The Garden Guide

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

Re design of St James's Park in the Serpentine Landscape Style

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The rage for landscape gardening was at its height. Capability Brown had done his work of destruction, and set the fashion of "copying nature," and his successors were following on his lines, but going much further even than Brown. The sight of a straight canal had become intolerable. The Serpentine was designed when the idea that it might be possible to make the banks of artificial sheets of water in anything but a perfectly straight line was just dawning, but the canal in St. James's Park was transformed when half the stiff ponds and canals in the kingdom had been twisted and turned into lakes or meres. Brown had had a hand in the alterations at the time Rosamund's Pond was removed, but it was Eyton who planned and executed the work fifty years later. It was begun in 1827, and a contemporary writer praises the result as "the best obliteration of avenues" that has been effected. Although he owns it involved "a tremendous destruction of fine elms," he is lost in admiration of the "astounding ingenuity" which "converted a Dutch canal into a fine flowing river, with incurvated banks, terminated at one end by a planted island and at the other by a peninsula." A permanent bridge was first made across the water about this time. Previously a temporary one had been made when the Allied Sovereigns visited London in 1814-a kind of Chinese design by Nash, surmounted by a pagoda of seven storeys. It was this flimsy edifice which made Canova say the thing that struck him most in England was that Waterloo Bridge was the work of a private company, while this bridge was put up by the Government. It was on the canal in St. James's Park that skates of a modern type first appeared in London. Bone ones were in use much earlier on Moorfields. Both Evelyn and Pepys saw the new pattern first in the Park in 1662. Two years later Pepys notes going to the canal with the Duke of York, "where, though the ice was broken and dangerous, yet he would go slide upon his scates, which I did not like, but he slides very well." Just before the alterations began, and the complete change of the canal was taken in hand, the Park was lighted with gas lamps, an innovation which caused much excitement. At the same time orders were issued to shut the gates by ten every evening. A wit on this occasion wrote the following lines, which were found stuck up on a tree:- "The trees in the Park Are illumined with gas, But after it's dark No creatures can pass. "Ye sensible wights Who govern our fates, Extinguish your lights Or open your gates." The same lamps inspired another poet, who wrote, just before the destruction of the avenues took place:- "Hail, Royal Park! what various charms are thine; Thy patent lamps pale Cynthia's rays outshine, Thy limes and elms with grace majestic grow All in a row."