Perhaps the most overlooked and least celebrated of central London’s Royal Parks, Green Park (officially The Green Park) is a peaceful oasis of leafy trees between the bustle of Piccadilly and traffic of Constitution Hill and part of an unending swathe of green which connects Kensington Gardens with, eventually, St James’ Park.
Originally meadowland used for hunting, the earliest known mention of the area where the park now stands was apparently in 1554 when it was believed to be a staging point for Thomas Wyatt (the younger) who led a group of rebels protesting against the marriage of Queen Mary I to King Philip II of Spain. The unfortunate – and unsuccessful (in terms of his rebellion at least) – Wyatt was later beheaded for treason.
In 1668, King Charles II had the park enclosed with a brick wall and stocked with deer, as well as having a ranger’s lodge and icehouse built (to keep his drinks cool when entertaining in summer). While it was initially known as Upper St James’s Park, by 1746 Green Park had its own name. It’s not really known what prompted the name change but the unofficial story is that Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II, found out that her philandering husband had picked some flowers there for another woman – a milkmaid. In revenge, she had every flower in the park pulled up with orders they were not to be replanted. To this day, while some 250,000 daffodils bloom here in spring, there remain no formal flowerbeds in the park.
The 47 acre (19 hectare) park, which was also used on occasion as a duelling ground, underwent further development at the beginning of the following century with the creation of the ornamental Tyburn Pool near the centre of the park.
Queen Caroline, the wife of King George II, meanwhile, had a reservoir built to supply water to St James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace (it was known as the Queen’s Basin) as well as a library and the Queen’s Walk. Planted in 1730, this runs along the eastern side of the park and helped to turn it into a fashionable place in which to be seen (and led to the building of many a mansion in nearby Piccadilly).
Other buildings in the park have included two temporary ‘temples’ – the Temple of Peace (erected in 1749 to mark the end of the War of Austrian Succession) and the Temple of Concord (erected in 1814 to mark 100 years of the rule of the Hanoverian dynasty). Both of these, believe it or not, burnt down during the celebrations they were built for.
The park, which underwent a redesign in which the first trees were planted in the 1820s as part of architect John Nash’s grand plans for St James’s Park, was opened to the general public in 1826 but by then many of its earlier features – including the ranger’s house, Tyburn Pool and the Queen’s Basin – were already gone.
In more recent times, war memorials have been added to the park – the maple-leaf daubed, Pierre Granche-designed memorial to Canadian soldiers in 1994 (Canada is also remembered in Canada Gate on the park’s south side, installed in 1908 to mark the nation’s contribution to the Empire), and a set of memorial gates on Constitutional Hill at the park’s western end which is dedicated to the five million people from the Indian Sub-Continent, Africa and the Caribbean who served in World War II in 2004. The park also features the ‘Diana fountain’, installed in 1952 by the Constance Fund (and currently undergoing restoration).
On 14th June, a 41 royal gun salute is fired here to mark the Queen’s birthday. Salutes are also fired here for the State Opening of Parliament in November or December, Remembrance Sunday, and for State Visits.
WHERE: Green Park (nearest tube station is Green Park and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: http://www.royalparks.gov.uk/Green-Park.aspx
PICTURE: Courtesy of Royal Parks. © Anne Marie Briscombe