Tag Archives: St James’s Palace

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

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“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

A Stroll In St James’s Park

DSCN2018 soldierThe sun is shining – just the afternoon for a stroll in St James’s Park. The other day I started off at St James’s Palace where the scarlet-coated guardsmen were fending off the advances of crowds of camera-wielding tourists and then walked down narrow Marlborough Road between the Palace and Marlborough House. This access to the park did not exist until the 1850s and effectively cuts off Marlborough House and the Queen’s Chapel on one side from the Palace on the other.

The Queen’s Chapel, although a Chapel Royal is not The Chapel Royal which is within the Palace and which is where Prince George was christened recently. The Queen’s Chapel was designed by Inigo Jones in the 1620s for Queen Henrietta Maria, the Roman Catholic wife of Charles I, although since the 1690s it has been used as a Protestant place of worship.DSCN2019

Crossing the Mall, with its view of BuckinghamPalace to the right, I dodged the Royal Parks gardeners getting ready for the post-picnic lunch clear-up in the Park and entered through the gorgeous wrought iron gates.

St James’s Park is the oldest royal park and dates back to Tudor times. Elizabeth I hunted deer here but by the time of James I there was a physic garden, a menagerie (including crocodiles) and an aviary, which is recalled in the name of Birdcage Walk on the northern edge of the park.

Charles II had considerable work done to create the central canal by joining up several ponds and marshy areas, planting trees and stocking it with deer. It is from this date that the pall mall alley was laid out. The Russian ambassador presented Charles with a pair of pelicans in 1664 and there are still pelicans amongst the exotic birds on the lake today. Occasionally one creates havoc by pouncing on a passing pigeon and swallowing it whole.

At the eastern end of the park was SpringGardens, a pleasure garden dating from the 17th century. All that remains of it now are two stubs of roads cut across by the Mall and with Admiralty Arch sitting in the middle. By Jane Austen’s day they were notable for various indoor places of entertainment, art galleries and so on. The Picture of London (1807) recommends Wigley’s Royal Promenade rooms here. They were open 10am to 10pm, admission one shilling. The visitor could ‘meet’ two invisible girls who spoke or sang on demand, or listen to a performance on the panharmonium, a mechanical orchestra.DSCN0397

The Society of Painters In Water Colours exhibited at Spring Gardens. On 24 May 1813 Jane wrote of a visit with her brother Henry and reported that she was well-pleased with what she saw, especially, ‘with a small portrait of Mrs Bingley…exactly herself, size, shaped face, features & sweetness; there never was a greater likeness. She is dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always supposed, that green was a favourite colour with her.’ Deirdre le Faye identifies this picture as the charming Portrait of a Lady by J F-M Huet-Villiers.

However pleasant it was in broad daylight, Miss Austen would have been cautious about walking in the park after dusk without a male escort for it was a notorious haunt of prostitutes of both sexes. Even though the park was locked at night it was thought that almost 7,000 keys were in  private possession, so it might just as well have been open. James Boswell records various encounters with prostitutes there but it was also a dangerous place for a man by himself, for gangs of blackmailers operated under cover of its shrubberies. One man, his breeches undone, would leap out at the victim, crying that he had been attacked, while his confederates threatened to fetch the watch and swear they had witnessed an indecent assault. At a time when homosexual acts were criminalised and could lead to the gallows, many men paid up rather than risk not being believed.

The Globe newspaper for January 7th 1809 reports, We were in hopes that the conviction of Cannon and his companion Wilkinson, for extorting money from Mr Butterworth the silversmith, in St James’s Park, would have put a stop to the depredations of those execrable wretches who are making a miserable existence by the diabolical practices of threatening respectable persons with a most detestable crime. But they regret to have to report yet another instance had just come to light.

In August 1814 the park was the site of a series of extravagant celebrations: first for the centenary of Hanoverian rule, then the anniversary of the Battle of the Nile and finally the peace celebrations following Napoleon’s exile to Elba. The architect Nash designed an exotic seven-storey pagoda, which unfortunately caught fire during a firework display. Ironically this was organised by Congreve, the inventor of the military rockets which went on to cause almost as much alarm and confusion amongst British troops as amongst the enemy at the Battle of Quatre Bras the following year. There was also a bridge, which lasted rather longer, until 1825, although in a half-burnt condition and made perilous by the remains of the hooks that had held the Catherine wheels.St J Park0001

Festivities were also held on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, which had a miniature navy afloat on it, and at the temple of Concord in Green Park, both events open freely to the public. The organisers at St James’s Park, however, decided to charge half a guinea and erected barriers and toll gates. Despite the charge the event was hugely popular and the gates had to be closed. Despite the crowds none of the public were killed during the fire, although two unfortunate workmen died.

