From Barbican Centre to university buildings to the lion enclosure at London Zoo, many London venues have been opened by Queen Elizabeth II — but how many can say they were officially opened by Her Majesty twice*?
That's the story at Jubilee Gardens, on South Bank — you know, that patch of greenery in front of the London Eye. Older Londoners may remember that the area used to be known as Silver Jubilee Gardens, as it was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 9 June 1977 to celebrate her Silver Jubilee. As is the way with these things, a plaque was erected to that effect.
But hold on. Didn't the Queen open the park in 2012 to celebrate her Golden Jubilee? Yes, yes she did, and there's a plaque for that too. In fact these days, the plaques are mounted next to each other on green information boards in the south-west corner of the park (the corner nearest the Eye). The boards tell the park's full story, which goes something like this...
The area was used to house temporary structures for the Festival of Britain in 1951, but these were demolished soon afterwards, and the area was used as a car park (remember, the London Eye wasn't here then) until it was landscaped into the Silver Jubilee Gardens, opened by the Queen at that 1977 ceremony.
This brought some life back into the area, with many events taking place in the Silver Jubilee Gardens, including, according to those information boards, the London Marathon. This was likely in 1982, the second edition of the race, when the route was altered due to building works, putting the finish line on Westminster Bridge instead of Constitution Hill.
But the park's heyday was short lived, with construction work on both the Jubilee line and the Hungerford Bridges destroying the area of greenery. It was re-landscaped in the early part of the new millennium, but was a flat, featureless space consisting predominantly of grass, with no footpaths, seating or play area for the public to enjoy.
In the run-up to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, the area we know today started to take shape, and it was relaunched as the new Jubilee Gardens, opened once again by the Queen in a ceremony on 25 October 2012.
These days, Jubilee Gardens has plenty to offer. The lawns are usually draped in sunbathers throughout the summer months, while tiddlies can let off steam in an adventure playground. Sweeping brick paths make the park accessible to all, with wooden benches dotted around, and plenty of walls to perch on when the benches are full. It's all watched over by the London Eye, and the Jubilee flagpole — one of many Jubilee legacies to be found in this part of town.
The park is managed by the Jubilee Gardens Trust, a charity, and as is the way with these things, running the park costs money. We were delighted on our most recent visit to spot these donation-receiving squirrels dotted about the place. You can also donate online.
*Other than the annual State Opening of Parliament, but that's a whole other matter.