Tag Archives: Piccadilly

“One of the Most Agreeable Walks in London” – a stroll through The Green Park

Green Park0001

“No inhabitant of the metropolis, and scarcely any person who has visited it, needs to be told that the spot delineated in the annexed view [above] forms one of the most agreeable walks in London.” (Ackermann’s Repository October 1810).

This shows the eastern end of The Green Park (these days ‘The’ is always dropped) from Piccadilly, looking south. It seems the artist would have been somewhere between Clarges Street and Bolton Street. Westminster Abbey can be seen in the distance and on the left are the houses looking out onto the Queen’s Walk. St James’s Palace is hidden behind them at the far end. Nowadays Green Park tube station would be just out of sight on the left with the Ritz (on the site of The White Horse Cellar) just beyond that.

“In summer the eastern end of the Green Park forms a favourite promenade for the inhabitants of the metropolis: and in fine weather, on every evening and on Sundays in particular, is always extremely crowded with genteel and well dressed company. At the north-east corner of this park there is a fine piece of water, which is supplied by the water-works of Chelsea [The reservoir was built in 1775 and filled in in 1856] and forms at once a beautiful embellishment and a useful reservoir. The guards parade every day between ten and eleven o’clock, and a full band of music renders this spectacle cheerful and attractive.” (John Wallis London: Being a Complete Guide 1810)

Green Park is a triangular space of about 53 acres. To the south Constitution Hill divides it from the gardens of Buckingham Palace and St James’s Park butts up to it in the south-east corner with the Mall. In the 17th century it was part of St James’s Park, the Tudor hunting grounds, which swept around the south and west of the palace, but by the time of Roque’s map of 1738 the tree lined avenue of the Mall leading up to Buckingham House cut it off and it is labelled The Green Park. The gardens of Buckingham House were much smaller and the park crossed Constitution Hill, occupying the area that is now the large roundabout of Hyde Park Corner. The second print is from The Beauties of England & Wales Vol. 1 (1801) and shows the view west from the southern edge of the park towards Buckingham House which, by that time, had become The Queen’s Palace or House.

Green Park Q House

Before Henry VIII seized monastic properties St James’s Palace was the site of a religious foundation and a leper hospital and the legend persisted that Green Park was so green (and without flowers) because it was the burial place for the lepers. There is no evidence for this! Charles II was responsible for the park’s lay-out and Constitution Hill is thought to be named because it was a favourite walk, or ‘constitutional’ of his. He also built a snow, or ice, house and the mound can still be seen in the park opposite 119, Piccadilly.

The park, as well as being a fashionable promenade, was also popular for duels in the 18th century. Count Alfieri fought Lord Ligonier the husband of his mistress there and famously remarked (when he returned from the fight to finish watching the play at the Haymarket Theatre with a wounded arm) “My view is that Ligonier did not kill me because he did not want to, and I did not kill him because I did not know how.” The park was also an excellent location for balloon ascents and firework displays such as the 1814 Peace celebrations.

The gravel walk on the eastern boundary of the park is known as The Queen’s Walk and was created for Caroline, the wife of George II. She had a pavilion built for breakfasts looking out on the park, but no trace of it remains. The most distinguished house overlooking the Walk is Spencer House. It can be seen in the top print, identified by the roof ornaments, and in the print below. (1831  Earl Spencer’s House). It is open to the public  on Sundays (except in August) by bookable guided tours.

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Filed under Architecture, High Society, London Parks, Royalty, St James's Park, Walks

The Old Goat of Piccadilly

Old QThe unprepossessing character above is William Douglas, 4th Duke of Queensbury, otherwise known as Old Q or, as this print published in 1796 when he was 71 years of age, puts it, ‘The Old GOAT of Piccadilly.’

His Grace was every bit as dissolute and dissipated as this print shows him. He had a long life – 1725-1810 – and, as Jerry White says, he was ‘one of the most outrageous gamblers and sybarites of his own or any other age.’ (London in the 18th Century). He succeeded his father as Earl of March in 1731 and was known for most of his long and scandal-filled life by that title, only inheriting the dukedom on the death of his uncle in 1786. He was a passionate gambler, so it was fortunate that he was incredibly wealthy. In 1750 he bet that he could make a four-wheeled carriage drawn by four horses and carrying one man cover a nineteen mile course in one hour. This was considered impossible but, by throwing money at it, the earl had a series of experimental carriages made, each stripped down to nothing more than a basic framework. The harness was made of silk and whalebone and the unfortunate groom driving it had virtually nothing to cling to. He won in a time of 53 minutes 27 seconds. His other notorious bet was that he could send a letter 50 miles in an hour which he achieved by putting it in a cricket ball and having twenty bowlers stand in a measured circle throwing it from one to another continuously.

Throughout his adult life the duke was a passionate pursuer of women, especially actresses to whom he was exceedingly generous, for example building Kitty Frederick a house at 135, Piccadilly next door to his own at 138. He never married but, not surprisingly he had numerous illegitimate children.  In 1795 he had the woods around Drumlanrigg and Neidpath castles in Scotland felled and sold to provide a dowry for Maria Fagniani whom he believed to be his natural daughter. (She did rather well financially – George Selwyn left her a fortune under the impression that she was his child!)

Felling the forests made him the enemy of Robert Burns – ‘The worm that gnawed my bonny trees, That reptile wears a ducal crown…’ and William Wordsworth  – “Degenerate Douglas! Oh the unworthy Lord!”

Old Q’s interest in women did not diminish with age and he became what we would now probably call a sex pest, driving around with a groom whose job it was to get down from the carriage and take notes to any young woman who caught his master’s roving eye. He would walk along Piccadilly, accosting women as he went and when he became too elderly for that he retreated to the balcony of his house and winked at women as they passed.

He was famous for his huge muff, shown in this print. Two medicine bottles are poking out of his pocket, one labelled “Renovating Balsam” the other “Velno’s vegetable syrup.” Presumably these are to revive his flagging energies. The caption reads:

A Shining Star – in the British Peerage

And a usefull Ornament to Society___Fudge.

 

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Filed under Gentlemen, Sex & scandal