St James’ Park is the smallest royal park, it is a great place to take pictures, in fact it has a perfect view of Buckingham Palace from the bridge of the pond, called Blue Bridge.
In the pond you will find a variety of swans, ducks, loons and geese and even four pelicans. Pelicans have been in St James Park since 1664 when they were donated by the Russian ambassador. At 2.30pm you can see when they are fed.
Apart from the pelicans in this park there are also owls, woodpeckers, great tits and different types of sparrows. During the day the animals you will see are undoubtedly the numerous grey squirrels but in the evening you can also see different types of mice, foxes and bats.
The pond has two small islands one called Duck Island and the other West Island. The land of St James’ Park was bought by Henry VIII, just after his marriage to Anne Boleyn, then it was a marshy area where the River Tyburn passed.
Henry VIII spent his youth at Eltham Palace in Greenwich where there was a park full of deer for his favorite pastime: hunting. Once he became king and had to move to central London he bought this swampy land where there was a hospital for leprous women. He had all the patients thrown out and created a park for deer, a pond for swimming, a vegetable garden and a garden to relax.
James I decided to reclaim the area and put exotic animals there including giraffes, crocodiles, camels and elephants. However, the name St James does not come from the monarch (who was never made a saint) but from the hospital for leprosy women that used to be here.
Charles I, son of James I did not do much in the park but before being beheaded he took a walk in the park covered by a black cloak.
The Birdcage Walk has this name because of the many bird cages, many of which were exotic, placed by Charles II . He also opened St James’ Park to the public . While in exile in France, he was very impressed with Versailles. On his return to England, he tried to do something similar in the ground of Henry VIII park was by then completely neglected. Instead he wanted the deer park and a beautiful garden full of flower beds like that of the French royal palaces. The French gardener André Le Nôtre convinced the king not to change the landscape, as the natural simplicity of this park was perhaps even better than the manicured flower beds. But they finally decided to compromise. An 800-meter-long canal was excavated for the entire length of the park.
The canal was to be the central point of the park and all the avenues would start from here even if it never reached the complexity of the French gardens. In those days the canal often froze in winter and could be used for skating. Henry VIII’s pond was left and for years it became a place of suicide for women who were disappointed in love or betrayed.
The small lake or Rosamond’s Pond was then covered in the late 1700s by the well-known Capability Brown who tried to improve the park. In fact, from 1750 onwards the park became a den of criminals and prostitutes.
To celebrate Napoleon’s defeat, the royal family held a great party in which all the royals of Europe participated. A pagoda very similar to that of Kew Gardens was built for the festival but built on a bridge built by John Nash.
During the celebrations with fireworks, the pagoda caught fire and collapsed into the canal. Two spectators died.
Most of the trees you see now are no older than 1827 when the park was modernized, previously the trees were normally cut for lumber and on several occasions fireworks in the park burned several trees. Most of the trees in the park are plane trees, there are also oak and mulberry trees that date back to the time when James I tried to bring the silk industry to London.
Two major changes took place in the park over the course of 10 years, one was when the canal was transformed into the present pond around 1820. In fact, a long and straight channel was not considered very aesthetically beautiful.
The second was in 1911 when the Queen Victoria Memorial was built in front of Buckingham Palace on land that belonged to the park and was part of the pond.
St James’ Park is part of the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Walk and for those wishing to complete the walk, you can find the map here. The park is open from 5 am to midnight every day of the year. It is visited by over 5 million people every year.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese – a pub with a literary history
Spanish Flu in London 1918-1919
As I was born a Londoner,, my thoughts have been turning in the pandemic, to how Londoners coped with Spanish Flu in 1918. My grandfather returned from WW1, having been gassed in the trenches. He resumed running his grocery business in Hampstead High Street. My grandmother, who was asthmatic, gave birth to her youngest son in 1918.
Whatever their personal circumstances, no word of Spanish Flu causing any problems or deaths, has been passed down through the generations in my family. The Imperial War Museum has a collection of documents bequeathed to the museum by historian and journalist Richard Collier. The collection was made in the 1970s and comprises approximately 1,700 accounts of first hand witnesses of the pandemic. In 1918 half of the population of London was infected with the disease and 2.5% of the population died of it.
The Roman walls of London, a great architectural feat
The walls were built relatively late for a Roman city, around the year 200.
How were the Roman walls of London built?
London did not offer the right stone for this construction and therefore had to come from the Maidstone area by navigating the Thames, where there was a a type of clay mixed with limestone that was strong enough for the walls.
Furthermore for the Romans it was a great architectural and logistical feat. One of the boats that was used to transport the material sank and was found in 1962 near Blackfriars Bridge. London’s Roman walls incorporated all gates and a fort, Moorgate being the only gate added in the Middle Ages. The walls were almost 3 km long and 5 and a half metres high, the width varied. On average it was around 2.5 meters. There was also a 2.5 meter moat around it.
In 400 AD the walls were reinforced and about 20 bastions were added, just before the Romans withdrew. For a long time the walls were abandoned, but they were still able to defend the city as for example against the Saxons in 457.
They were later repaired and maintained and only after 1500 did the city become too big for the walls. In the second half of the 1700s the Roman walls of London became a problem with increasing traffic and were slowly demolished along with the medieval gates.
The walls can still be seen in several places in London, mainly the City. You can still see pieces from the Barbican, near the Tower of London, Cooper’s Row, Noble Street and in the Museum of London garden.
The surprising thing when you think of the city walls and gates is how small London was then compared to London now. Areas that are very central to us now, were very far from the walls and considered countryside even a few centuries ago.
Close to the walls of London is the Barbican district. The name Barbican comes from the Latin Barbecana, here there was in fact a Roman fortress that was used for centuries until its destruction in 1500.
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