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Friday, August 24, 2007

St. James's Park

The British are famed for their gardens and love of flowers and this is reflected in several of London's parks. Closer to the centre of town, St James's Park boasts some spectacular flower beds, filled with bulbs and bedding plants, which are changed every season.

History of St James's Park

St James's park began life as a boggy field next to a leper hospital for women. The site of the hospital has also come up in the world, as it is now occupied by St. James's Palace. Henry VIII(1509-47), who always had such a canny eye for property, saw the potential of this area when he acquired it in 1532. He knocked down the hospital in order to build a place, and drained the field to create a tiltyard and bowling alley, as well as a nursery for his collection of deer. Succeeding monarchs enjoyed the park and altered it to suit their needs: Elizabeth I (1558 -1603) staged pageants and fetes here, while James I improved the drainage so he could create a formal garden complete with a menagerie that included two crocodiles.

Along with many royal properties, St James's Park suffered during the Interregnum (1649 -60), the period between the end of the English Civil War and the Restoration, during which Charles II was in exile, and Londoners cut down many of the trees and burnt them for fuel.

Charles II rescued the park from neglect after he came to the throne. He acquired a further 36 acres 914.5 hectares) of land and had the grounds landscaped in what was then the highly fashionable, formal French style typified by the designs of Andre Le Notre(1613 -1700). One of Charles's lasting legacies is the park's canal, which was formed by merging some small ponds into one long stretch of waterway, and used to parade around it with his mistresses -- he was even known to swim in it on occasion. Such activities took place in full view of the public, who were admitted into the park for the first time during Charles's reign.

By the time Queen Anne (1702-14) came to the throne, the park had lost its grandeur and been colonized by prostitutes. However, it was gradually reclaimed by polite society and in 1814, the Prince Regent held a spectacular gala here to celebrate the 16th anniversary of the Battle of the Nile and the centenary of the House of Hanover's British rule. A Chinese pagoda was built for the occasion, but tragically it caught fire during the fireworks display, killing one man and injuring five others.

Many renovations and alterations have been carried out to St James's Park since then. However, some things have not changed. The park is home to several pelicans, which were first introduced when a Russian ambassador gave a pair of the birds to Charles II.



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