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  • Writer's pictureJoel Robinson

St James's Park - Henry VIII's Hunting Ground

Where is St James's Park?

St James's Park, located a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, St James Palace & The Palace of Westminster, is a must visit spot if you are trying to escape the hustle and bustle of central London. With its picturesque landscapes and rich history, it is one of the oldest and most beautiful Royal Parks in the city. Covering an impressive 57 acres (the equivalent of 8 Wembley Stadiums), it has been witness to centuries of Royal ceremonies and public celebrations.

st james's park

How old is St James's Park?

The whole area was originally a swamp in the possession of Eton College, until, in the 16th Century, the infamous King Henry VIII acquired an area of marshland bordering York Place, where the park stands today, and turned it into his personal hunting ground, a deer park, with nearby St James Palace as his hunting lodge. In 1603 King James I, had the land drained and transformed into a Royal Menagerie, essentially the Crown’s private zoo, home to elephants, crocodiles, camels and exotic birds.

walking tour st james

When did it become a public park?

When James’s grandson, Charles II came to the throne following the Restoration of the Monarchy, he took steps to paint himself as a man of the people, so had St James’s Park opened to the public and remodelled as a  French Baroque garden, with winding avenues and boulevards and a grand canal, constructing grand avenues around it, which became The Mall & Birdcage Walk. It became a cherished place for Londoners and visitors alike, a place for the new King to be seen by his adoring subjects. The park was not complete though. It would undergo one final redesign in the 19th-century when George IV commissioned renowned architect and landscaper, John Nash, to remodel the park in the style of the era. The canal was transformed into a beautiful lake, with footbridges added, where you will still find some of the finest photo opportunities in the Capital.

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Are there still animals in St James's Park?

While the exotic animals of the 17th Century are gone, today the park is home to more than 40 species of bids, including ducks, geese, parakeets, white & black swans, and even a squadron of pelican, who were first introduced 350 years ago, and remain one of the strangest sights you will see in Central London. They can often be found perched on Pelican Rock beside a beautiful fountain donated by Tiffany & Co and unveiled by the musician Jools Holland. Although the lake is populated with plenty of food for them, they are fed fish every day by the wildlife officer as well as receiving regular vitamin supplements.

animals st james park

St James's Park is not just a place of beauty, but also a place bubbling with history and culture. It has played a vital role in many important events and celebrations, from coronations, jubilees, to Blitz spirit and modern day protests. Countless artists have found inspiration in the natural landscape around them, but spare a thought for poor Dylan Thomas, who managed to lose the manuscript of his radio play Under Milk Wood in the park in 1953. Come and discover more on our Free Royal Westminster Tour!


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