Home London The curious history of Duck Island, St James’s Park

The curious history of Duck Island, St James’s Park

by Vic Keegan

Duck Island on the lake in St James’s Park is a cottage with what looks like the most expensive allotment in London as its garden. But nothing is what it seems about this little treasure. It was once ruled by Stephen Duck who was appointed Governor of Duck Island by  Queen Caroline in 1733. She revived the post of governor as a present to Stephen, known as the “Thresher Poet” He was an agricultural labourer, a kind of Rabbie Burns of the West country. Who says monarchs don’t have a sense of humour.? However, the island wasn’t named after him. It had long been called Duck island, after the wildfowl which lived in Henry V111’s hunting grounds.

Stephen wasn’t even the first governor. The original post had been created as a sinecure for Charles de St. Denis, Seigneur de Saint Evremond, who had been exiled from France for criticising the all-powerful Cardinal Mazarin. Saint Evremond introduced champagne to Britain (not to be confused with English sparkling wine which pre-dated the methode-champenoise) which became Charles 11’s favourite tipple. In gratitude for this and other favours Charles gave the Chevalier a pension of £300 a year and appointed him Governor of Duck Island as part of his plan to transform St James’s Park into a French  style garden complete with a canal 2,800 feet long and 100 feet
Duck Island isn’t even an island. Since 1857 Duck Island it has had  a promontory so it can be accessed from the footpath though not by the public. Nor is it an allotment. Since 1994 it has been the headquarters of the London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust which created not an allotment – perish the thought – but “a cottage garden in the Arts and Crafts style” for the delight – and it is a delight – of passers by.

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