London, Volume 1

Knight, Charles


General View of the Parks.


An account of the Parks of London is an amusing and not unimportant chapter of the history of national manners since the Restoration; and it even affords glimpses of popular and fashionable amusement during the stormy period of the Commonwealth.

Stewart Rose, in his delightful

Letters from the North of Italy,

playfully alluding to the disregard of salads and pot-herbs shown by the people among whom he was residing, mentions a purpose of migrating for a few weeks to a town somewhat further to the north with the object of procuring



All healthy stomachs feel a craving for


occasionally, in addition to bread and meat: can almost fancy an intellectual scurvy being the consequence of too long an abstinence from spinach, greens, and lettuce. This mysterious sympathy between the soul and the principle of vegetation appears also in the universal inclination to take pleasure in looking at green fields. A pleasing example of this universal taste is mentioned in Mountstuart Elphinstone's

Account of the City of Kabul :


The people have a great many amusements, the most considerable of which arise from their passion for what they call


(enjoyment of prospects); every Friday all shops are shut, and every man comes from the bath, dressed in his best clothes, and joins


of the parties which are always made for this day, to some hill or garden near the town; a little subscription procures

an ample supply of provisions, sweetmeats, and


(a jelly strained from boiled wheat, and eaten with the expressed juice of fruit, and ice); and for a small sum paid at the garden, each man has the liberty to eat as much fruit as he pleases. They go out in the morning, and eat their luncheon at the garden, and spend the day in walking about, eating fruit off the trees, smoking, playing at backgammon, and other games, and listening to the singing and playing of musicians, hired by a trifling subscription.

So, after all, these far-away people, so different in features, complexion, and faith, seek their enjoyments from the same sources with ourselves, as their necessities impress upon them a somewhat similar routine of toil. The citizens of Kabul have pretty nearly the same tastes as the of Paris, or our own Cockneys, to say nothing of graver or more genteel personages.

The universality of this taste accounts for European governments (the prudent or the benevolent ones) having so often sought to keep their subjects in good humour by throwing open to them, that they might indulge in the

enjoyment of prospects,

the parks and gardens of the sovereign. That eminent antiquary, Mr. William Shakspere, mentions a very early case-Mark Anthony's successful use of this device, when, to win over the Roman citizens from the party of Brutus and Cassius to that of the friends of Caesar, he told them that the Dictator had bequeathed to them

All his walks,

His private arbours, and new-planted orchards,

On that side Tiber; he hath left them you,

And to your heirs for ever; common pleasures,

To walk abroad, and recreate yourselves.

The popularity attending such a measure accounts for the fact that in almost all the capitals of Europe the very names of the open spaces of ornamented ground most frequented by their inhabitants demonstrate them to have been, at an earlier period, places reserved for the private pleasures of the monarch. The of the Luxemburg, the of Berlin, and the of Dresden, and our own royal parks, are examples.

If these remarks are well founded, it necessarily follows that places devoted to a kind of recreation passionately desired by all mankind, and linked at the same time with the peculiar circumstances of a nation's history, must afford a favourable field for the observation of national manners. The public haunts of which we have been speaking are equally fascinating in the reality of present existence, and in the fragmentary notices of them scattered through every national literature worthy of the name.

It has been intimated that, as public haunts, the Parks of London scarcely date from an earlier period than the time of the Commonwealth. It may be added that, in their character of royal demesnes, St. James's, , and Kensington Gardens are no older than the time of Henry VIII., while even that spruce upstart, the , can claim a connection with royalty, more equivocal and less blazoned, it is true, but equally certain. Their common story will form an appropriate introduction to what may be called the biography of each, and is briefly as follows:--

The fields which now constitute were acquired by Henry VIII.


for some lands in Suffolk. The Hospital of St. James which had previously stood there was pulled down, the sisterhood pensioned off, a

goodly palace

erected on its site, and a park enclosed by a brick wall. came into the possession of the same bluff monarch by a less formal process at the dissolution of the monasteries. It formed part of the Manor of Hyde, the property of the Abbot and Monastery of St. Peter at . As mention is made of the keeper of the park very soon after its acquisition by the Crown, and no notice taken of its enclosure by Henry, it has been generally assumed that it was enclosed while yet the patrimony of the convent. A number of manors, previously belonging to monasteries, fell into the King's hands at the same time with the Manor of Hyde. Some of these were granted to bishops, and others to secular courtiers; some remained for a time annexed to the Crown. Among the latter seems to have been the Manor of Marylebone; attached to which, in the time of Elizabeth, was a park in which it is recorded that a deer was killed on occasion for the amusement of the Muscovite ambassador. Some undivided parts of the Manor of Mary-bourne and of Mary-bourne Park have been retained by the Crown to the present day; and these, with some additional lands, now constitute the .

