Berry Brothers & Rudd is one of London’s most venerable wine merchants. Located a few doors down from St. James’s Palace in the City of Westminster, they have been providing wines, ports, and whiskeys to the monarchs of England since King George II, but they were also the onetime landlords for the Embassy of the Republic of Texas.
Built in 1730, the distinguished property at 4 St James’s Street is steeped in history and peculiar secrets. Under the shop floor lies two whole acres of wine cellars and caves which run underneath St. James’s Street. The Georgian rooms had once held a brothel and a notorious gambling den, and the courtyard at the back was also home to bear-baiting, cock-fighting and London’s last ever public duel. Napoleon III even lived here in exile whilst plotting his return to France.
But between 1836 and 1845 it was home to perhaps one its most unusual tenants; for the space above the wine shop was briefly home to the Embassy of the Republic of Texas. At the time of its founding, Texas was an independent sovereign country with its borders under threat from both the United States and Mexico. Then-President-of-Texas Sam Houston sent Dr. Ashbel Smith, the Secretary of State, to be the Texan diplomatic representative in England in an effort to build international sentiment for their country. A second Embassy was also established in France, located in what is now the Hôtel de Vendôme.
Texas finally joined the Union in 1845, despite the Crown’s support of its independence, and the Embassy in London was closed. Taking full advantage of their desirable location above one of London’s best wine shops, the Texan delegation departed the capital leaving a £160 rent bill outstanding.
Today, the historic wine shop is still thriving, but the peculiar chapter of their Texan tenants is long forgotten. Next door is a tiny alleyway called Pickering Place; where a small plaque marks the entrance to the Embassy’s rooms. Still proudly bearing the name of “The Republic Of Texas” it reads,
“Texas Legation in this building was the legation for the ministers from the Republic of Texas to the Court of St. James 1842 - 1845.”
The onetime Republic of Texas, although consigned to history, still lives on in the hearts of Texans; in 1986 to mark the Texas sesquicentennial, 26 members of the Anglo-Texan society visited the wine shop, dressed in full buckskins, to settle the outstanding rent debt still owed by the Republic of Texas.
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