St James's Palace is the most senior royal palace in the United Kingdom. Located in the City of Westminster, although no longer the principal residence of the monarch, it is the ceremonial meeting place of the Accession Council and the London residence of several members of the royal family.
Built by King Henry VIII on the site of a leper hospital dedicated to Saint James the Less, the palace was secondary in importance to the Palace of Whitehall for most Tudor and Stuart monarchs. The palace increased in importance during the reigns of the early Georgian monarchy, but was displaced by Buckingham Palace in the late-18th and early-19th centuries. After decades of being used increasingly for only formal occasions, the move was formalised by Queen Victoria in 1837. Today the palace houses a number of official offices, societies and collections and all ambassadors and high commissioners to the United Kingdom are still accredited to the Court of St James's.
The palace was commissioned by Henry VIII, on the site of a former leper hospital dedicated to Saint James the Less. The new palace, secondary in the king's interest to Henry's Whitehall Palace, was constructed between 1531 and 1536 as a smaller residence to escape formal court life. Much smaller than the nearby Whitehall, St James's was arranged around a number of courtyards, including the Colour Court, the Ambassador's Court and the Friary Court. The most recognisable feature is the north gatehouse; constructed with four storeys, the gatehouse has two crenellated flanking octagonal towers at its corners and a central clock dominating the uppermost floor and gable; the clock is a later addition, and dates from 1731. It is decorated with the initials H.A. for Henry and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Henry constructed the palace in red brick, with detail picked out in darker brick.
The palace was remodelled in 1544, with ceilings painted by Hans Holbein, and was described as a "pleasant royal house". Two of Henry VIII's children died at Saint James's, Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset and Mary I. Elizabeth I often resided at the palace, and is said to have spent the night there while waiting for the Spanish Armada to sail up the Channel.
In 1638, Charles I gave the palace to Marie de Medici, the mother of his wife Henrietta Maria. Marie remained in the palace for three years, but the residence of a Catholic former queen of France proved unpopular with parliament and she was soon asked to leave for Cologne. Charles I spent his final night at St James's before his execution. Oliver Cromwell then took it over, and turned it into barracks during the English Commonwealth period. Charles II, James II, Mary II and Anne were all born at the palace.
The palace was restored by Charles II following the demise of the Commonwealth, laying out St James's Park at the same time. It became the principal residence of the monarch in London in 1698, during the reign of William III and Mary II after Whitehall Palace was destroyed by fire, and became the administrative centre of the monarchy, a role it retains.
The first two monarchs of the House of Hanover used St James's Palace as their principal London residence. George I and George II both housed their mistresses, the Duchess of Kendal and the Countess of Suffolk respectively, at the palace. In 1757, George II donated the Palace library to the British Museum; this gift was the first part of what later became the Royal Collection. In 1809, a fire destroyed part of the palace, including the monarch's private apartments at the south east corner. These apartments were not replaced, leaving the Queen's Chapel in isolation, and Marlborough Road now runs between the two buildings.
George III found St James's increasingly unsuitable. The Tudor palace was regarded as uncomfortable and too cramped for his ever-growing family. In 1762 George purchased Buckingham House – the predecessor to Buckingham Palace – for his queen, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The royal family began to spend the majority of their time at Buckingham House, with St James's being used for only the most formal of occasions; thrice-weekly levées and public audiences were still held there. In the late 18th century, George III refurbished the state apartments but neglected the living quarters. Queen Victoria formalised the move in 1837, ending St James's status as the primary residence of the monarch. It was nevertheless where Victoria married her husband, Prince Albert, in 1840, and where, eighteen years later, Victoria and Albert's eldest child, Princess Victoria, married her husband, Prince Frederick of Prussia.
For most of the time of the personal union between Great Britain (later the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland) and the Electorate of Hanover from 1714 until 1837 the ministers of the German Chancery were working in two small rooms within St James's Palace.
The Second Round Table Conference (September – December 1931) pertaining to Indian independence was held here. On 12 June 1941, Representatives of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, and of the exiled governments of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Yugoslavia, as well as General de Gaulle of France, met and signed the Declaration of St James's Palace which was the first of six treaties signed that established the United Nations and composed the Charter of the United Nations.
St James's Palace is still a working palace, and the Royal Court is still formally based there, despite the monarch residing elsewhere. It is also the London residence of the Princess Royal; Princess Beatrice of York; Princess Eugenie of York; and Princess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy. The palace is used to host official receptions, such as those of visiting heads of state, and charities of which members of the royal family are patrons. The Palace forms part of a sprawling complex of buildings housing Court offices and officials' apartments. The immediate palace complex includes York House, the former home of the Prince of Wales and his sons, Princes William and Harry. Lancaster House located next-door, is used by HM Government for official receptions, and the nearby Clarence House, the former home of the Queen Mother is now the residence of the Prince of Wales.
The nearby Queen's Chapel, built by Inigo Jones, adjoins St James's Palace. While the Queen's Chapel is open to the public at selected times, the Chapel Royal in the palace is not accessible to the public. They both remain active places of worship.
The offices of the Royal Collection Department, the Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps, the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, the Chapel Royal, the Gentlemen at Arms, the Yeomen of the Guard and the Queen's Watermen are all housed at St James's Palace. Since the beginning of the 2000s, the Royal Philatelic Collection has been housed at St James's Palace, after spending the entire 20th century at Buckingham Palace.
On 1 June 2007 the palace, Clarence House and other buildings within its curtilage (other than public pavement on Marlborough Road) were designated as a protected site for the purposes of Section 128 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. The effect of the act was to make it a specific criminal offence for a person to trespass into the site.