To the passionate fondness of the early English sovereigns for the chase, we owe, in all probability, the Parks of London. What was a passion with our Williams and Edwards, became in their successors a fashion also. Even the awkward and timid James deemed it a part of king-craft to affect a love of the chase. Hence the formation of by Henry VIII., and the retention of and Mary-bourne Park by that king and his successors, when other lands appropriated by the Crown at the dissolution of the monasteries were squandered away as lavishly as they were covetously grasped in the instance. There are circumstances which would lead us to attribute to Henry VIII. a more extensive project than that of merely studding the country in the vicinity of the royal residence with deer parks.




says Blackstone,

is the liberty of keeping beasts of chase or royal game in another man's ground as well as in a man's own, with a power of hunting them thereon. A


is an enclosed chase, extending only over a man's own grounds. The word


, indeed, properly signifies an enclosure;

With a pretty wide latitude as to the kind of enclosure, the writ de parco fracto being directed against those guilty of pound breach. Only one name for a royal park and a village pound!

but yet it is not every field or common which a gentleman pleases to surround with a wall or paling and to stock with a herd of deer that is thereby constituted a legal park; for the King's grant of immemorial prescription is necessary to make it so.

A proclamation issued by Henry in would have had the effect of converting a considerable extent of country round into a royal , within which the parks would have been mere nurseries for the deer. The proclamation announces that-

Forasmuch as the King's Most Royal Majesty is much desirous to have the games of hare, partridge, pheasant, and heron, preserved in and about his Honour of the Palace of


for his own disport and pastime; that is to say, from his said Palace of


to St. Gyles in the Fields, and from thence to


, to Our Lady of the Oak, to Highgate, to Hornsey Park, to Hampstead Heath, and from thence to his said Palace of


, to be preserved and kept for his own

disport and pleasure and recreation; his Highness, therefore, straightly chargeth and commandeth all and singular his subjects, of what estate, degree, or condition soever they be, that they nor any of them do presume or attempt to hunt or to hawk, or in any means to take or kill any of the said game within the precincts aforesaid, as they tender his favour, and will eschew the imprisonment of their bodies, and further punishment at his Majesty's will and pleasure.

Had this attempt been strenuously insisted upon and carried through by the Crown, it might have proved more effectual than the frequent proclamations issued in subsequent reigns to prevent the extension of the buildings of the metropolis. New houses might have been pulled down, on the plea that they were encroachments upon the royal chase and interfered with the preservation of the game. This belt of royal hunting ground might have kept London cabined in within the liberties, or driven it across the Thames or down into the marshes of Essex. But Henry did not long survive, and in Edward's brief boy reign there were more serious matters to attend to than hunting, and Queen Mary hunted heretics, not hares, and Queen Elizabeth had too many reasons for keeping on good terms with the merchant-princes of London to insist upon a measure always so unpopular in England as an extension of the royal hunting reserves.

So the plan, if ever seriously entertained, broke down, and the City Corporation hunted the hare at the head of the Conduit, where now stands, and killed the fox at the end of ; and a flood of stone and mortar, leaving the royal parks isolated and far apart, like mountain peaks in the Deluge, rushed from London, covering the meres and brooks along which bluff Harry had sprung the heron and flown his hawk at her, and over the dry uplands where the quick-eared hare had trembled to hear the coming route of

Mayor, Aldermen, and many worshipful persons, the Masters and Wardens of the


Companies, and the Chamberlain.

This forgotten proclamation of Henry VIII. marks the turning of a tide. William the Conqueror made new forests. of the most bitter causes of quarrel between Charles I. and his subjects was the attempt of that monarch to enclose some new lands within a large park he attempted to erect between Richmond and . William carried his point. Charles's attempt helped to cost him his life. Henry only failed. Henry's attempt was made under the culmination of the star of feudal times. Looking back, we can see that it was impossible that the public should long be kept from sharing with the monarch in the good things he took from the church. The parks are essentially part of our Protestant institutions, and a very pleasant part too.

With these prefatory remarks we proceed to trace the separate adventures of each of the parks, from the time they came into the possession of the Crown down to the present day. It will appear that each of them has its own peculiar character. St. James's, lying among palaces, and hedged round on all sides from a comparatively early period by the fashionable residences of the

West End,

is the courtier. , not yet quite surrounded by the town, long, decidedly extending into a rural neighbourhood, is the

fine old country gentleman,

essentially stately and noble, and a courtier too on occasions, yet with a dash of rusticity. The is a more equivocal character, more difficult to describe: not a exactly, for its connection with royalty is as ancient as either of the others;


not so unequivocally , for it has at times associated with curious society, and been kept in the back-ground; a sort of Falconbridge, perhaps, whose connection with royalty is rather irregular, but when once admitted within the circle can ruffle it with the best. But this is anticipating.