The original landscape in this area was a large marshy water meadow on the edge of Westminster and in Medieval times a leper colony (called St James’s) was built in the area and this is the source of the park’s name. In 1532, just 2 years after he “acquired” neighbouring York Place from Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII bought the land.
Henry quickly turned the meadow land into a deer park, building what is now the Palace of St James on the park’s north western edge as a hunting lodge – makes you wonder why when he already had a home on the other side of the park, but what a king wants….
His daughter, Elizabeth I, used the park to indulge her love of pomp and ceremony, holding fete’s in the park. Under her successor James I, the meadowland was ordered drained and became home to a collection of wild animals including an elephant and crocodiles as well as exotic birds kept in aviaries along the southern edge of the park – now known as Birdcage Walk.
Under Charles II a level of formality was imposed on the park with a French inspired garden that used a straight canal to contain the Tyburn River that runs through the park. This layout remained largely intact until the 1820’s when the Prince Regent (later George IV) commissioned John Nash to remake the park. Nash, working in the more natural style of the day, removed the canal and replaced it with the flowing lake shape we still see today.
The modern Park makes an ideal location for a picnic (just bear in mind that the Royal Parks limit the size of a picnic group and – as at 1 July 2015 – for St James’s Park this limit is 20 people and cooking/barbecuing is prohibited). If taking a picnic is “not your thing” then there are a number of kiosks offering snacks and drinks and a licensed restaurant offering simple food and drinks available within the grounds of the park.
For me, the key reason to visit, are the views it offers of London. These are not the iconic views we are all used to but include beautiful and unexpected perspectives of some of London’s most famous landmarks.