Green Park review
Green Park is just green grass and trees. There are no flowers, no rivers, no ponds, no lakes, no buildings, no little kids playgrounds, just a couple of hot dog burger stands and military monuments. But if you travel back a few centuries then this place had it all: a swamp full of dead lepers, exploding firework disasters, temples turning into burning infernos, a gentleman's duel at twenty paces, and even a mad man's assassination attempt on Queen Victoria.
I'm having to stand under a tree to write this because of the rain that's battering like hammers above my head. Walking around on these sodden leaves is like tramping through a field of upturned stickers, you have to peel them off your feet with teeezers. Five hundred years ago there used to be lots of little rivulets running down to the Thames so the whole lot was constantly waterlogged, and every time the nearby hospital lost a leper they'd bury their body in here. Can you imagine the festering cesspool that it must have become? A steaming swamp of rotting bodies -- it must have been like peering into the Dead Marshes at Pelennor Fields.
When Henry VIII came to the throne he demolished the hospital and built St. James's Palace on top (it's still standing round the corner in The Mall). 150 years after that Charles II nabbed the surrounding parkland for himself and it became a place for promenading.
If you're wondering why there are no flowerbeds in Green Park today then blame Charles. This guy was the Don Giovanni of his day and when his missus caught him picking flowers for his mistress she blew her top. To say she was angry was an understatement. She didn't simply tell him off -- she ordered that every flower be ripped out of the ground and turned the place into a colourless wasteland. 450 years later we're still too afraid to disobey her.
Roll on another sixty or seventy years and Green Park was the site of one of the most memorable premieres ever staged. George II decided that he wanted to celebrate the end of the War of the Austrian Succession with a huge firework display so he put up a mock temple and had Handel write some music. You've almost certainly heard this tune before even if you don't recognise its name: Music for the Royal Fireworks. It was playing the same time the temple exploded, sending up all the fireworks and showering the crowd in sparks. Three people died in the beautiful disaster, but they had Catherine wheels and Handel playing them out.
All of the remaining buildings were cleared away in the 1820s and now we're left with the bland land we see today. The last bit of excitement was when someone took a potshot at Queen Victoria as she was coming up Constitution Hill. The TV series tried to kid us into believing that Albert jumped in front of the bullet but I've seen his suit at Kensington Palace: that guy was only about four feet tall.
There are some impressive war memorials dotted around the edges but that's about it. These days people just stand under the trees to get out of the rain.
I’ve been here before…
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