The price of privacy

London’s St James’s Park is one of the capital’s most popular and iconic open spaces. It forms the backdrop to stunning views of Parliament to the east and Buckingham Palace to the west. Weeping willows brush gently against the waters of the ornate lakes that glisten between pristine lawns and sumptuous beds.

For a long time the park formed the central expanse of the private gardens to the Palace of St James’s. It was only in the 17th century and the reign of Charles II that the park was opened to the public.

By the 18th century the public was well used to the pleasant amenity of St James’s Park and the other royal parks nearby. London had started its relentless growth north and west, and soon engulfed the surrounding fields and villages. The parks provided the necessary verdant relief from the urban sprawl.

Any attempt to limit the public’s access was fiercely resisted, leading to this rather lovely and probably apocryphal anecdote:

“Foreigners were shocked that in St James’s Park ‘the first quality blended with the lowest populace. Such is the taste of the English, who pride themselves on this, as a proof of their liberty.’ It shocked the foreign royal family in St James’s Palace too. George II’s queen, Caroline, once asked [the Prime Minister] Sir Robert Walpole what it would cost to enclose the park for the sole use of the court. He replied, ‘“Only a Crown, Madam.”’

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