London Blog

Royal parks and Russian pelicans

One of the best things about London is the abundance of green space. There is a good reason for this that stems back to Britain’s past. Unlike France, where the countryside was considered uncivilised and the realm of peasants, it was very much the place of choice for the British aristocracy. So much so that when George IV tried to attract the high and mighty to London, he had to create country estates in the middle of the city. This is how the large country houses in Regents Park came to be there. Here are some interesting tit bits about some of our favourite green London spots.

Battersea Park

All 200 acres of Battersea Park were laid out in 1858 on an area of isolated fertile marshland called Battersea Fields. Twenty-nine years before, it was here the Prime Minister of the day, the Duke of Wellington, challenged the 10th Earl of Winchilsea to a duel. He had accused Wellington of “treacherously plotting the destruction of the Protestant constitution” with his Catholic Emancipation Act. They each deliberately misfired and it all ended bloodlessly. On a less violent note, the first asparagus in Britain was grown here! Also, Battersea Park has an amazing Peace Pagoda. It was offered to the people of London by the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order as part of the 1984 Greater London Council (GLC) Peace Year. The order has been constructing Peace Pagodas, as the spiritual focus to unify the movement for peace, since 1947 and they exist all around the world including Europe, Asia and the United States.

Wandsworth Park

This lovely little park is one of London’s best kept secrets. It is almost a perfect rectangle right next to the river. The park was formally opened on Saturday 28 February 1903. A bowling green, pavilion, and tennis courts were added in the 1920s. It has a wonderful row of trees lining the path near the river and the whole park is raised so when you look at the river from your picnic it’s a bit like being by the sea side! It is one of two Grade II listed parks in London, the other being none other than Battersea Park. It’s very popular with parents playing with children, cricketers in the summer and touch rugby in the winter. Also a great place for Frisbee!

St James’s Park

More famous than either of the above, St James Park was laid out as a deer park by Henry VIII in 1532 and was the first of the London Royal Parks. James I kept camels, crocodiles, elephants and an aviary of exotic birds along what is now called Birdcage Walk. Charles II, on his return from exile in France, had the park designed in a more formal French style and opened to the public. In 1664 the Russian Ambassador presented Charles with a pair of pelicans whose descendants are still a popular attraction in the park today. One of these can be seen stealing a sandwich in the picture above.

Holland Park

Tiny Holland Park is a gem in the centre of London, with a mix of woodland walks, rose and rock gardens. Like Battersea Park there is also a Japanese connection. The Kyoto Japanese garden built for the 1991 London festival of Japan. It is all laid out in the former grounds of Holland House, a huge Jacobean pile built around 1606 for James’s Chancellor, Sir Walter Cope, which passed eventually to the 1st Earl of Holland. During the early part of the 19th century Holland House became a centre for Whig society and noted for its literary salons attended by writers such as Sheridan, Wordsworth, Scott, Dickens and Macaulay. While Battersea Park has its asparaguses, Lady Holland planted the first dahlias ever grown in England on the terrace of the Dutch garden.

March 14, 2012 rentonomy London Living