Beautiful, lush St Jame’s Park, London

It’s a beautiful park in the heart of London, but did you know it takes its name from a leper hospital!  It sure does!  Read on…

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St James’s Park is a 57-acre park in the City of Westminster, central London. The park lies at the southernmost tip of the St James’s area, which was named after a leper hospital dedicated to St James the Less. It is the most easterly of a near-continuous chain of parks that also includes (moving westward) Green Park, Hyde Park, and Kensington Gardens.

 

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The park is bounded by Buckingham Palace to the west, the Mall to the north, Horse Guards to the east, and Birdcage Walk to the south. It meets Green Park at Queen’s Gardens with the Victoria Memorial at its center, opposite the entrance to Buckingham Palace. St James’s Palace is on the opposite side of The Mall.

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The park has a small lake, St James’s Park Lake, with two islands, West Island, and Duck Island, named for the lake’s collection of waterfowl.

A resident colony of pelicans has been a feature of the park since pelicans were donated by a Russian ambassador in 1664 to Charles II. While most of the time the wings are clipped, there is a pelican who can be seen flying to the London Zoo in hopes of another meal.

 

The Blue Bridge across the lake affords a view west towards Buckingham Palace framed by trees. Looking east the view includes the Swire Fountain to the north of Duck Island and, past the lake, the grounds of Horse Guards Parade, with Horse Guards, the Old War Office and Whitehall Court behind. To the south of Duck Island is the Tiffany Fountain on Pelican Rock, and past the lake is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with the London Eye, the Shell Tower, and the Shard behind.

I first visited St Jame’s Park with my mother on a trip to London many years ago.  She delighted in the flower beds, planted seasonally, and always lush and beautiful.  As I walked through the gardens last month, I thought of my mom and how much she would love how they looked that day!

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Nerd Alert: the history part of this post:

In 1532, Henry VIII purchased an area of marshland through which the Tyburn flowed from Eton College. It lay to the west of York Palace acquired by Henry from Cardinal Wolsey; it was purchased in order to turn York Palace, subsequently renamed Whitehall, into a dwelling fit for a king.

On James I’s accession to the throne in 1603, he ordered that the park be drained and landscaped, and exotic animals were kept in the park, including camels, crocodiles, an elephant and exotic birds, kept in aviaries.

While Charles II was in exile in France under the Commonwealth of England, he was impressed by the elaborate gardens at French royal palaces, and on his ascension he had the park redesigned in a more formal style, probably by the French landscaper André Mollet.

An 850 x 42 yard canal was created as evidenced in the old plan. The king opened the park to the public and used the area to entertain guests and mistresses, such as Nell Gwyn. The park became notorious at the time as a meeting place for impromptu acts of lechery, as described by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester in his poem “A Ramble in St James’s Park.”

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries cows grazed on the park, and milk could be bought fresh at the “Lactarian,” described by Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach in 1710.

The 18th century saw further changes, including the reclamation of part of the canal for Horse Guards Parade and the purchase of Buckingham House (now Buckingham Palace) at the west end of the Mall, for the use of Queen Charlotte in 1761.

Further remodelling in 1826–27, commissioned by the Prince Regent (later George IV) and overseen by the architect and landscaper John Nash, saw the canal’s conversion into a more naturally-shaped lake, and formal avenues rerouted to romantic winding pathways.

At the same time, Buckingham House was expanded to create the palace, and Marble Arch was built at its entrance, while The Mall was turned into a grand processional route. It opened to public traffic 60 years later in 1887.

The Marble Arch was moved to its current location at the junction of Oxford Street and Park Lane in 1851 and the Victoria Memorial was erected between 1906 and 1934.

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Duck Island Cottage, in the pictures above,  has a long history and is now the headquarters for the London Parks & Gardens Trust.

The park is Grade I listed on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.

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The Princess Diana Memorial, Hyde Park, London

During my first walk through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, I noticed these markers in the pavement, guiding the visitor to the Princess Diana Memorial.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to go see it.  I remember her death all too well, just like I can remember the day President Kennedy was shot.  Markers of time that I wish I could forget.

