NUMBER 19 HANOVER ST
A retrospective by James Sherwood
No. 19 Hanover Street was home to the great Mayfair tailoring firm Davies & Son between 1804 and 1979. Established in 1803 on Cork Street, the company moved to a five-storey Regency palace of bespoke tailoring a year later when Thomas Davies inherited his late brother’s business. At the time, the four-acre Hanover Square was fashionable London’s pre-eminent stage and was dominated by Harewood House. On the corner of Hanover Square and Hanover Street were the Queen’s Concert Rooms; until 1875, the principal concert hall in London. It was here at the Dandy’s Ball hosted by Lord Alvanley that George ‘Beau’ Brummell insulted his patron the Prince Regent enquiring within royal earshot ‘Alvanley, who’s your fat friend?’
The Queen’s Concert Rooms were demolished in 1900 and Harewood House in 1908. Davies’ former premises on Hanover Street are all that’s left of this glittering Regency age. The few surviving grainy black and white photographs of No 19 devoid of staff or customers are haunting but do not convey the lost grandeur of Davies & Son’s home for 175 years. Like miniature models of the gentlemen’s clubs in and around St James’s, the tailoring townhouses of Mayfair were furnished to make royal and aristocratic customers feel entirely at home.
No images survive of the private cabinet dedicated to King George V with its speaking pipe to the cutting rooms although the original mirror from the king’s private room is now in the fitting room at Davies’ current premises at number 38 Savile Row. Nor is there evidence of the fifth floor boudoir where Queen Victoria’s grandson Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale and his peers would entertain ladies and gentlemen on call in the 1880s and 1890s. Accounts do exist for port, brandy and cigars that were prerequisites that Davies & Son’s gentlemen expected. At the peak of Davies & Son’s trade by appointment to European and Russian royals before the Great War, No. 19 rivalled Henry Poole’s Italianate Savile Row showrooms that stretched from No. 36-39 Savile Row or Hawkes & Co’s 18th century townhouse at No. 1 Savile Row.
Though most of the shop fittings were sold for architectural salvage, Davies & Son’s present chairman Alan Bennett saved the frosted glass door advertising the Royal Warrants of King George V and HRH the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII). A small cameo of Thomas Davies also hangs in Davies’ Savile Row showroom and has since been revived for the company letterhead and signage.
The soaring ceilings of the ground floor showroom were decorated in Regency fashion with stucco-esque royal icing from which velvet curtains fell. The fitting rooms alone were larger than most bespoke tailors’ showrooms on the Row today. A vast arched, etched glass skylight poured what little sunshine London had to offer down onto the customer admiring his frock coat in mahogany-framed mirrors.
Royal Warrants of appointment for the Kings of Spain, Norway and the Hellenes as well as our own King George V and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia hung in heavy gilt frames topped with crowns and insignia. The warrants stared down at less high-born customers reminding the stockbrokers and bank managers who made-up the lion’s share of the firm’s 20th century trade that a firm like Davies & Son tailored suits for emperors, kings, princes and grand dukes. Only a photograph in the archive of an elegant staircase gliding sinuously from the showroom to the first floor conveys the hauteur of this bespoke house that had been on the premises since King George III was on the throne.
The closure of the Hanover Street premises was announced in a letter dated August 17th 1979 that advised, ‘Dear Sirs, after 175 years as Court Tailors at this establishment, we have to advise you that due to ever increasing property costs we have been forced to move from our historic building to smaller premises (on Old Burlington Street)’. The letter continues with a plaintive ‘Many would feel sympathy for us in our plight to make way maybe for another fast food outlet or boutique’.
Should devotees of tailoring history wish to form an impression of Davies & Son’s tenure at No. 19 Hanover Square they need only look at the exterior of Gieves & Hawkes at No 1. Savile Row and the interior of Browns restaurant on Maddox Street in W1 which was, until the 1990s, home to Wells of Mayfair. The high Victorian interiors are preserved in their entity including the oak cabinet fitting rooms now used for private dining.
There was no burglar alarm! Just a night watchman whom lived inside the premises...