The Garden Guide

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

Henry VIII, St. James's and Green Parks

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THE opening history of St. James's and Green Parks is similar to that of Hyde Park. They formed part of the same manor in early days, and became Crown property in Henry VIII.'s time. St. James's Park was chiefly a marsh. The Thames overflowed its banks nearly every year, and the low-lying parts were a swamp and the haunt of wild fowl, and the chief use of the Park was for the sport the wild birds afforded. The Tyburn flowed through it on its way from where it crossed the modern Oxford Street to where it joined the Thames, a little west of where Vauxhall Bridge afterwards stood. It passed right across Green Park, where the depression of its valley can still be traced between Half Moon Street and Down Street. The name, St. James's, originated with the hospital for lepers, dedicated to St. James, on the site of the present palace. The exact date of its foundation is lost in the mists of antiquity, but it was established by the citizens of London, "before the time of any man's memorie, for 14 Sisters, maydens, that were leprous, living chastly and honestly in Divine Service." Later, there were further gifts of land and money from the citizens, and "8 brethren to minister Divine Service there" were added to the foundation. All these gifts were subsequently confirmed by Edward I., who granted a fair to be held for seven days, commencing on the eve of St. James's Day, in St. James's Fields, which belonged to the hospital. The letting out of the land for booths became a source of further income to the lepers. Stowe shortly tells the subsequent history. "This Hospital was surrendered to Henry the 8 the 23 of his reigne: the Sisters being compounded with were allowed Pensions for terme of their lives, and the King builded there a goodly Manner, annexing thereunto a Park, closed about with a wall of brick, now called St. James's Parke, serving indifferently to the said Mannor, and to the Mannor or Palace of Whitehall." At first sight the summary ejection of these helpless creatures appears unusually heartless, even for those days; but leprosy, which during the time of the Crusades had grown to a formidable extent, was declining in the sixteenth century in England. It is probable, therefore, that the poor outcast sisters, possessed of their pensions, would be able to find shelter in one of the other leper hospitals, of which there were still a number in the country.