Facts you might not know about St James Park in London
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.
Weird London: The Cock Lane’s ghost
Cock Lane is near Smithfield Market and is where perhaps London’s most famous ghost was spotted. The reason for knowing this story that happened in the 18th century is that it caused quite a stir, at the inquiry one of the commission was the famous Samuel Johnson and the case was mentioned in many literary works, including those of Dickens. You can also find it in numerous drawings by William Hogarth.
The protagonists of the story were a local church employee named Richard Parsons who was also the landlord of the house with the ghosts, his 12-year-old daughter Elizabeth and the tenants of the house in question William and Fanny Kent. Richard Parsons had alcohol problems and struggled to support his family.
William Kent’s wife Elizabeth had died in childbirth and William began an affair with the deceased’s sister, Fanny. The law of the time did not allow the two to marry but in any case they went to London to live together. And they went to live on Cock Lane in Richard Parsons’ house. Note that William Kent was a money lender and had also made loans to his landlord.
In any case, there were immediately reports of strange apparitions and noises in that house. William Kent had to travel out of London for a few days and asked Elizabeth Parsons to keep Fanny company as she was pregnant. The two always heard strange noises and saw apparitions.
Since the birth of the child was approaching Kent decided to take Fanny to give birth elsewhere but in the meantime the woman fell ill with what the doctor diagnosed as smallpox and died. As the apparitions continued Richard Parsons organized a séance and here appeared the spirit of Kent’s first wife Elizabeth who said she had been killed by her husband and Fanny’s spirit who claimed she had been poisoned with arsenic.
The case had immense publicity, had political and religious implications. There were many séances, commissions, inquiries, expert discussions and it was concluded that there was no ghost. It ended with William Kent denouncing Richard Parsons of conspiracy against him. In fact if the ghosts had been taken seriously, he would have been sentenced to murder and death. The court agreed with William Kent.
The 5 oldest restaurant in London that are still open
We don’t know yet if they can survive the pandemic, but these are the oldest restaurants in London. There is never a shortage of surprising facts when it comes to London and even historic restaurants hide some curious facts.
The oldest London restaurant still open is undoubtedly Wiltons which has been around for almost 300 years, in fact it opened in 1742. It started with George William Wilton opening a market stall selling oysters in Haymarket.
The place became permanent and changed location twice, but even now it specialises in seafood and fish and not just oysters. Just to understand, this restaurant has existed when the United States did not exist yet and Mozart was not yet born. It has been located on Jermyn Street since 1984.
The City of London being the oldest part of London should have the oldest restaurants. But it was almost completely destroyed by the fire of 1666 and there aren’t many restaurants left or much else. We have the oldest restaurant in Cornhill and it dates back to 1757 and is called Simpson’s Tavern, which specializes in meat, steaks and everything to do with butchery.
We cannot forget Rules, one of the oldest restaurants in London Rules bills itself as the oldest restaurant in London. Technically it is also right, in fact, although it has only existed since 1798, over 40 years after Wiltons, it has never changed headquarters for over 200 years. It is still located at 35 Maiden Lane in Covent Garden. It too started out as an oyster restaurant, which was obviously fashionable in the 1700s, but now specializes in traditional British cuisine.
Another Simpson and this is called Simpson’s in The Strand located not far from Covent Garden. It was born as a place where people drank coffee, smoked cigars and above all played chess. It has existed since 1828 and you can imagine the gentlemen of the time who went to spend the evening there. It is now a traditional British food restaurant.
Kettner’s opened in Soho in 1867, rumored to be a Napoleon III cook who decided to open it, as French food was starting to be fashionable in London. Certainly one of the first French restaurants in London. People like Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie and Bing Crosby ate there.
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