St James's Park is the oldest Royal Park in London
and is surrounded by three palaces. The most ancient is Westminster,
which has now become the Houses of Parliament, St James's Palace and of
course, the best known, Buckingham Palace.
The Park was once a marshy watermeadow. In the thirteenth
century a leper hospital was founded, and it is from this hospital
that the Park took its name. In 1532 Henry VIII acquired the site
as yet another deer park and built the Palace of St James's. When
Elizabeth I came to the throne she indulged her love of pageantry
and pomp, and fetes of all kinds were held in the park. Her successor,
James I, improved the drainage and controlled the water supply.
A road was created in front of St James's Palace, approximately
where the Mall is today, but it was Charles II who made dramatic
changes. The Park was redesigned, with avenues of trees planted
and lawns laid. The King opened the park to the public and was a
frequent visitor, feeding the ducks and mingling with his subjects.
During the Hanoverian period, Horse Guards Parade was created by
filling in one end of the long canal and was used first as a mustering
ground and later for parades. Horse Guards Parade is still part of St
James's Park. The Park changed forever when John Nash redesigned it in
a more romantic style. The canal was transformed into a natural-looking
lake and in 1837 the Ornithological Society of London presented some
birds to the Park and erected a cottage for a birdkeeper. Both the
cottage and the position of birdkeeper remain to this day. Clarence
House was designed for the Duke of Clarence, later to become William IV
and was also the home of the late Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.
Outside Buckingham Palace is the
Queen Victoria Memorial, which celebrates the days of the British
Empire. The memorial includes not only the marble statue of Victoria
and the glittering figures of Victory, Courage and Constancy, but also
the ornamental gates given by the Dominions. These are the Australia
Gate, South Africa Gate and Canada Gate.