St. James Palace: From Leper Hospital to Royal Court
Visitors to London may recognize the red brick building at the bottom of St. James’ Street—St. James’ Palace—and its location near many Pall Mall clubs and boutique hotels.
St. James’s Palace is a remarkable building at the heart of the history of the British monarchy and served as the official residence of the British monarchy from 1698 to 1837. However, despite its pivotal role in British history, St. James’s Palace is the least known of the royal residences.
While King Charles III and the Queen Consort live at Clarence House, their home is actually one of several structures which formed a part of the buildings that emerged from the Tudor palace in the 1530s. St. James’s medieval origins were as a leper hospital dedicated to St. James. The palace’s history also includes stories of murder; family arguments between father and son; a lost masterpiece building by William Kent; and lavish royal apartments.
Over the centuries, St. James’s Palace survived dilapidation and fire, 19th century reconstruction, and remained the location for important international diplomacy. Rufus Bird—whose office was in the heart of St. James’s Palace for over 10 years—will bring to life the stories of this remarkable palace. He will explore the role of the palace a principal seat of the British monarchy after fire consumed Whitehall Palace, and explain the building’s impact on the development of London and the West End.
Lastly, Rufus will illustrate the paintings and gorgeous decorative arts at St. James’s (part of the Royal Collection) which follows the fortunes of the building, through the Victorian and Edwardian periods up to the present day. As one of the authors of a new history of St. James’s Palace, Rufus will reveal the secrets of this overlooked palace.
Rufus Bird, Furniture Specialist and former Surveyor of The Queen’s Works of Art
Rufus Bird is an art advisor at Gurr Johns where he is Director of Decorative Arts and Heritage Collections, Europe. After receiving History of Art from Cambridge University, he joined Christie’s as a graduate trainee and joined the Furniture Department in 1999. In 2010, he was appointed by HM Queen Elizabeth II as Deputy Surveyor of the Queen’s Works of Art. At the Royal Collection, he was responsible for about 500,000 works of decorative art across fifteen residences.
In 2018, he was appointed Surveyor of the Queen’s Works of Art. During his time, he saw the three-volume catalogue of Chinese and Japanese Works of Art to publication, co-curated the Charles II: Art and Power exhibition, contributed chapters in The First Georgians: Art and Monarchy exhibition catalogue and George IV: Art and Spectacle. He was a lead member of The Riesener Project culminating in a book published in 2021. He is one of the authors of the official history of St James’s Palace published by Yale University Press and Royal Collection Trust in 2022.