In 1532, Henry VIII bought an area of marshland through which the Tyburn flowed from Eton College. It lies to the west of York Place acquired by Henry from Cardinal Wolsey; it was purchased in order to turn York Palace, subsequently renamed Whitehall, into a dwelling fit for a king. On James I's accession to the throne in 1603, he ordered that the park be drained and landscaped, and exotic animals were kept in the park, including camels, crocodiles, an elephant and exotic birds were kept in aviaries.
While Charles II was in exile in France under the Commonwealth of England, he was impressed by the elaborate gardens at French royal palaces, and on his ascension he had the park redesigned in a more formal style, probably by the French landscaper André Mollet. A 775 metre by 38 metre (850 by 42 yard) canal was created as evidenced in the old plan. The king opened the park to the public and used the area to entertain guests and mistresses, such as Nell Gwyn. The park became notorious at the time as a meeting place for impromptu acts of lechery, as described by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester in his poem "A Ramble in St James's Park".
In the late-17th and early-18th centuries cows grazed on the park, and milk could be bought fresh at the "Lactarian", described by Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach in 1710. The 18th century saw further changes, including the reclamation of part of the canal for Horse Guards Parade and the purchase of Buckingham House (now Buckingham Palace) at the west end of the Mall, for the use of Queen Charlotte in 1761.
Further remodelling in 1826–27, commissioned by the Prince Regent (later George IV) and overseen by the architect and landscaper John Nash, saw the canal's conversion into a more naturally-shaped lake, and formal avenues rerouted to romantic winding pathways. At the same time, Buckingham House was expanded to create the palace, and Marble Arch was built at its entrance, whilst The Mall was turned into a grand processional route. It opened to public traffic 60 years later in 1887. The Marble Arch was moved to its current location at the junction of Oxford Street and Park Lane in 1851 and the Victoria Memorial was erected between 1906 and 1924.
The park has a small lake, St James's Park Lake, with two islands, West Island, and Duck Island, named for the lake's collection of waterfowl. A resident colony of pelicans has been a feature of the park since pelicans were donated by a Russian ambassador in 1664 to Charles II. While most of the time the wings are clipped, there was a pelican who could be seen flying to the London Zoo in hopes of another meal, after attacking and eating a portion of a fellow pelican. The Blue Bridge across the lake affords a view west towards Buckingham Palace framed by trees. Looking east the view includes the Swire Fountain to the north of Duck Island and, past the lake, the grounds of Horse Guards Parade, with Horse Guards, the Old War Office and Whitehall Court behind. To the south of Duck Island is the Tiffany Fountain on Pelican Rock, and past the lake is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with the London Eye, the Shell Tower, and the Shard behind. The park has a children's playground including a large sandpit.
The park is bounded by Buckingham Palace to the west, the Mall to the north, Horse Guards to the east, and Birdcage Walk to the south. It meets Green Park at Queen's Gardens with the Victoria Memorial at its centre, opposite the entrance to Buckingham Palace. St James's Palace is on the opposite side of The Mall. The closest London Underground stations are St James's Park, Green Park, Victoria, and Westminster. There are pedestrian crossing points from the stations to St James's Park. The whole area is an exceedingly pleasant place to pass the time of day.
There are two accessible parking bays on Broadway. One is situated to the left of St. James’s Park Underground Station, the other is situated near the junction between Broadway and Tothill Street. Good signage is displayed for both bays. The closest entry point to St James’s Park from these accessible bays is through Queen Anne’s Gate Entrance.
There are several access points into St. James’s Park from the surrounding roads, along The Mall, Birdcage Walk and Horse Guard Road. All the main entrances offer wide, step free access into St. James’s Park. There are information boards within each entrance with a map of the park and the facilities and points of interest available within the park.
There are two toilet blocks within St. James’s Park. The accessible toilets are situated within the toilet block near to the Marlborough Gate Entrance. These accessible toilets are on level access and offer good circulation. They are also kept locked and therefore a RADAR Key is required for access. The second toilet block is situated behind the Horse Guard Memorial Statue with steps leading up to both the male and female toilets.
A number of kiosks and cafés are available within St. James’s Park. These offer a range of snacks, cold and hot drinks. Customers will be able to access these cafés step free, there are also low level counters and weather protection offered at each of these establishments.
If a meal is preferable to a snack, there is a restaurant within the park. It is called Inn The Park and is situated to the west of Horse Guard Parade. The restaurant is licensed to serve alcohol, and also offers picnic hampers and a range of merchandise. Automatic doors into the restaurant are provided to offer easy access for all customers. There is also an accessible toilet and an accessible baby change available and highchairs are provided.
Bench style seating with armrests has been provided at regular intervals throughout the park, the majority of which is situated on Birdcage Walk and The Mall. The pathways within the park offer wide, step free access to all the facilities and points of interests. Street lighting has been provided along the pathway leading from Queen Anne’s Gate Entrance to Marlborough Gate Entrance.
Directional signage is offered at all key junctions throughout the park, the text is white against a black background offering excellent contrast. There are also maps available at all main entry points and other key points around the park. The maps are at a convenient height with clear text and supporting symbols.
Assistance dogs are welcome, but should be kept away from the pelicans for both their sakes.
Location : St James's Park, Westminster, London SW1A 2BJ
Transport: St James's Park (District Line, Circle Line), Westminster (Jubilee Line, District Line, Circle Line), Green Park (Piccadilly Line, Jubilee Line, Victoria Line). London Buses routes 3, 11, 12, 24, 29, 53, 77a, 88, 91, 148, 159, 211, and 453 stop here.
Opening Times: Daily from 05:00 until midnight.
Tickets : Free
Tel: 0300 061 2350