Take a walk in the Park! London has eight Royal Parks all strongly associated with a rich, historical Heritage, National Events, Prime Ministers and Royalty. The Parks are famous for their nature reserves, sporting facilities, world class entertainments and excellent catering.
Ceremonial occasions have not changed with the passing years; Coronations, Trooping The Colour and other processions still take place along the Mall in St James’s Park. Government Buildings, Palaces, Memorials and Statues can be seen within and without the Parks, all reflecting their history. London has more open green spaces than any other city this is especially noticeable in aerial views.. The Royal Parks are Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Green Park, Bushy Park, Greenwich Park, Richmond Park, St James’s Park and Regents Park. Brompton Cemetery and Victoria Tower Gardens are also classified as Royal Parks.
Five hundred years ago some of the Royal Parks were hunting grounds for Kings, and were stocked with herds of deer. These were not open to the public. However, in 1851 with the introduction of”The Crown Lands Act” the public were given access to the Royal Parks. Some were used to support the army during two World Wars for soldiers’ drill and for salvage and were sites for anti aircraft guns.
‘The ‘Royal Parks’ itself is a charity led by a board of Trustees. They are responsible for the care, protection and maintenance of the Parks. They manage them and organise fund raising.
Let us take a walk in Hyde Park, the largest of the Royal Parks. It was established by Henry V111 in 1536 and he used it as a hunting ground. Its woody areas provided shelter for game and firewood. The land, 350 acres, was taken from Westminster Abbey. The Park’s name derives from the Manor of Hyde which was the North East subdivision of Eia. The Domesday Book is the source for this information.
An aerial view of Hyde Park
In 1642, at the start of the Civil War, fortifications were built along the East side of Hyde Park with forts on the present site of Marble Arch, Mount Street and Hyde Park Corner where visitors to London were vetted. In 1652, during the interregnum, Parliament decreed the sale of the Park to raise ready money. ( with extra for the deer! ) In 1660, after the Restoration of the Monarchy, Charles 11 reclaimed Hyde Park, surrounded it with a brick wall and restocked the deer. During the Plague of 1665 it was a military camp. In 1869 William 111 took up residence in Kensington Palace and constructed a driveway across its Southern border, known as the King’s Private Road, which later became known as ‘Rotten Row’; famous for horse riding today. It was the first road in London to be lit up at night: problems with highwaymen! The Park was a much used venue for duelling in the 18th century and the scene of military executions
Queen Caroline, wife of George 11, made many improvements to Hyde Park early in 18th century. She divided it from Kensington Gardens. This first, serious landscape design was carried out by Charles Bridgeman. The Serpentine Lake was formed by damming the River Westbourne and that was divided from the Long Water by a bridge designed by George Rennie. Work was completed by 1733 and the 2nd Viscount Weymouth was made Ranger of the Park in 1739.
Several Great Fairs and celebrations for George 1V’s Coronation were hosted in the Park. In 1814 the Allied Sovereigns’ Visit to England was celebrated with a huge Fair complete with stalls and shows. The Battle of Trafalgar was fought again on the Serpentine, accompanied by a band playing the National Anthem, as the French Fleet sank slowly into the waters of the Serpentine. How very British!
A memorable event, the Great Exhibition was held in Hyde Park in 1851. A spectacular new building, the Crystal Palace, designed by Joseph Paxton was built in the Park. There were show cases for innovation, art and industry and there were 6 million visitors. It was the mother of all exhibitions. What happened to the Palace? The public did not wish for it to remain after the Exhibition so Joseph Paxton bought it and relocated it in Sydenham Hill. South London. It was a vast structure of glass and iron covering 20 acres.
Another significant event in the Park was the first Victoria Cross Investiture in 1857. Queen Victoria decorated sixty- two men in the presence of Prince Albert and other members of the Royal Family. Also present was their future son-in-law Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia, later Emperor Frederick 111.
In 1861 the Italian Water Garden was created at Victoria Gate with a fountain and summer house. Queen Anne’s alcove, designed by Christopher Wren was moved from Kensington Gardens to Hyde Park. The Lido was opened in 1930, designed by Commissioner of Works, George Lansbury. It was immediately popular and a splendid restaurant was added later.
Rock concerts in Hyde Park have been very popular several drawing huge crowds. The Park has hosted events featuring Pink Floyd, Roy Harper, Blind Faith, the Rolling Stones, Queen, British Live 8, U2 and Coldplay. Bob Geldof, Elton John, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and such great names as these have all made appearances.
Neighbours sought a limit on the decibels reached and encores were banned. Freddie Mercury was threatened with arrest if he tried!
The Park hosted a Jubilee Exhibition in 1977 and a major Festival for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. It has hosted ‘Winter Wonderland’, a spectacular winter themed Festival since 2007 which has attracted 14 million visitors.
The Bavarian Village, Winter Wonderland
Hyde Park is so entertaining. Speakers’ Corner still happens on Sundays, where over the years, many have aired their views from platforms, often, quite rightly being heckled! Tourists are fascinated by the freedom of speech. The Chartists, the Reform League, Suffragettes and Stop the War have all been active there.
Bands played in the Park for the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics and the Park hosted the Triathlon and the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final.
Tragedy struck in 1982 when the Park was bombed by two devices linked to the Irish Provisional Army which killed eight members of the Household cavalry and Royal Green Jackets and also seven horses. The 7th July Memorial commemorates this outrage,
Statues, sculptures and memorials are ubiquitous in Hyde Park. For example, the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial, London Holocaust Memorial. Statues include ‘Still Water’, ‘Jelly Baby Family’ and ‘Vroom Vroom’! There are sculptures by Epstein and his Memorial to the author, William Henry Hudson, featuring his character ‘Rimes’ which caused quite a stir on arrival!
I love Parks, they have an aura of relaxation and community spirit. Seats for the elderly, swings for children, bread for ducks. One and all they come for enjoyment surrounded by history and culture.