After the event the park was left in a dreadful state and it was not until 1827 that the government found the money to renovate it. Nash was chosen for the job and he remodelled the canal into a sinuous lake, added a duck island, a new bridge, widened the Mall and replanted the trees, shrubberies and flowerbeds.

The park now is much as Nash left it, although the bridge is a replacement and the view includes the London Eye. FroStrand0002m the modern bridge there is an excellent view of DSCN0389-001Buckingham Palace. Jane Austen knew it as the Queen’s House and it only took on its present appearance when George IV began its enlargement to fit his concept of a fitting palace. The black and white print of skaters shows the Queen’s House with the park before Nash’s remodelling.

Often I will walk from the bridge to Horse Guards Parade, this time I went down to Bird Cage Walk and along to Westminster Abbey to catch a bus up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square – I’ll be talking about exploring London by bus in my next post.

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St James’s Palace Part 2 – George III and the Regency

The Palace in 1809

The Palace in 1809

George III moved to St James’s Palace on his accession in 1760 and was married there the next year.  The ramshackle old palace did not suit the couple and in 1762, the year that Prince George (later to be Prince Regent and George IV) was born, George bought Buckingham House on the other side of St James’s Park.  The newly-weds moved there, renamed it the Queen’s House, and used St James’s Palace for state occasions, which included the births of the royal children.

The King held Levées in the afternoon on Wednesdays and Fridays, and on Mondays when Parliament was sitting. These were men-only occasions and formal Court dress or, for officers, dress uniform was worn. Male members of the royal family, ministers and ambassadors were expected to attend and MPs who supported the government of the day often came too. They would line the walls of the Privy Chamber (for those of the highest office) and the Presence Chamber and the King would circulate around the room before retiring to the King’s Closet and holding a Privy Council.

Court dress for men

Court dress for men

Drawing Rooms were held on Thursday afternoons and on Sundays after the morning service at the Chapel Royal. (Today this is the only part of the palace open to the public. Services are at 8.30 am and 11.30am, October to Good Friday.) Men and women were admitted: this was the opportunity for newcomers to Society to be presented and courtiers intending to marry would present their spouses. Drawing Rooms were also the occasion when new ambassadors were received, newly appointed senior officers and ministers would come to ‘kiss hands’ and decorations would be bestowed.Full court dress was worn, which for women meant vast hooped skirts, even when the fashion was for a high waistline, creating a ludicrous silhouette. When George VI came to the throne he allowed hoops to be dispensed with, but ostrich plumes continued to be compulsory. Jane Austen’s cousin, Eliza de Feuillide, attended a Drawing Room in her youth, before she was widowed and remarried Jane’s brother Henry. She complained bitterly about the great weight of the gown.

After the formal business was over the royals would work around the room speaking to the guests and later Queen Victoria recalled learning the art of ‘cercléing’.

After 1788, with the onset of the King’s illness, Levées and Drawing Rooms were held only intermittently at St James. In 1810 John Wallis noted, ‘…since [George III’s] last illness, this palace is almost deserted; a levee only is holden here now and then when the king comes from Windsor, for that purpose. Windsor is now the favourite residence.’ From then on one of the royal princes would preside or, for Drawing Rooms, the Queen.

On the King’s 72nd birthday in 1810 there were great celebrations on June 4th, featured in detail in all the papers. The Morning Chronicle reports that the royal family visited The Queen’s Palace in the morning but the King remained there in the afternoon while the Queen and her family processed to St James’s Palace. They were not only without the King, but also the Duke of Cumberland who was recovering from a murderous sword attack by his valet which left him badly cut around the head (or, as gossip persisted in stating, he had murdered the valet and had been wounded during the fight!) and Princess Amelia who had been in poor health for some time. The paper hints that many ladies had held off from ordering court dress in case they needed to change it for mourning. Princess Elizabeth was in tears throughout, although whether from worry about her siblings, or distress that her father could not attend, is not clear.

The Morning Chronicle devoted two full pages to describing the Drawing Room, the balls and illuminations in the evening and five and a half columns to details of the gowns worn by the ladies.

