The Garden Guide

Book: London and Its Environs, 1927
Chapter: 7 Buckingham Palace, St James's Palace, Malborough

St James's Palace

Previous - Next

A few minutes' walk to the north-west, between the Mall and St. James's St., lies St. James's Palace, an irregular and picturesque brick building enclosing several courtyards. The palace stands on the site of a hospital for fourteen 'maidens that were leprous,' which was dedicated to St. James the Less and is mentioned at least as early as 1100. Henry VIII. acquired the hospital and its grounds in 1532 and caused a hunting-lodge to be built here, perhaps from the designs of Holbein, of which only the Gatehouse, parts of the Chapel Royal, and the old Presence Chamber remain. Mary I. died at St. James's in 1558. Charles I., most of whose children were born in this palace, spent his last days here and walked hence across the park to his execution. After the Restoration St. James's Palace was the principal residence of the Duke of York (afterwards James II.). After 1698, when Whitehall was burned down, St. James's Palace became the official London residence of the sovereign, where all court functions were held, and the British court is still officially known as the Court of St. James's. The royal levees are still held in St. James's Palace, but the Drawing-Rooms were transferred to Buckingham Palace in 1861. Queen Anne and the Georges all lived in the palace from time to time, and William IV. made it his principal residence. Since then no monarch has lived here. Among those who have been born in the palace are Charles II. (1630), Mary, mother of William III. (1631), James II. (1633), Mary II. (1662), Queen Anne (1664), the Old Pretender (1688), and George IV. (1762). Besides Mary I., Prince Henry (1612), son of James I., and Queen Caroline (1737), wife of George II., died here. In 1912-13 the conference that arranged the treaty between Turkey and the Balkan States met in this palace, and in 1921 the League of Nations assembled in the picture gallery. The Lord Chamberlain's Department, including the Examiner of Plays, the Poet Laureate, the Keeper of the Swans, and other picturesque officials, is established here. The most attractive feature of the exterior is the fine 16th century brick Gatehouse in Cleveland Row, facing St. James's St., with its four octagonal towers and carvings over the doors showing the initials of Henry VIII. Immediately to the west of the Gatehouse is the large window of the Chapel Royal (see below). To the west of that is the portion known as York House, once occupied by the Prince of Wales, as it was by his father when Duke of York. Lord Kitchener (1850-1916) lived here in 1914-16. At the east angle of the palace is the Friary Court, open on one side, where the guard is changed at 10.30 a.m. (when neither the King nor Queen is in residence at Buckingham Palace). In the Friary Court is the entrance to the Colour Court, from which the State Apartments and the Chapel Royal are entered. Admission to the State Apartments is difficult to obtain. The most interesting of the rooms is the old Presence Chamber, now called the Tapestry Room, from the fine Mortlake tapestries with which it has been hung since 1795. Part of this room dates from Henry VIII.'s time and the old fireplace bears the initials H. and A., for Henry and Anne Boleyn. From the bay window the new sovereign is proclaimed on his accession. Queen Anne's Drawing Room has a George I. mantelpiece; the Drawing Room was formerly the Great Council Chamber; the Throne Room is embellished with carvings by Grinling Gibbons, a fine white marble chimney-piece, two magnificent 18th century red porphyry vases, and a sumptuous throne and canopy dating from 1801; the Banqueting Room (1822), 63 feet long by 37 feet broad, is adorned with battle, pictures. The many royal portraits throughout these rooms were chiefly hung here in the 19th century. The valuable royal library now at the British Museum was housed at St. James's Palace from 1608 to 1709. The Chapel Royal has been a good deal altered since it was built for Henry VIII., but the fine ceiling, probably designed by Holbein and completed in 1540, has been carefully preserved. The King and several of the nobility have pews here. Visitors are admitted freely to the full choral service at 11.15 a.m. on Sunday. The music at the chapel has always been noted for its excellence; among its early organists were Orlando Gibbons and Purcell. At the Epiphany (January 6th) an offering of gold, frankincense, and myrrh is made on behalf of the sovereign, on which occasion the service is conducted by the Bishop of London, who is ex officio Dean of the Chapels Royal; the offering used to be made by the sovereign in person, but is now always done by deputy. Several royal marriages have been celebrated in this chapel, including those of Mary, the daughter of Charles I. and the mother of William III. (1641), William III. and Mary II. (1677), Queen Anne (1683), George IV. (1795), Queen Victoria (1840), the future German Emperor and Empress Frederick (1858), and George V. (1893). Sir Christopher Wren was married to his second wife here in 1670. The marriage of the daughter of W. H. Page, the American ambassador, to a compatriot in 1915, was the first marriage in the chapel in which both parties were foreigners. Opposite Friary Court is the entrance to Marlborough House Chapel , which belongs to St. James's Palace, and was connected with it by a wing burned down in 1809. The chapel was originally built as a private Roman Catholic chapel for Queen Henrietta Maria, consort of Charles I. The Hanoverian kings instituted a German Protestant service here, and the chapel was known as the German Chapel until 1901. A Danish service is held at 4.30 p.m., but other services were suspended on the death of the Queen Mother Alexandra in 1925. George III. was married here in 1761. At the south angle of St. James's Palace, in Stable Yard, is Clarence House , built in 1825 for William IV. when Duke of Clarence. It was occupied by the Duchess of Kent, Queen Victoria's mother, in 1840-61, and later by the Duke of Edinburgh. Since 1901 it has been the residence of the Duke of Connaught.