St James’s is the exclusive neighbourhood in central London where Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace and Green Park are located. If you’ve ever visited London, chances are that you’ve been in the enclave of St James’s and you possibly think you know all there is to know about it, right?
I recently went on a black taxi tour with Graham from London Cab Tours. We learned so much in two hours that I couldn’t possibly fit it all into one post. The astounding thing was that we were learning about areas and locations that we thought we already knew!
So, without further ado, I present some interesting facts about St James’s, London.
Buckingham Palace didn’t always look like this and started out in 1703 as the decidedly more modest Buckingham House. The slightly more yellow stone that you see to the left of the photo above was part of a three-wing extension built in the 1820s in the neo-classical style by King George IV’s architect John Nash. The extension comprised three wings that formed the three sides of a courtyard.
The most famous, iconic part of the palace, the east front of Buckingham, was only completed in 1850, enclosing the courtyard. It was remodelled in 1913 (almost 100 years ago!) with a Portland stone facade to include the famous balcony where the Royal family gathers on special occasions.
Buckingham Palace has been the main London residence of the ruling Monarch since George IV.
If you’re wondering about all of the crowds, that is pretty standard for a summer day but the changing of the guard was also about to take place.
The Victoria Memorial
The Victoria Memorial was sculpted by Thomas Brock and dedicated to Queen Victoria by her grandsons King George V and Wilhelm II of Germany in 1911. It is actually quite a stunning memorial and it is certainly worth stopping to look at the detail if you have the time.
Graham told us that London black cab drivers like to refer to the Victoria Memorial as the ‘wedding cake’!
The memorial features a sculpture of Victoria sitting on her throne. If you move clockwise around the memorial, Victoria is flanked by the Angel of Truth, Charity and the Angel of Justice. Victory sits at the pinnacle of the memorial and is joined by two seated figures.
The Royal Parks
If you click on the photo above, you will see the ornate, gilded gate leading to Green Park. The gate represents that this is a Royal Park. There are eight Royal Parks in London, five of which are in central London: Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, St James’s Park, Green Park and Regent’s Park. In typically peculiar English way, the parks were made accessible to the public with the Crown Lands Act, 1851 but the public does not actually have the right to use the Parks. Public access depends on the grace and favour of the Crown although there are public rights of way across the land.
Green Park is possibly one of the most beautiful parks in London, if not the world. It is notable for its simplicity: there are no lakes, gardens or flowerbeds like you see in the other parks, no monuments, cafes or buildings. Green Park consists entirely of wooded meadows of maple hybrids and London plane trees.
Have you ever wondered why Green Park is so plain, especially when you compare it to the Queen’s Gardens in front of Buckingham Palace? I’ll give you a clue. It is for the same reason that there are several massive, flat, undeveloped and plain stretches of land in Blackheath, near Greenwich. That’s right. Green Park is the site of a mass grave. The dead that are buried there came from the St James’s Leper Hospital for Women which once overlooked the park.
The leper hospital was founded by Matilda of Scotland, wife of King Henry I in 1101 and was dedicated to Saint James the Less. Thankfully, the leper hospital is no longer there and neither are the dead buried in Green Park, for the site is where St James’s Palace is now located.
St James’s Palace
The first thing I noticed about St James’s Palace is that it is built of brick, which is highly unusual for a palace. This is because Henry VIII felt that he didn’t need the security that a castle provided and this was the first structure to be built in the French style of palaces. It is a pity that his wives did not realise just how much they would need security!
St James’s Palace was built between 1531 and 1536 in the red-brick Tudor style. It used to be the residence of Prince Charles but he and Camilla now live in Clarence House. Today, it is the residence of Princess Anne, Princess Beatrice, Princess Alexandra and the staff of both Prince William and Prince Harry.
So that is my collection of useful information regarding the palaces, memorials and parks in St James’s, London. Next time I’ll tell you a little bit more about the London Cab Tour.