Situated in St. James’s Park Duck Island Cottage, surrounded by foliage is more visible at night when illuminated than by day. The first governor of Duck Island was created by Charles II for Charles de St. Denis, Seigneur de Saint Evremond, exiled from France introduced champagne to Britain, the Monarch’s favourite tipple.
The King planned to transform St. James’s Park into a fashionable French style garden complete with a canal extending almost the entire length of the park, placing at one end a 100ft duck island. He was to continue his family’s practice of keeping birds here which would put fowl on the menu. He appointed Edward Storey as ‘Keeper of the King’s birds’ hence nearby Storey’s Gate and Birdcage Walk running the length of the park.
Originally built as a decoy the building was extended in the succeeding years eventually being re-built by William III as Duck Island Cottage.
To show that Monarchs were not without humour in 1733 Queen Caroline revived the post of Governor of Duck Island and presented it to the celebrated ‘thresher’ poet a certain Stephen Duck.
The gardens and lake over time became a stench of stagnant water and dense wilderness until the park was landscaped by John Nash to approximate what we see today. In 1837 the Ornithological Society of London was formed and successfully petitioned that a house for a bird-keeper be constructed on Duck Island, but after a short time the Society was wound up and little was done for Duck Island.
Sliding gently into obscurity and screened from view by shrubs the hut was lived in from 1900 to 1954 by bachelor bird-keeper Thomas Hinton. After his death and with damaged caused by wartime air raids the cottage was deemed unfit for human habitation.
Saved from demolition by the Royal Fine Art Commission it was eventually remodelled and given over to two spinster park keepers who lived there until 1980.
Since that time Duck Island Cottage has been carefully restored and is decorative features reinstated. It is now the temporary headquarters of the London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust in 1994.
A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 3rd April 2013