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In the end, I couldn’t not go.  I’m so glad I did.  It is a lovely, lighthearted place.  I think Diana would have loved it.  On the sunny Sunday afternoon I was there, families and especially children were enjoying the water as it flowed through the monument.  I loved it.  But, I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures.  It was still too raw for me.

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The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain is a memorial in London dedicated to Diana, Princess of Wales, who died in a car crash in 1997. It was designed to express Diana’s spirit and love of children.

The fountain was built with the best materials, talent and technology. It contains 545 pieces of Cornish granite – each shaped by the latest computer-controlled machinery and pieced together using traditional skills.

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The design aims to reflect Diana’s life, water flows from the highest point in two directions as it cascades, swirls and bubbles before meeting in a calm pool at the bottom. The water is constantly being refreshed and is drawn from London’s water table.

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The Memorial also symbolises Diana’s quality and openness. There are three bridges where you can cross the water and go right to the heart of the fountain.

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The memorial was designed by American landscape architect and artist Kathryn Gustafson.

 

The fountain is located in the southwest corner of Hyde Park, just south of the Serpentine lake and east of the Serpentine Gallery. Its cornerstone was laid in September 2003 and it was officially opened on 6 July 2004 by Queen Elizabeth II.  Also present were Diana’s younger brother Charles Spencer, her ex-husband Prince Charles, and her sons William and Harry.

Working on the project began in 2001. The fountain was designed by Gustafson Porter.  Kathryn Gustafson, an American landscape artist said she had wanted the fountain, which was built to the south of the Serpentine, to be accessible and to reflect Diana’s “inclusive” personality. Gustafson said: “Above all I hope that it provides a fitting memorial for the princess and does credit to the amazing person that she was.”

The memorial has the form of a large, oval stream bed about 165 by 260 ft that surrounds, and is surrounded by, a lush grassy field. The granite stream bed is from 10 to 20 ft wide. It is quite shallow and is laid out on a gently sloping portion of the park, so that water pumped to the top of the oval flows down either side. One side of the stream bed descends fairly smoothly to the downhill end of the oval with gentle ripples; the other side consists of a variety of steps, rills, curves, and other shapes so that the water plays in interesting ways as it flows to the tranquil pool at the bottom. The two sides were intended to show two sides of Diana’s life: happy times, and turmoil.

 

https://www.archdaily.com/803509/diana-princess-of-wales-memorial-fountain-gustafson-porter-plus-bowman

 

The Italian Gardens, Kensington Gardens

You might know that almost the first place I would go once I got to London would be the “Italian Gardens!”  Ma, certo! Like a bee to honey.

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This lovely, smallish ornamental water garden was created in the 1860s and is to be found on the north side of park, near Lancaster Gate. It is believed the garden was a gift from Prince Albert  (he died 1861) to his beloved wife, Queen Victoria. Regardless of the why, they are now recognized as a site of particular importance and are listed Grade II by Historic England.

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Portraits of Victoria and Albert flank the 2 sides of the balustrades overlooking the lake.

 

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BTW, about once every six months while I am living in Italy I will see something in some work of art that causes me to say: “that’s a new one–I’ve never seen that before.”  I love it when that happens.

But, today, at the Italian Gardens, I had one of those moments, caused by the bas-relief below:

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I’ve seen a lot of weird images captured in marble sculpture, especially in the form of putti of various stripes, but I have never seen a rifle in a Neo-classical sculpture before today!  A detail of it is below:

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The Italian Gardens are found within the grounds of Kensington Gardens; you can locate them at the top of the Serpentine River in the map below:

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The Italian Gardens are an elaborate mix of four main basins. They feature central rosettes carved in Carrara marble, the Portland stone and white marble Tazza Fountain, and a collection of stone statues and urns. It’s fun to see if you can spot the five main urn designs – a swan’s breast, woman’s head, ram’s head, dolphin and oval.

