The Curious Case of the Wine Merchants and the Republic of Texas

A highlight of Open House last year was a tour of the wine merchants Berry Brothers & Rudd (‘BBR’). The building, on the corner of St James’s Street and Pall Mall just opposite St. James’s Palace, is old – I recall the guide suggesting some parts are 15th century. The original shop is now a small exhibition area (it would go too far calling it a museum) with some fascinating curios, including a message from the White Star Line on the morning after the sinking of the Titanic, confirming the loss of a consignment of Berry Brothers wine. I’m slightly uncomfortable with what that says about the priorities of the White Star Line, but moving swiftly along …

We saw the cellars, which are now mainly used for functions (most wine is stored elsewhere), and which have been stylishly updated and extended, and the ancient rooms above the shop where members of the Berry and Rudd families (they still own the company, and alternate the chair) meet with wine producers and others, with what must be some very high quality corporate wining and dining.

All in all, it was an entertaining and enlightening tour.

What was most surprising for me, however, was discovering that the Republic of Texas Legation rented rooms in the building – convenient as it was, and is, for access to the Court of St James. I confess I didn’t even know there has been an independent republic of Texas, and I had to do some rush research. Sure enough, between winning their war of independence against Mexico in 1836, and admission to the US in 1845, Texas was an independent republic. There is however, some unfinished business between Texas and BBR. According to our guide, the legation did a bunk without paying the rent at the end of 1845.

Coincidentally, the imposing former London HQ of the White Star Line at the other end of Pall Mall to BBR was, until a few years ago, a Tex-Mex food outlet called the Republic of Texas. I’d like to think BBR contracted to supply wine to the establishment, demanded payment up front and then walked away, but they seem too well-mannered to embark on such an ironic course of action. I also can’t imagine there’s high demand for quality wine in a Tex-Mex outlet.

Nearest Stations:

  • Berry Brothers & Rudd: Green Park
  • Former White Star Line HQ: Piccadilly, Charing Cross

Credits:

  • All photographs: © Mark Pessell 2019

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