The Garden Guide

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

James I Royal Park Menagerie

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It was not until James I.'s time that the Park began to be esteemed as a resort for those attached to the Court. Prince Henry, the elder brother of Charles I., made the tilting-ring on the site of the present Horse Guards' Parade, and brought the enclosure more into vogue for games. James I. made use of the Park for his own hobbies, one of which was the encouragement of growing vines and mulberries in England. He planted considerable vineyards, and in 1609 he sent a circular letter to the Lords-Lieutenant of each county, ordering them to announce that the following spring a thousand mulberry trees would be sent to each county town, and people were required to buy them at the rate of three-farthings a plant. To further prosecute his plan, the King set an example by planting a mulberry orchard at the end of St. James's Park. The place afterwards became a fashionable tea garden, and Buckingham Palace is partly built on the site. The King kept also quite a large menagerie of beasts and birds presented to him by various crowned heads, or sent to him by friends and favourites. There are records of elephants, camels, antelopes, beavers, crocodiles, wild boars, and sables, besides many kinds of birds. The keepers of the animals received large salaries, and the cost of the care of these beasts would frighten the Zoological Society of to-day. No expense was spared to give the best and most suitable surroundings to the animals. For instance, as much as �286 was expended in 1618 by Robert Wood, the keeper of the cormorants, ospreys, and otters, "in building a place to keep the said cormorants in and making nine fish-ponds on land within the vine garden at Westminster." Fish were put in for these creatures, and a sluice was made to bring water from the Thames to fill the ponds. These strange beasts and birds and their attendants must have been a quaint and unusual sight. The keepers were dressed in red cloth (which cost nine shillings a yard), embroidered with "I.R." in Venice gold, and must have added to the picturesque appearance of this early Zoological Garden. Gradually the Park became more and more a favourite place in which to stroll. Others were admitted besides the Court circle, the privilege being first accorded to the tenants of the houses at Westminster. Milton, who lived at one time in Petty France, near where Queen Anne's Gate now stands, planted a tree in the garden overlooking the Park, which survived until recent times, would be one of those to enjoy the advantage. Charles I. passed this way on his last journey to Whitehall on the fatal 3Oth of January, and tradition says he paused to notice a tree planted by his brother Henry. During the Commonwealth, the Park still was resorted to. In the sprightly letters of Dorothy Osborne to Sir William Temple are some vivid little touches in reference to it. She writes from the country in March 1654: "And hark you, can you tell me whether the gentleman that lost a crystal box the ist of February in St. James's Park or Old Spring Gardens has found it again or not? I have a strong curiosity to know." Again, in June of the same year, she writes from London, where she was paying a visit: "I'll swear they will not allow me time for anything; and to show how absolutely I am governed, I need but tell you that I am every night in the Park and at New Spring Gardens, where, though I come with a mask, I cannot escape being known nor my conversation being admired."