Every year millions of Londoners and tourists visit St James's Park, the oldest of the capital's eight Royal Parks.
The park includes The Mall
and Horse Guards Parade
and is at the heart of ceremonial London, providing the setting for spectacular pageants including the annual Trooping the Colour
. It is the easternmost of an almost continuous chain of parks that also comprises Green Park
, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.
The park has a small lake, St. James's Park Lake, with two islands, West Island, and Duck Island, which is named for the lake's collection of waterfowl. This includes a resident colony of pelicans, which has been a feature of the park since the first gift of the birds from a Russian ambassador in 1664. The Blue Bridge
across the lake affords a view west towards Buckingham Palace
framed by trees. Looking east the view includes the Swire fountain to the north of Duck Island and, past the lake, the grounds known Horse Guards Parade
, with the Horse Guards building, the Old War Office
building and Whitehall
Court progressively behind. To the south of Duck Island is the Tiffany fountain situated on Pelican Rock and past the lake is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
, with the London Eye, the Shell Tower and The Shard progressively behind.
Some 500 years ago, the St James's area was known mainly for pig farms, woods and a hospital for women lepers. The area which became the park was bought as a marsh, from Eton College, by Henry VIII. It was purchased in order to turn York Palace, renamed Whitehall
, into a dwelling fit for a king. Henry had the park itself turned into a deer chase.
On James I's accession to the throne in 1603, he ordered that the park be drained and landscaped, and kept exotic animals in the park, including camels, crocodiles, and an elephant, as well as aviaries of exotic birds along the south. It was opened to the public by Charles I
In the late 17th and early 18th century cows were grazed on the park, and milk could be bought fresh at the Lactarian
, described by Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach in 1710.
The 18th century saw further changes, including the reclamation of part of the canal for Horse Guards Parade
and the 1761 purchase of Buckingham House (now Buckingham Palace
) at the west end of the Mall, for the use of Queen Charlotte.
Further remodelling in 1826–27, commissioned by the Prince Regent (later George IV) and overseen by the architect and landscaper John Nash, saw the straight canal's conversion to a more naturally-shaped lake, and formal avenues rerouted to romantic winding pathways. At the same time, Buckingham House was expanded to create the current palace and Marble Arch was built at its entrance, whilst The Mall
was turned into a grand processional route, opened to public traffic 60 years later in 1887, the Marble Arch having been moved to its current location at the junction of Oxford Street
and Park Lane in 1851 and replaced with the Victoria Memorial
between 1906 and 1924.