St James's Park is one of the central London parks, in Westminster. It lies adjacent to that St James's Palace and to Buckingham Palace.

Henry VIII generously demolished the 13th century leper hospital on the site, having evicted the residents ('fourteen poor leprous maidens'), and made the area a deer park, to go with St James's Palace, which he was planning at the time. James I and VI kept his menagerie of animals (all presents from foreign dignitaries - he also had a suit of samurai armour!) in the park, including an elephant that purportedly drank a gallon of wine a day.

Charles I had a bowling green put in, but this was disused by the time he walked across the park to be executed. His son, Charles II, at the Restoration, had the gardens laid out in a formal manner, probably by André Mollet. Charles had seen similar things at Versailles, and the work in London included a rectangular canal over half a mile long. However, he left the Rosamund Pond, a famed meeting spot for lovers, untouched. It subsequently became a favoured spot for jilted maidens to commit suicide.

Indeed, the park has a long association with love and sex. It was for a long time a favoured haunt of prostitutes, and had presumably still got this reputation down to the time when W S Gilbert wrote (in Iolanthe):

'I heard the minx remark
She'd meet him after dark
Inside St James's Park
And give him one!'

(I will just note that the peers who sing this song have not heard correctly!)

It was during the reign of William III and Mary II that the first of several tea houses appeared in the park. Around 1700 there was also a Milk Fair featuring milk served fresh from the various cows whose owners plied their trade at the fair. Horse Guards Parade was constructed by filling in one end of the long canal at about this time.

In the 1820s the park was completely redesigned by John Nash, into something like its current form. The starkly artificial canal was reworked into something superficially like a real lake, and the dead straight paths replaced with the winding walks we see today.

The lake is deserving of special mention. At one time there was a pagoda on a bridge across it, but following Napoleon's defeat in 1814 (before the hundred days, history pedants!) it was set on fire by a firework accident and burned down with several fatalities. The bridge across the lake today is a sturdy concrete affair, from which one can see, in one direction Buckingham Palace, and in the other, the fairy spires of the Liberal Club. During World War II, the lake was temporarily drained and the bed used for government staff huts.

The Guards Memorial, a war memorial dedicated to the Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Welsh and Irish guards and designed in 1922 by Gilbert Ledward, stands at the edge of the park, opposite Horse Guards.

Many people have asked me to say that the bird life in the park is exceptional, with pelicans that have been there for centuries, as well as rare ducks and the odd raptor.

The park is flanked on the north side by The Mall (named for the game of Paille Maille, imported by Charles II), on the east by Horse Guards Approach and on the south by Birdcage Walk. Buckingham Palace fairly occupies the short western side.

Also a Tube station beneath 55 Broadway, the headquarters of London Underground. District and Circle Line trains stop there. The station is not in or even next to the park - one has to pass through Queen Anne's Gate to get to the greenery - but in Broadway, within sight of Westminster Abbey.

Also a football stadium in Newcastle, home of Newcastle United Football Club, The mighty Toon Army.

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