Situated at the southernmost tip of the St. James area in the City of Westminster is a 23-hectare (57-acre) park called St. James's Park. Named in honour of a leper hospital that had serviced the London populace in the 13th century, the marshland that was to become St. James's Park was acquired by Henry VIII in 1532. The area, through which the Tyburn River flowed, was meant to complement York Palace, subsequently renamed Whitehall. The palace had belonged to Cardinal Wolsey. Henry VIII acquired the palace, and believed that the nearby parkland would make the palace a more fit dwelling for a King.
James I ascended to the throne in 1603, and had the marshland drained and landscaped. He added many exotic animals to the park, including crocodiles and camels and even an elephant.
St. James's Park underwent more changes when Charles II was returned to the throne after his exile in France. While in France, Charles had enjoyed the elaborate gardens of the French Royal Palace. He redesigned St. James's Park, most likely with the assistance of French landscaper Andre Mollet, to reflect what he had seen in France. A huge canal, measuring 775m by 38m, was dug through the centre of the park.
King Charles II opened the park to the public and used it as a place to entertain guests and meet his mistresses, including his mistress Nell Gwynn. The park became a notorious meeting place for all forms of lecherous liaisons. An account of such goings-on was given by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, in his poem "A Ramble in St. James Park".
By the late 17th century and early 18th century, cows were allowed to graze in the park and milk was available from the Lactarian. This place, where fresh milk was provided warm from the udders of cows, was described by the German scholar, Zacharias Conrad Von Uffenbach, in 1710.
During the Hanover period in the 18th century, the canal was reclaimed for use for the Horse Guards Parade. In 1826-27 the Prince Regent, later George IV, commissioned a remodelling of the park. The modifications were overseen by architect and landscape artist John Nash. The formal avenues were removed and replaced by more romantic winding paths. The canal was made into a more natural-looking waterway. In 1837, the Ornithological Society of London presented the park with birds and constructed a bird-keeper's cottage. St. James's Park was opened to the public in 1887.
St. James's Park is bounded to the west by Buckingham Palace, the London residence and administrative headquarters for the reigning Monarch of the United Kingdom. In 1761, Buckingham House was acquired for the use of Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III. Buckingham House was expanded to create the Palace, and Queen Charlotte, an avid patron of the arts and amateur botanist, lived in Buckingham Palace until her death in 1818.
To the north, St. James's Park is bounded by The Mall. This road has Buckingham Palace at its west end and Trafalgar Square via Admiralty Arch at its east.
Horse Guards forms the east boundary of the park, and the south is bounded by Birdcage Walk. This street is named after the Royal Menagerie and Aviary, which were located there during the reign of King James I. Initially, when the street was created, only the British Royal Family and the Hereditary Grand Falconer, the Duke of St Albans, a title created by King Charles II for his illegitimate son with Nell Gwynn, Charles Beauclerk, were permitted access.
The lake in St. James's Park has two small islands; West Island and Duck Island. The resident colony of Pelicans that still live at the lake are descended from a set of Pelicans donated to the park in 1664 by the then Russian ambassador.
The Blue Bridge in the park affords spectacular views of Buckingham Palace to the west and the Swire Fountain to the east. To the north of Blue Bridge is Duck Island, and to the south is the Tiffany Fountain on Pelican Rock.
On the 3rd of January 1804, Col. George Jones of the Coldstream Guards “perceived the figure of a woman, without a head, rise from the earth, at the distance of about three feet before me”. She was dressed in a red striped gown with red spots between each stripe, and part of the dress and figure “appeared to be enveloped in a cloud.” The apparition is said to be that of a woman lured to St. James's Park and then murdered by her soldier husband. While he was dismembering her body and disposing of it in the lake, the murderer was spotted and taken into custody. This ghost has been reported walking along Birdcage Walk and also the Cockpit Steps. She has been sighted emerging from the lake. In 1972, a motorist reportedly hit a lamppost trying to avoid hitting a misty figure dressed in white with what looked like blood on her clothing.
I love visiting St. James's Park. It is populated by a huge number of interesting birds and, most excitingly, by the gorgeous squirrels that have become so tame that they are happy to come and pose for a photograph.