Although their parents were living at the Queen’s House (or perhaps because of that!) the royal dukes moved into apartments at St James’s Palace with, of course, the exception of the Prince Regent who had Carlton House built for himself. When he succeeded to the throne he redeveloped The Queen’s House to become Buckingham Palace, with State Apartments that removed the necessity to use St James’s. The old palace became the home of other royals, retired courtiers and  palace officials, a role it continues to fulfil as London home to the late Queen Mother, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Here is part of the detailed description of the gown worn by every lady attending the Drawing Room for the King’s Birthday in 1810. (Morning Chronicle June 5th)

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St James’s Palace – Part One

One building we can be certain would be completely recognisable to Jane Austen in today’s London is St James’s Palace which lies at the bottom of St James’s Street with Green Park to the north-west and St James’s Park to the south.

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It had an unglamorous beginning for a royal palace – as a leper hospital. In the 11th century the parish of St Margaret’s, Westminster (whose church sits in the grounds of Westminster Abbey) was given land for the establishment of a hospital for fourteen leprous women. The hospital was dedicated to St James the Less and was remote from habitation in a swampy area, regularly flooded by a branch of Tyburn Brook. What is now Piccadilly was a track on a ridge leading from the City of London to the west, but it was completely without habitation.

Successive kings and queens granted the hospital money until 1348 when the Black Death seems to have killed off the inhabitants and the buildings were leased out to various occupiers until 1439 when Henry VI granted the hospital and its lands to Eton College. In 1531 Henry VIII took it from the College in a swap with some royal lands elsewhere.

In the City of London and the City of Westminster Henry already possessed the Tower of London, Bridewell Palace, Baynards Castle, Whitehall Palace and Westminster Palace. He had another palace just downstream at Greenwich, plus Hampton Court upstream which he seized from Cardinal Wolsey. Despite all this he decided to build another palace at St James’s and had the old building demolished to make way for it. By acquiring the St James’s property he vastly extended his Westminster/Whitehall lands with a hunting park over a wide area, including what is now St James’s Park.The new palace was begun in 1536 and the great gatehouse that stands at the foot of St James’s Street dates from this phase of building. (Photograph at the top of the page). Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth all lived at St James’s Palace from time to time and, with the accession of the Stuart dynasty, more work was done to make it a fit residence for the heir. Prince Henry, however, died in 1612, after which it was taken over by his brother, later Charles I. The palace was still remote, with parkland to the south and fields to the north. The only significant development was the Queen’s Chapel, built by Inigo Jones  in anticipation of Charles’s marriage to Henrietta Maria, a Roman Catholic who lived at the palace whilst Charles had his base at Whitehall.

During the Commonwealth the palace became a barracks and a prison, but after the Restoration the Duke of York (later James II) used it and considerable building work was carried out. James moved to Whitehall on his accession leaving St James’s to his queen. It was during this period that the palace’s first water closet, ‘The Stool Room’, was built complete with Dutch wall tiles and brass and ivory fittings to operate the flushing cistern.In the years after Charles II’s return to the throne the entire St James’s area was developed and became a major centre for courtiers, hangers-on at the court and the tradesmen who serviced them. After the Glorious Revolution William and Mary did not live at St James’s but Mary’s sister, Queen Anne, did, and had an extensive building programme carried out with a new suite of royal apartments designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The queen held ‘Drawing Rooms’ during the winter months when anyone of respectable appearance would be admitted, along with the courtiers and ministers there to do business, but they were dull occasions and the queen disliked the palace, preferring Windsor Castle or William and Mary’s Kensington Palace.When the Hanoverian monarchs took over the throne in 1714 George I moved into St James’s Palace and used it more intensively than his predecessors. George II disagreed, apparently concurring with the Prussian Baron Bielfeld who called it ‘crazy, smoky and dirty’ and Daniel Defoe who considered it ‘mean’ and beneath the dignity of the court.But it was the official London royal palace – Westminster and Whitehall had become Parliamentary and governmental complexes and the Tower was impossibly medieval. Winter was the time for the court to be in residence there with monarchs preferring Kew, Windsor and Kensington during the summer months.

Prince George, who was to become the Regent, then George IV, was born at St James’s Palace in 1762 and the baby was displayed less than two weeks after his birth to all those attending the Drawing Room. The king and queen considered the palace,  described by Sir John Fielding as ‘the jest of foreigners’, to be a ‘dust trap’, so they lived at the Queen’s House (later to become BuckinghamPalace). However that had no state rooms, so the Court was still officially at St James’s – where it remains to this day. All ambassadors are still accredited to The Court of St James’s.

I will visit the Court of St James under George III and George IV, as Regent and king, in my next post.

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