St James’s Park is the oldest Royal Park. It was originally a marshy field attached to St James’s Hospital for women lepers, and it was where the women fed their pigs. It covers 87 acres and was developed by Henry VIII who drained and enclosed the field, stocking it with deer for hunting. On the north side is The Mall, leading from Admiralty Arch to Buckingham Palace. The Mall is overlooked by Carlton Terrace, the site of the former Carlton House Palace.
Birdcage Walk on the south side leads from Storey’s Gate to the Palace, and is a similarly straight road running past The Wellington Barracks, built in 1834.
Today the roads surrounding the Park were crammed with people on a 10k run, a very 21st century activity, but in the Park and under the trees it was calm, and cool.
Birdcage Walk was named after the aviary established there by James I, and in 1837 the Ornithological Society was formed in London. ‘..Their object was to include within their collection every species of hardy aquatic birds, waders, swimmers, and divers, and this idea has been most successfully carried out..’. Their cottage, Duck Island Cottage in Swiss style, is at the eastern end of the Park, and included ‘..a large lobby fitted up with steam apparatus for hatching eggs!..’. The setting is idyllic and right now the delphiniums in the garden are stunning. (Nice article here.)
To the east of the Park is the Horse Guards Parade, the setting for The Trooping of the Colour each year. This morning it was the hour to change the guard.
Mr Bradshaw points out ‘..two curious pieces of ordnance..’. The first he calls a Turkish piece, captured in Alexandria in 1801 during the Napoleonic Wars. The barrel is Turkish, made by Murad, the son of the Chief Gunner in 1524, while the gun carriage was made by J&E Hall of Dartford! – to support the barrel when it was brought to England in 1802..? (Interesting article here.)
The second piece is the Cadiz Memorial – a French mortar mounted on a Chinese dragon, the latter cast at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, in 1814. The mortar was captured at Salamanca and could throw a shell nearly 5km, a remarkable distance at that time. The mortar was presented to the English by the Spaniards in gratitude for the lifting, in 1812, of the siege of Cadiz by the French.
There are several statues on Horse Guards – Lord Wolseley, Lord Roberts, Field Marshal Earl Kitchener – and facing the parade is the memorial to the Foot Guards in memory of the officers and men who died in WWI, and later. The figures were cast from German guns captured by the Guards and depict actual guardsmen.
So much death and destruction – I was reminded of this: the work of the German sculptress Kathe Kollwitz. on the right, her husband Karl is on the left, ‘..on their knees near their son’s grave in Belgium, begging forgiveness for a war they, the older generation, could not prevent..’ – or perhaps just mourning..
And finally, at the west end of the park lies Buckingham Palace, where Queen Victoria was the first monarch to reside in the Palace, from 1837. Buckingham House was built for the Duke of that name in 1705 and was bought by George III in 1761 and remained as the core building of the current palace. The arch is now at the end of Oxford Street, on the corner of Hyde Park.