The street on which ROSL has its home dates back more than 300 years and understandably holds a special place in the hearts of many members. An article in the August 1935 edition of Overseas entitled 'The Romance of St James's' gives a potted history of the street and its famous residents.
Park Place naturally appeals in a special degree to the members of the Over-Seas League, as Vernon House and the Club House are located there. Built in 1683, it soon became a popular residential quarter, although for many years there were only eight houses erected in the street. Among the first inhabitants were Lord Clifford (the "C" of the historic Cabal), the Duchess of Cleveland (Lady Castlemaine), the Earl of Carberry, Lord Orrery and the Earl of Orkney.
Apparently Park Place was reserved for building private houses only. A curious feature in connection with Park Place is that it is situated in two parishes. When in 1725, as Mr Beresford Chancellor points outs in his exhaustive "Memorials of St James's Street", the parish of St George's, Hanover Square, was formed, "it took in the west side of St James's Street from Piccadilly to Park Place, the boundary line running through the middle of the latter and passing straight through Green Park, where it returned northward along the walls of the gardens belonging to the houses in Arlington Street up to Piccadilly again." This other section of Park Place was in the parish of St James's.
A notorious tenant was Mrs Needham, the "Mother Needham" whom Hogarth satirised in "the Harlot's Progress" (pictured above). The Pillory at one time stoof at the corner of Park Place, and in 1731 Mrs Needham was condemned to this Pillory, and so severe was the punishment she received from an enraged public, that she died from the effects at house in Park Place.
Another well-known resident of quite a different character in the 18th century was the celebrated Betty, the "Queen of Apple Women." She had a fruit shop at the corner of Park Place and St James's Street, which was the popular rendezvous of all the best-known men and society women of the time. She was an authority on all the famous figures of St James's, and a great favourite of them all, especially of Horace Walpole, who frequently refers to Betty's apple shop in his letters. She even accompanied fashionable parties to Vauxhall, generally with a hamper of apples and cherries, and when she died in Park Place in 1797, the Gentleman's Magazine honoured her with a special obituary notice.
The most famous resident in Park Place was (former Prime Minister) William Pitt, who lived at No. 12 after his retirement from political life. He was then in reduced circumstances, and a contemporary writers said of him that "there (at No 12) at any time he might awake to find himself without a chair in his drawing room... for at any moment an execution might be put in the small he has taken here."
Vernon House, No 6 Park Place, was purchased from Lord Hillingdon in 1921, and became the World Headquarters of the Over-Seas League. This beautiful house, with its lovely view overlooking the green Park, was built by Lord Vernon at the beginning of the 19th century. The Vernon family literally came over with the Conqueror. They take their name from the town of Vernon, in Normandy, which belonged to Henry de Vernon, and his two sons, Richard and Walter, followed in the wake of William the Conqueror.
Vernon House, prior to its occupation by Lord Hillingdon, was the residence of the second Lord Redesdale, and afterwards of Lord William Bentinck, Governor-General of India. A very abiding souvenir of Lord Hillingdon's occupation of Vernon House is preserved in the beautifully carved marble overmantle of the dining room with the coat of arms of the Hillingdon family and their family motto Nil conscrire sibi "Conscious of no evil in himself" - carved thereon.