Hidden around the back of the shops on Strand can be found a rather fine looking small pocket park that has royal connections.
Like many pocket parks in central London, this one is a former graveyard as it sits next to a religious building, the recently renamed King’s Chapel of St John the Baptist in the Precinct of the Savoy. The King’s Chapel — until recently the Queen’s Chapel — is a shade over 500 years old, and is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster, aka, The King. As a chapel royal, it’s also a Royal Peculiar so not part of the Church of England, but under the direct control of the Monarch.
Sitting next to the chapel is the former graveyard which has long been a public park after burials were banned in central London.
It used to be a fairly plain square with a path around the edge of a lawn, but in 2002, for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee it was given a makeover. The old rectangle was replaced with a more fashionable oval lawn lined with stone paving and the path around the edges was lowered into a slope to mirror the road outside. That gives the impression of a lawn that slightly floats above the path at the southern end and a lot more seating around the edge of the lawn.
Look carefully, and you’ll spy an inscription in the stone path reading – The Savoy Chapel built by Henry VII completed circa 1512, was dedicated in the name of St John the Baptist: Forerunner and herald of Jesus Christ
There are a few benches dotted around the edges, but it’s likely that the stone paving around the lawn offers by far the most seating space. There’s still a number of old gravestones to be spied in the bushes around the edges of the park, and a sundial that was just about managing to cast a shade on the correct time in the shady location.
Rather oddly, an old church bell is also lurking in the undergrowth – seemingly made in 1737 if the inscription on the bell is correct.
The landscaping of the garden was carried out by Robert Myers Associates, formerly Elizabeth Banks Associates a landscape architecture and urban design consultancy firm founded by Elizabeth Banks, a noted landscape architect.
It’s a pleasing little spot to sit for a while, given just a hint of being something special by the impressive looking flag flying from the pole while you’re munching your lunch.
The flag is the ancient Royal Banner of England – three gold lions passant on a red field – differenced with a blue label charged with gold fleur-de-lys, and today the crest of the Duchy of Lancaster, which is owned by the King as Duke of Lancaster.
The chapel next to the pocket park is also (usually) open to the public, Monday to Thursday 9am-4pm, and well worth a visit if you’ve never been inside.