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  • Writer's pictureCharlotte Alcock

A Brief History of St James's Park in London

What is St James's Park?

St James's Park is a 16th-century royal park named after a leper hospital dedicated to St James the Less.

St James's Park in London

St James's Park History

The story of St James’s Park begins in the 16th century, when King Henry VIII acquired an area of marshland bordering York Place (seized from Cardinal Wolsey), where he planned to create a deer park, a recreational space adjacent to the residence, which was renamed Whitehall Palace. This area of land was known as St James’s after a 13th-century leper hospital dedicated to the saint located on the land.

By the turn of 17th century, when James I became king, he requested that this marshland was drained in order to create a royal park; here he would house exotic animals including camels, crocodiles, elephants and rare birds. The park was further developed by James’s grandson, Charles II. Inspired by the intricate water features at the gardens of Versailles, Charles requested French architects to lay out the park with a central canal surrounded by trees.

By the late 17th century, not only was the park open to the public, but it even had grazing pigs and cows where fresh milk was sold. Although no animals graze in the park today, you may however spot a unique animal on the lake – a pelican. The original pair of pelicans in St James’s Park were presented to King Charles II in 1664 by a Russian ambassador. Pelicans, some perhaps descended from this pair, are still found in the park and remain a popular sight among today’s visitors.

However, the park as we know it today was due to the work of 19th-century architect and landscaper, John Nash. Prince George IV commissioned him to remodel the park to reflect the post-romantic style of the era, which valued fanciful simulations of nature. After just over a year, Nash had transformed the canal into a curving lake with a bridge across it and winding paths surrounding it.

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