, it opened a second gallery in St James’s at 25–26 Mason’s Yard, off Duke Street, on a plot previously occupied by an electricity sub-station. The gallery was the first free-standing building to be built in the St James’s area for more than 30 years.