St James Park, London
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: The park is essentially unchanged sign John Nash's 1827 design
In 1530 Henry VIII seized lands belonging to his Chancellor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Among Wolsey's estates was York Place, an opulent residence near the royal Palace of Westminster. Henry intended to make York Place, soon to be renamed Whitehall, his main London residence.
In 1532 Henry purchased an area of marsh bordering on Whitehall to the west, intending to create a deer park. The area was known as St James, after a 13th century leper hospital on the site that was dedicated to that saint. On one side of the park he built a hunting lodge, which later grew to become St James Palace.
It was left to a later king, however, to drain the marsh and create the green space we now know as St James Park, the largest of the 8 royal parks in London.
When James I took the throne in 1603 following the death of Henry's daughter Elizabeth I, he ordered the marsh to be drained and landscaped to create a royal park. Not only was the new park a pleasant green space, but it housed a royal menagerie, with exotic birds, an elephant, crocodiles, even a camel.
The park was developed further by James' grandson Charles II. When Charles was in exile during Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth he was struck by the elegant formal gardens of the French royal palaces like Versailles. When he was returned to power he called upon French architects to lay out the park in a formal style, and introduced a long tree-lined canal as a central feature.
King Charles used the park to entertain guests, but he also opened it to the public. Access by the public made St James Park a popular meeting place for 'lecherous acts'. Perhaps the public was only following the king's lead, for Charles was known to bring his mistresses here, including his most famous mistress, Nell Gwynn.
Courting couples had to share space with livestock, for cattle were allowed to graze in the park during the 17th and 18th centuries. You could even buy fresh milk in the park.
Charles II frequently played 'pelle melle' in the park; a French game for which he acquired a taste while in exile. The name of the game was immortalised by the wide processional route on the north side of the park called The Mall.
Part of Charles II's canal was destroyed in the 18th century when Horse Guards Parade was built on the east side of the park. Horse Guards is still technically a part of the park, and is known as the site for the Trooping of the Colour ceremony.
In 1826 the Prince Regent (soon to become George IV) called upon the architect John Nash to remodel the park. Nash changed the design of the canal to create a gently curving lake (St James Park Lake), and the formal, straight avenues were replaced with winding paths. The rigid formality of Charles II's French-inspired design was softened to create a fore informal, romantic space. The park we see today is essentially as Nash designed it.
Within St James Park Lake are a pair of small islands, West Island and Duck Island. The latter is aptly named, for large numbers of waterfowl congregate around the lake, including mute swans. The island was built on the site of a duck decoy established as early as the Tudor period.
Here you can see large numbers of the park's resident colony of pelicans, descendants of birds given to Charles II by the Russian ambassador in 1664. The gift started a custom, and even today ambassadors to the UK frequently give the gift of a pelican to the park. From the waters of the lake rises a 20ft plume of water known as the Tiffany Fountain.
Crossing the lake is the Blue Bridge, which offers magnificent views west towards Buckingham Palace and east towards Whitehall and the London Eye. The first Blue Bridge was designed by John Nash. This was replaced in 1857 by an iron suspension bridge but this in turn was replaced by the present bridge in 1957.
The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk passes through the park. Look for the raised, oval plaques that trace the route, linking major sites around the city that played a prominent part in the Princess's life.
There are numerous statues and memorial surrounding the park, including memorials to George VI, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and Captain Cook.
To the north, The Mall was recreated as a wide processional avenue leading to Buckingham House, later renamed Buckingham Palace. The west end of the park terminates at the Victoria Memorial, erected in front of the Palace in 1924. The memorial acts to separate St James Park from another royal green space; Green Park.
The park is officially open from 5am until midnight. There are no car parks for vehicular access, and the closest tube stations are St James's Park, Green Park, Victoria, and Westminster.
About St James Park
Address: Birdcage Walk, London, Greater London, England, SW1A 2BJ
Attraction Type: Countryside - Royal Park
Location: Between Buckingham Palace and Whitehall. Easy access off Birdcage Walk or The Mall.
Website: St James Park
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
Nearest station: Westminster - 0.2 miles (straight line) - Zone: 1
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
Churchill War Rooms - 0.1 miles (Museum)
Household Cavalry Museum - 0.2 miles (Museum)
Banqueting House - 0.2 miles (Historic Building)
Duke of York Column - 0.2 miles (Landmark)
Westminster Abbey - 0.3 miles (Cathedral)
Westminster Abbey Chapter House and Pyx Chamber - 0.3 miles (Historic Building)
Palace of Westminster - 0.3 miles (Historic Building)
Big Ben - 0.3 miles (Historic Building)
Nearest Accommodation to St James Park: