St James’s Park

st james

Is a 23-hectare (57-acre) park that lies at the southernmost tip of the St James’s area, which was named after a leper hospital dedicated to St James the Less. The hospital later was rebuilt as St James’s Palace. The park is the most easterly of a near-continuous chain of parks that comprises, (moving westward), Green Park, Hyde Park, and Kensington Gardens. The park is bounded by Buckingham Palace to the west, The Mall to the north, Horse Guards to the east and Birdcage Walk to the south.

The park has a small lake, St James’s Park Lake, with two islands, West Island, and Duck Island, named for the lake’s collection of waterfowl. A resident colony of pelicans has been a feature of the park since pelicans were donated by a Russian ambassador in 1664. The Blue Bridge across the lake affords a view west towards Buckingham Palace framed by trees.

It was a swampy wasteland which the River Tyburn, flowing from Eton College, often flooded on its way to the Thames. It was originally attached to the hospital where the lepers fed their hogs. In 1532, Henry VIII bought an area of marshland through which the Tyburn flowed from Eton College. It lay to the west of York Place acquired by Henry from Cardinal Wolsey; it was purchased in order to turn York Palace, subsequently renamed Whitehall, into a dwelling fit for a king. Henry VIII had the field drained and has a bowling alley and tilt yard made here and used the land as a nursery for his deer. Later he made it part of a chase that extended up to Islington, Marylebone and Hampstead. On James 1’’s accession to the throne in 1603, he ordered that the park be drained and landscaped, and exotic animals were kept in the park, including camels, crocodiles, an elephant and exotic birds were kept in aviaries.

Charles I was escorted across the park to his execution in 1649, his dog Rogue, running after him. While Charles 11 was in exile in France under the Commonwealth, he was impressed by the elaborate gardens at French royal palaces, and on his ascension he had the park redesigned in a more formal style, probably by the French landscaper Andre Mollet. An 850 by 42 yard canal was created as evidenced in the old plan. The king opened the park to the public and used the area to entertain guests and mistresses, such as Nell Gwyn. The park became notorious at the time as a meeting place for impromptu acts of lechery.

In the late-17th and early-18th centuries cows grazed on the park and milk could be bought fresh at the “Lactarian”.* The 18th century saw further changes, including the reclamation of part of the canal for Horse Guards Parade and the purchase of Buckingham House (now Buckingham Palace) at the west end of the Mall, for the use of Queen Charlotte in 1761.

Further re-modeling in 1826–27, commissioned by the Prince Regent) and overseen by the architect and landscaper John Nash, saw the canal’s conversion into a more naturally-shaped lake, and formal avenues rerouted to romantic winding pathways. At the same time, Buckingham House was expanded to create the palace, and Marble Arch was built at its entrance, whilst The Mall was turned into a grand processional route. It opened to public traffic 60 years later in 1887. The Marble Arch was moved to its current location at the junction of Oxford Street and Park Lane in 1851 and the Victoria Memorial was erected between 1906 and 1924.

*A milk fair took place daily in St James’ Park from the turn of the 18th century till the early 20th century. Mrs Emma Elizabeth Kitchen was the last of “The Mall Milkmaids”. Her son Fred tells the history: – “My mother Elizabeth Burry, owned a unique business which had been in the family for generations, indeed centuries. It dated from the time of James 1, and was in fact created by the monarch. It happened that one fine day in 1623 that the King was walking through his royal park, when he came across a pretty milkmaid milking one of the cows then allowed to graze there, and, being ever susceptible to a comely face, he stopped and begged a mug of milk. The maiden blushed, but she milked the cow there and then and handed it to His Majesty his drink with such grace and charm that, thereupon, he promised to confer on her and her heirs forever the ground on which they stood, and the right to sell milk and rusks, there, to whomever wished to buy. He kept his word and a stall was erected, and later a part of St James’s Park was enclosed. My mother was a direct descendant of that fair maid. Right up to her death, in 1915, you might still have seen a cow tethered in the Park, and if you wished you might have taken a drink from nature, even as King James had done. When the Queen Victoria memorial was planned there was an attempt to bring this ancient monopoly to an end, but my mother wrote to King Edward. The result of this was that his Majesty graciously granted us an alternative plot of land in the Park, in respect for the memory of the Stuart King, and moreover, built a large sort of chalet, which existed until a few years ago”.

In 1922 it became clear the end was in site for the kiosk, now commonly called “The Tin Cow”. Mrs Orford was informed the kiosk site would be needed for the new Guards Memorial. There was a protracted campaign in the press. She was promised that she could tender for the new kiosk in the park then being built but would not receive preferential treatment despite the 300 year history of her business. She was unsuccessful in her bid and it was awarded to a commercial concern. Nothing Changes!

Wikipedia, The London Encyclopedia, Neil Morley. – Steve Welsh


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