Tour 1 St James’s Park
2018 sees a new look at London Victoria now the arch is open again after years of renovation. 85 million passengers use the station each year including many from overseas heading to London’s star sights via bus and underground. You’re invited to join me this week in a 2.5 mile circular walk taking in sight of Buckingham Palace, Victoria monument, The Mall, Blue Bridge in St James’s Park, The Guards’ Chapel, St Ermin’s Hotel and the Suffragette monument coming back to the station along Victoria Street.
Take a left turn from the front of Victoria station walking through the bus station onto Buckingham Palace Road and turn right continuing north for half a mile to the pedestrianised area in front of the Palace. At 11am four times a week in winter and every day in summer the Queen’s Guard changes in a fine ceremony but the colourful guard’s are there all the time. There’s a lot to take in. If the Union Jack flag flies above the Palace the Queen’s out. If the ornate Royal Standard flies she’s in. The balcony is used by the Queen on great occasion.
Turn your back to the front gates of Buckingham Palace to view Brock’s monument to Queen Victoria (1837-1901) completed in 1911. The Queen faces the city flanked by statues of Truth and Justice and a statue representing her Motherhood of the nation faces the Palace. Her reign was the summit of British naval power which explains the crowning gilded Victory figure standing on a globe with courage and constancy immediately below, the latter with a compass. Peace, Progress, Agriculture and Manufacture are represented in large broUIKeyInputDownArrownze figures alongside the monument which has a magnificent garden setting.
With your back to Queen Victoria’s statue cross to walk down The Mall on the right hand pavement. Mall derives from the mallet used to hit the ball in a form of ground billiards called pall-mall requiring a long alley. This alley became a ceremonial route a century ago coloured red with iron oxide to resemble a red carpet up to the Palace. On state visits, the Queen and visiting head of state are escorted along The Mall in carriages and the national flags of the visiting leader fly alongside the Union Jack on poles down the processional route.
Blue Bridge in St James’s Park
Heading away from Buckingham Palace halfway down The Mall turn right through the Marlborough Gate into St James’s Park continuing to cross the lake on the Blue Bridge. It’s architect dictated the colour in perpetuity so as not to distract from the lake with views from the bridge of ducks and geese and, in either direction, of Buckingham Palace and Horse Guards Parade. In 1814 a 7 floor Chinese pagoda built with fireworks for a national celebration catastrophically exploded on the bridge.
The Guards’ Chapel
Continue across the Blue Bridge to exit St James’s Park turning right down Birdcage Walk to The Guards’ Chapel open daily with free access adjacent to the Museum. This Chapel belongs to troops associated with the Royal Household in active and ceremonial service whose flags hang on the walls. During Sunday service 18 June 1944 121 people were killed by a flying bomb which largely destroyed the Chapel. In the new building dated 1963 the east end apse is from the original building.
St Ermin’s Hotel
From The Guards’ Chapel turn right retracing your path to the crossing from St James’s Park and turn right past the Ministry of Justice to skirt right around the underground station to Caxton Street and the Hotel (1899) built on the site of the medieval St Ermin’s Chapel. The spectacularly plastered lobby and reception rooms are a fine sight. The hotel has a historic association with UK intelligence services and the spies Kim Philby and Guy Burgess were regular visitors here.
Cross Caxton Street from St Ermin’s Hotel, turn right and after a short distance turn left into Christ Church gardens. The bronze Suffragette Memorial commemorates those who fought over a century ago for women to obtain the vote in the UK. It recalls how they ‘selflessly braved derision, opposition and ostracism... physical violence and suffering’. Caxton Hall nearby frequently hosted campaign meetings. From the memorial cross to Victoria Street and turn right to return to Victoria station.