Quebec in the heart of London
Right in the heart of London and a short walk from the major tourist attractions in Westminster, the Québec Government Office is very visible indeed. Many a visitor on his or her way back from Buckingham Palace is surprised to see the fleurdelisé flag flying outside 59 Pall Mall, a building that dates back to the Stuarts. Built in the early 18th century just beside Crown Passage (then Crown Court), the building first belonged to Richard Martin, who opened The Smyrna Coffee House there.
Do you know that at the time, coffee houses in St. James’s were mostly frequented by statesmen and parliamentarians? They were going to coffee houses to discuss politics. The Smyrna Coffee House was the meeting place of choice for leading members of the Whig Party, while members of the Tory Party met at the Cocoa-Tree at 64 Pall Mall.
Guess how Richard Steele of London newspaper The Tatler based most of his political articles. On the rumours doing the rounds at The Smyrna Coffee House and information gleaned from the staff who worked there, indeed!
Richard Martin owned 59 Pall Mall until 1717. The building was home to The Smyrna Coffee House until 1772. From 1718 to 1727, the house belonged in quick succession to Richard Price, Thomas and William Astley, and George Hobart. In 1728, a man by the name of Richard Martin—probably the first occupant’s son—purchased the building. The Martin family owned the building until 1751, when it was sold to Talbot Condon, who occupied the premises until 1772. Andrew Boyter bought it later that year and opened a stationer’s. This marked the end of The Smyrna Coffee House’s life at 59 Pall Mall.
The site was then occupied for several years by various book-related companies. James Dodsley and his descendants ran various bookstores in the building from 1759 to 1788. It was subsequently purchased by John and Josiah Boydell, printers. In 1821, bookseller Clement Chapple became the building’s proprietor until John Ollivier, a bookseller and stationer, arrived in 1840. He occupied 59 Pall Mall until 1860, when it was bought by cloth merchant and milliner Henry Bailey.
Between 1860 and 1910, 59 Pall Mall was occupied by the Harrisons & Sons publishing house. Originally Harrisons Bookseller & Publisher was primarily a bookstore and publisher, but over the years the business evolved and took the name of Harrisons & Sons. The company became a bookstore, then a publisher’s and printer’s, and eventually specialised in engraving.
Harrisons & Sons is noted for having published the books of famous British nurse Florence Nightingale, who called for improved medical care in the infirmaries of the 19th century. Nightingale became famous for the central role she played in establishing the modern nursing profession. In the eyes of other nurses, she came to epitomise compassion, dedication to patient care, and conscientious and careful hospital administration.
The London Lancashire Insurance Company took possession of 59 Pall Mall in 1910 and remained there until 1960. The building was then sold to the oil company Lobitos Oilfield Ltd. Although the Québec Government Office initially came into being in 1966, it didn’t move to 59 Pall Mall until 1981.
Twenty-odd employees of ministère des Relations Internationales du Québec work in the building. The ground floor is home to the Agent-General’s office, the Finance Department is on the first floor, with a reception area and kitchen on the second floor. The Administration Department and the Investissement Québec office are on the third floor, the Public Affairs Department is on the fourth floor, and the Culture Department is on the fifth. The 850 m2 building has a Parisian-style, wrought-iron elevator next to the reception area. The building belongs to the British Civil Aviation Authority. The space has been leased by the Government of Québec until 30 April, 2011.
Kindly note that due to refurbishment, our offices will be temporarily relocated to: One Heddon Street, London W1B 4BD from 12th September 2011. Our telephone numbers remain the same. Best regards.
Pall Mall, North Side, Past Buildings, Survey of London: volumes 29 and 30: St James Westminster, Part 1 (1960), pp. 325-38
John Macky, A Journey Through England, 1722, vol. i, pp. 167–9
Kelly’s Directory, The Archives and Local Studies Centre, Westminster