Nell Gwynn – The King’s Mistress

Number 79, the former residence of Nell Gwynn, is the only building on Pall Mall not belonging to the crown.

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Pall Mall runs from St James Palace to Trafalgar Square and these days is mostly full of offices and clubs. In fact, it was down this street that the Suffragettes marched and smashed the windows of the gentlemen’s clubs when campaigning for votes for women. Some say that this was the final straw which got them their way!

Hundreds of years earlier around 1675 King Charles II had a mistress called Nell Gwynn, who was a very popular actress at that time. When he offered to buy her a house he found that number 79 was available and suitably close to the palace, so he gave her a very long lease, enough to last her lifetime.

Nell Gwynn however was very upset about this. She said that she “had always conveyed free under the crown and always would”. Roughly translated as, unless she was given the freehold for the building she was leaving him.
She wouldn’t accept the gift unless it was conveyed free to her by an act of parliament!. Ultimately the King gave in and when she died it passed to her son, the Duke of St Albans who sold it and it has changed hands ever since without returning to the crown.

Meanwhile, Nell Gwynn has numerous pubs named after her and is buried in the Church of St Martins in the fields.

Just nearby along The Mall and all over St James Park are original gas lamps which still need maintenance by the gas board.

These weren’t the first to exist however, in 1807 an German called Albert Winsor set up along The Mall a line of hollow lamp posts. These were based on an idea by a Scot called William Murdoch.
Coal was placed in an air tight tank and then heated. When the gas was released it could be ignited.
So Winsor had a length of pipes connecting this tank with the lamp posts except the pressure was too much and the pipes kept bursting.
So in the end he had to use gun barrels to connect them all together. The flame couldn’t be directed like modern ones however, and they just appeared like a line of hug bunsen burners throwing flames into the air.
The Pall Mall gazette wrote that people would go running to their beds in fear and that “Mr Winsor threw light along this royal road in a manner unprecedented and we are left wondering as much at his audacity as his ingenuity.

So remarkably the system didn’t catch on and they had to wait a few years for something else.

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