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Strengthening the supposition that this decorative complex was commissioned by Prince Albert is the fact that the layout of the Italian Gardens is very similar to that of Osborne House on The Isle of Wight, where the royal family spent holidays.  Prince Albert was a keen gardener and took charge of the gardens at Osborne House, where he introduced an Italian garden with large raised terraces, fountains, urns and geometric flower beds.

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It’s thought that in 1860 he brought the idea to Kensington Gardens. The design by James Pennethorne includes many features of the Osborne garden.

The initials of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert can be found on one of the walls of the Pump House, at the north of the gardens.

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fullsizeoutput_13fe You can see the V & A monogram in this photo.

 

This building once contained a steam engine which operated the fountains – the pillar on the roof is a cleverly-disguised chimney. A stoker kept the engine running on Saturday nights to pump water into the Round Pond, so on Sundays there was enough water pressure to run the fountains.

In 2011, the gardens were restored to their original splendour. The project involved:

  • Restoring the original stonework. This included carving eight life-sized swan heads and necks as replacement handles on some of the urns.
  • Restoring the Tazza Fountain. Fine stone carving was carried out on-site. The central rosettes also needed careful cleaning and some sections were replaced with newly-carved marble.
  • A new planting scheme to recapture the Victorian vision and help maintain water quality. Native water lilies, yellow flag iris, flowering rush and purple loosestrife are rooted in cages just below the water. New walkways help ducks get in and out of the water.
  • A new cleaner water system and water quality improvements. 13 tons of silt were removed from the fountain basins during the restoration. The fountains are now fed with fresh water from a borehole. The water is aerated and its temperature raised as it leaps in the air, before flowing out into the Long Water.  Happily, this improves the ecology of the lake.

The restoration was funded by The Tiffany and Co. Foundation as part of a project to restore ornamental and drinking fountains across the eight Royal Parks, and known as Tiffany – Across the Water.

Also, just for fun, the Italian Gardens have provided a star location in several films.

Monet’s Water Lilies, Musée de l’Orangerie

Claude Monet is known as one of the most famous painters of the Impressionist movement, which took its name from one of his paintings, Impression, soleil levant [Impression, Sunrise], dated 1872 (Musée Marmottan, Paris).

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From the late 1890s to his death in 1926, the painter devoted himself to the panoramic series of Water Lilies, of which the Musée de l’Orangerie has a unique series. In fact, the artist designed several paintings specifically for the building, and donated his first two large panels to the French State as a symbol of peace on the day following the Armistice of 12 November 1918.

He also designed a unique space consisting of two oval rooms within the museum, giving the spectator, in Monet’s own words, “an illusion of an endless whole, of water without horizon and without shore,” and making the museum’s Water Lilies a work that is without equal anywhere in the world. Monet’s eight compositions were set out in the two consecutive oval rooms, both of which have the advantage of natural light from the skylights, and are oriented from west to east, following the course of the sun and one of the main routes through Paris along the Seine. The two ovals evoke the symbol of infinity, whereas the paintings represent the cycle of light throughout the day.

Monet greatly increased the dimensions of his initial project, started before 1914. The painter wanted visitors to be able to immerse themselves completely in the painting and to forget about the outside world. The end of the First World War in 1918 reinforced his desire to offer beauty to wounded souls.

The first room brings together four compositions showing the reflections of the sky and the vegetation in the water, from morning to evening, whereas the second room contains a group of paintings with contrasts created by the branches of weeping willow around the water’s edge.

 

The Water Lilies were installed according to plan at the Musée de l’Orangerie in 1927, a few months after Monet’s death. This unique set of canvases were designed as a real environment and crowns the Water Lilies cycle begun nearly thirty years before.

The setting for the paintings is one of the largest monumental achievements of early twentieth century painting. The dimensions and the area covered by the paint surrounds and encompasses the viewer on nearly one hundred linear meters which unfold a landscape dotted with water lilies water, willow branches, tree and cloud reflections, giving the “illusion of an endless whole, of a wave with no horizon and no shore” in the words of Monet. This unique masterpiece has no equivalent worldwide.

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You can take a virtual tour of the Water Lilies cycle here:

https://www.musee-orangerie.fr/en/article/water-lilies-virtual-visit