|St James's Square *||Westminster|
* on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens
St James's Square was the first of the West End squares, enclosed for Henry Jermyn, Earl of St Albans in c.1665. The layout of the central garden was developed and modified over the years, in the C18th, C19th and C20th, with notable designers involved. The C18th formal layout was by Charles Bridgeman with a central circular basin, later infilled in 1854. In 1807 a statue of William III was set in the centre of the pool flanked by 4 obelisks from the earlier layout, and it remains today surrounded by low shrubbery, bedding and rosebeds. The Square was gradually opened to the public from 1933 onwards, at first only at weekends.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/06/2005
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Site on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens, for Register Entry see https://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list
St James's Square is the first of the West End squares. In 1665, Henry Jermyn, Earl of St Albans obtained a lease of 45 acres of land known as St James's Field although he had already begun planning in 1663. The central enclosure remained a rough open space for many years, becoming well-known for firework displays to mark momentous occasions. As a result of the disorderly condition of the central space, an Act of Parliament was passed in 1726, establishing a trust of residents to regulate and maintain the Square. As such, the residents of St James Square were the first to apply for such powers, which became a precedent for the way in which many of such gardens and squares were managed and protected.
In 1727 it was decided that the Square was to be open without fence or railings, 'except about the intended bason' (shown on an edition of Sutton Nicholl's view). The formal layout was the work of Charles Bridgeman who was paid £5630. His plan comprised a central circular basin, 150ft in diameter and four feet deep, surrounded by a gravel walk and having octagonal railing, five feet high, and ten feet away, 'to be joyned by eight stone Obelisks to carry lamps'. The whole was surrounded by extensive paving. In 1799, it was agreed that the central octagon should be changed to a circle. In 1807 an equestrian statue of William III was set in the centre of the basin. It was the work of John Bacon the Younger, possibly to the design of his father, the stone plinth bearing the Latin inscription 'GVLIELMVS. III'.
In the early C19th John Nash was called in to redesign the garden and at a trustees' meeting in 1817, his new design was presented, which incorporated the existing basin, but surrounded with curving walks, a belt of shrubbery around the perimeter and a pattern of serpentine paths set within more shrub planting; the total bill was about £700. Nash's plan was implemented in 1817/18, the layout modified by trees, plants and several garden seats, including a neo-classical garden seat by Nash of 1822 that remains today beside the south entrance. In 1854 the basin was filled in, leaving the statue of William III at the centre of the garden. The garden was restored and replanted from 1909-10, the date of the 41 lamp standards around the square, and again in the later C20th with planting plans produced by John Brookes.
The Square was gradually opened to the public from 1933 onwards, at first only at weekends. During World War II the railings were removed to support the war effort, allotments were dug, and the statue of William III was removed from its base for safe-keeping. The railings were replaced by 1974, and the gates today date from 1987. The present layout is a cruciform within a square railed site, with entrances at the centre of the north, east and south sides. There is mixed shrubbery within the boundary railings, with a peripheral path around four quarters of lawn, with numerous mature plane trees. The central statue is flanked by four obelisks from the layout of c.1727, and is surrounded by low shrubbery, bedding and rosebeds. Underground car-parks were proposed in 1935, 1953 and in 1962, but the trustees have taken a firm stand against these proposals. St James's Conservation Area has one of the highest concentrations of listed buildings in England.
E. Cecil, London Parks and Gardens, 1907, p.223-226; E.B. Chancellor, The History of the Squares of London, 1907, p.80-105; D V H Eyre, 'The Garden Enclosures of Squares in the City of Westminster: Past, Present & Future', (1995, unpublished); A.D. Webster, London Trees, 1920, p.152; D. Forrest, St James's Square, 1986; N. Pevsner, rev. by B. Cherry, London I, 1985, p. 644-647; J. Glasheen, St James's London,1987, p. 31-35.