It is well known that Pall Mall, the heart of London’s clubland, was named after the French game of Pell Mell. But it could equally have been called Cricket Mall. Many of the rules of cricket were devised in 1774 by “a committee of noblemen and gentlemen” at the Star and Garter tavern, which was sandwiched in the space between the Reform and RAC clubs where the bland office block pictured above now resides.
Rules devised included the first for LBW (leg before wicket), when the ball hits a batsman’s pad rather than his bat. A cricket club existed here long before the establishment of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) which later took over responsibility for rule-making.
Cricket was not the only sport to be spawned at the inn. In 1750, a different bunch of “noblemen and gentlemen“ – this time those of the Jockey Club – laid down the rules for horse racing before moving their operation to Newmarket. The Club was the public face of the sport even though, this being class- conscious England, jockeys themselves were not allowed to join it.
Not content with helping to create two major sports, the site of the Star and Garter was also the foundation of one of Britain’s major industries. British Gas can trace its origins directly back to 1806 when Frederick Winsor started experiments with producing gas from coal here, and set up the Gas Light and Coke company. It was the world’s first public gas distributor and the first public utility in the world. On June 4, 1807, its carbonising furnace dispatched gas along small pipes to illuminate gas lights in the nearby Carlton House home of the Prince Regent.
It is ironic that at a time when there is so much controversy about foreigners taking over our utilities that Winsor was a German, born Friedrich Winzer, used disputed French patents to found the British gas industry. The gas lights in this part of Pall Mall were recently removed as part of an “improvements” policy, but there are still thousands of working in Central London, including in St James’s Park – a testament to Winsor’s pioneering endeavours.
All previous instalments of Vic Keegan’s Lost London can be found here.
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