St James's Park is the oldest Royal Park in London and is surrounded by three palaces. The most ancient is Westminster, which has now become the Houses of Parliament, St James's Palace and of course, the best known, Buckingham Palace.
The Park was once a marshy watermeadow. In the thirteenth century a leper hospital was founded, and it is from this hospital that the Park took its name. In 1532 Henry VIII acquired the site as yet another deer park and built the Palace of St James's. When Elizabeth I came to the throne she indulged her love of pageantry and pomp, and fetes of all kinds were held in the park. Her successor, James I, improved the drainage and controlled the water supply. A road was created in front of St James's Palace, approximately where the Mall is today, but it was Charles II who made dramatic changes. The Park was redesigned, with avenues of trees planted and lawns laid. The King opened the park to the public and was a frequent visitor, feeding the ducks and mingling with his subjects.
During the Hanoverian period, Horse Guards Parade was created by filling in one end of the long canal and was used first as a mustering ground and later for parades. Horse Guards Parade is still part of St James's Park. The Park changed forever when John Nash redesigned it in a more romantic style. The canal was transformed into a natural-looking lake and in 1837 the Ornithological Society of London presented some birds to the Park and erected a cottage for a birdkeeper. Both the cottage and the position of birdkeeper remain to this day. Clarence House was designed for the Duke of Clarence, later to become William IV and was also the home of the late Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.
Outside Buckingham Palace is the Queen Victoria Memorial, which celebrates the days of the British Empire. The memorial includes not only the marble statue of Victoria and the glittering figures of Victory, Courage and Constancy, but also the ornamental gates given by the Dominions. These are the Australia Gate, South Africa Gate and Canada Gate.
St James's Park is excellent for views of Buckingham Palace to the west and Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament to the east.