Monday, July 6, 2009

St James Park - London

Buckingham Palace and the Queen Victoria Monument seen from St James Park:

St James Park is the oldest Royal Park in London and is surrounded by three palaces; the most ancient is Westminster Palace (which now houses Parliament) to the southeast, St James's Palace to the north, and Buckingham Palace to the west.

The 58-acre park was once a marshy meadow. In the thirteenth century a leper hospital was founded, and it is from this hospital that the Park took its name. In 1532 Henry VIII acquired the site as yet another deer park and built the Palace of St James's. When Elizabeth I came to the throne she indulged her love of pageantry and pomp, and fêtes of all kinds were held in the park. Her successor, James I, improved the drainage and controlled the water supply. A road was created in front of St James's Palace, approximately where the Mall is today, but it was Charles II who made dramatic changes. The Park was redesigned around a lake with avenues of trees and broad sweeps of lawn. The King opened the park to the public and was a frequent visitor, feeding the ducks and mingling with his subjects. Today’s visitors can watch the wildlife officers feeding the pelicans every day at 2:30 pm.

During the Hanoverian period, Horse Guards Parade was created by filling in one end of the long canal. It was used first as a mustering ground and later for parades. Horse Guards Parade is still part of St James's Park. The Park changed forever when John Nash redesigned it in a more romantic style. The canal was transformed into a natural-looking lake and in 1837 the Ornithological Society of London presented some birds to the Park and erected a cottage for a birdkeeper. Both the cottage and the position of birdkeeper remain to this day (Birdcage Walk is the name of the street that borders the park on the south).

Clarence House, part of the St James Palace complex facing the Park along the Mall, was designed for the Duke of Clarence, later to become William IV; it was also the home of the late Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, until her death in 2002. Today Clarence House is the home of Prince Charles, Princes William and Harry, and Camilla what’s-her-name (photo below).

The Inn on the Park restaurant is in the northeast quadrant of the park, north of the lake. It is housed in a turf-roofed building designed by noted architect Michael Hopkins and managed by culinary wizard Oliver Peyton. As well, coffee, ice creams, sandwiches and snacks are available at four refreshment points throughout the park.

The park is open from 5:00 am to midnight all year round. Picnics are encouraged, and open alcohol is allowed. Note that the Mall (bordering the park to the north) is closed to vehicular traffic on Sundays.

Coming event:
Sunday, 12 July 2009; 3:00-4:20pm and 5:00-6.15pm
Thundersley Brass Band
St. James's Park Band Stand is located between the Marlborough Gate entrance (at the Mall) and the Blue Bridge that bisects the lake.

Click map to enlarge:

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