It seems at every turn in London, there is a new adventure to be found. The history, sites, museums, parks—the list goes on and on. Everyday is a new adventure. But it is the unknown adventures that often lead to the best finds, which happened to be the case with the pelicans in London. Last Sunday April 2nd, Edylwise, Katherine, Grace and I headed off to Banqueting House seeking the place where Charles I was beheaded on January 30th, 1649.
The last remaining part of the grand Palace of Whitehall, which burned down in in multiple fires in the 1690’s, Banqueting House is grand in its own right. Located in Westminster, London, the Banqueting House was designed by Inigo Jones, one of the most influential British Architects. He studied in Italy, and brought classical designs inspired by the architecture of ancient Rome and the Italian Renaissance to London. The Banqueting House Jones built was not the first on the property, as the Palace of Whitehall began as the house of Cardinal Wolsey under King Henry VIII, but was taken by Henry when the Cardinal fell out of his favor. During Henry’s reign, he preformed banqueting outside. King James I commissioned the first permanent Banqueting House at Whitehall, but this one burned down shortly after it was constructed. The second Banqueting House is the one that was built by Jones and stands today.
When I first entered the hall, I learned that “Banqueting” does not mean a big feast or meal, as we use the word today. Instead, the hall was used for entertainment, and it held special plays that would illustrate the duty of a king, as well as his right to rule—while highlighting how there would be disorder and chaos if a king did not rule and rule effectively. I immediately noticed the grand pictures on the ceiling of the hall. The architecture and paintings are amazing. You can sit down on one of the big bean bag chairs, take in the beauty of the pictures, and listen to the audio guide teach you about the palace, Banqueting House, the paintings, and the history of the house. I highly recommend taking a visit if you are interested in history or enjoy admiring magnificent art (costs £5.5o per person). It was here I learned about St. James Park. Between Buckingham Palace and the Horse Guards, the park is right across the street from Banqueting House—and was where King Charles I took his last walk before being beheaded. Since the weather was fantastic, our group strolled over, walked through the Horse Guards, and checked out the park upon completion of our stay at Banqueting House. The park ended up being a gem of a find.
By now you are probably wondering, where do the pelicans come into this story? It was here in the park, amongst an abundance of wildlife—birds, waterfowl, squirrels and much more—that we gazed out into the pond to find a group of pelicans. I immediately became curious, as this was a very peculiar place to find pelicans. A sign said the pelicans were a gift to Charles II from a Russian Ambassador in 1664. My first thoughts were how are these pelicans still here? I yearned to know more. When I got back to the Pickwick later that day, I began to research how the pelicans became a fixture in the park. Upon doing some searching, I found out that pelicans have lived in the park since they were given as a gift to Charles II. The current pelicans are not descendants of the original pelicans however. None of the pelicans who have lived in the park have reproduced. The pelicans are fed and maintained by the Royal Parks, and over 40 pelicans have lived in the park since 1664 (“The Pelicans Life in the Park”). Many of the pelicans that reside in the park have been gifts from foreign entities or governments such as pelicans from Russia, Louisiana and Prague. They also have names. In the 1970s, a lone pelican lived in the lake, and was called “the Lady of the Lake.” Two Russian pelicans were given the names Astra and Khan. The pelican from Louisiana was named Louis. One from Prague was named Vaclav (Craig).
Currently, there are 3 pelicans in the lake. A member of the public donated Gargi, a male, to the park in 1996. Two other female pelicans arrived from Prague in 2013, and this pair was brought to the park by funding from The Tiffany and Co. Foundation in New York. One of the pelicans is therefore named Tiffany, while the other was named Isla after a public vote (Craig). They get fed once a day around 2:30pm, but they are also known to eat the occasional pigeon. Most of the time they get their feathers clipped so they can’t fly or fly far, but there is one right now who does not have its feathers clipped, so it is known to fly to London Zoo in hopes of another meal. They are known to climb out of the lake, hop the fence, and sit on the benches with park-goers, as pelicans are very gregarious and social animals (Pelicans). Fun fact: the pelicans are not the most outrageous creatures to ever call St. James Park home. Back when James I was king, crocodiles, camels, and elephants lived in the park (Craig).
Want to make a visit to see the pelicans and all the other wonderful natural sites of St. James Park? You can either start where I did across from Banqueting House behind the Horse Guards, or you can start on the Buckingham Palace side. I guarantee you, the sights, wildlife, plants, flowers, food, and fun you will find at the park can’t be beat (and it costs nothing to spend time in the park). Pack a lunch, bring some food for the animals, or just take a stroll—it will be a blast! Maybe I’ll see you there!
-Brandon B. Fabel ’18
Craig, Zoe. “Everything You Need To Know About The St James’s Park Pelicans.” Londonist. N.p., 21 Feb. 2017. Web. Apr. 2017.
“Pelicans.” The Royal Parks. N.p., n.d. Web. Apr. 2017.
“The Pelicans Life in the Park .” Royal Parks Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. Apr. 2017.