The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 3 St. James's and Green Parks

Cows and milk in St James's Park

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The cows, which were a part of ancient history, as were the birds, have not been so fortunate. Although a newspaper clamour in defence of the cows was raised, the few remaining were finally banished in 1905, when the alterations in the Mall were made. These survivals standing by the dusty stalls could scarcely be called picturesque; and although interest undoubtedly was attached to them as venerable survivals of an old custom, they hardly suggested the rural simplicity of the days when cows were really pastured in the Park. For over two centuries grazing was let to the milk-women who sold milk at the end of the Park, near Whitehall. They paid half-a-crown a week, and after 1772 three shillings a week, for the right to feed cattle in the Park. A Frenchman, describing St James's at that time, is astonished at its rural aspect. "In that part nearest Westminster nature appears in all its rustic simplicity; it is a meadow, regularly intersected and watered by canals, and with willows and poplars, without any regard to order. On this side, as well as on that towards St. James's Palace, the grass plots are covered with cows and deer, where they graze or chew the cud, some standing, some lying down upon the grass.... Agreeably to this rural simplicity, most of these cows are driven, about noon and evening, to the gate which leads from the Park to the quarter of Whitehall. Tied to posts at the extremity of the grass plots, they swill passengers with their milk, which, being drawn from their udders on the spot, is served, with all cleanliness peculiar to the English, in little mugs at the rate of a penny a mug." The combination of the gay crowd in hooped petticoats, brilliant coats, and powdered wigs, with the peaceful, green meadows and the browsing deer and cows, forms an attractive picture. All this had changed long before the final departure of the cattle, when the last old woman was pensioned off, and the sheds carted away. A use was found for the fragments of the concrete foundations of the last milkmaid's stall. They were made into a sort of rockery, on which Alpine plants grow well, to support the bank at the entrance to the new frame-grounds at Hyde Park.