The Garden Guide

Book: London and Its Environs, 1927
Chapter: 11 Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens

Hyde Park

Previous - Next

Hyde Park, bounded on the east by Park Lane, on the south by Knightsbridge, on the north by Bayswater Road, and on the west by Kensington Gardens, has an area of 361 acres and measures 3+ miles round. Together with Kensington Gardens it forms one continuous park of over 600 acres, while at its south-east corner it almost adjoins the Green Park, which; again, adjoins St. James's Park, so that these four royal parks offer an almost uninterrupted park walk of nearly 3 miles from end to end. Hyde Park is still the most fashionable of the London parks, especially in its south part. The north portion, a flat and mostly bare grassy expanse, with a more popular clientele, has long been a favourite rendezvous for mass-meetings and popular demonstrations. In the 'Reform Riot' of 1866 about half a mile of the park railings in Park Lane were pushed down by the pressure of the crowd prevented by the police from entering the park. The so-called 'Reformers' Tree' stood at the point where numerous paths now converge to the north east of the Ring Tea House. Stretching in a curve diagonally across the centre of both Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens is the Serpentine, an artificial lake of 41 acres, plentifully stocked with waterfowl. The portion within Kensington Gardens is known as the Long Water. Professor Dowden regards this lake as the scene of Harriet Westbrook's suicide. Hyde Park is a pleasant lounge at any time, but the most fashionable hours at which to visit it are from 5 to 7p.m. in the Season, when the corso (contracted since the advent of the motor-car) is at its height, and between 12 and 2 p.m. on Sunday during the so-called 'church parade'. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, though separated from each other merely by an iron railing, are always regarded as distinct parks. Both are opened at 5 a.m. There are nine carriage-entrances, closed at midnight. The foot-passengers' numerous entrances to Hyde Park are closed at 10 p.m. Kensington Gardens are entirely closed at dusk. CARRIAGES. Private carriages and (since March 1st, 1924) cabs are admitted to all the roads in Hyde Park and to the short stretch of road in front of the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens. Motor-cars (speed-limit 12 miles per hour) are allowed everywhere except on the road on the north bank of the Serpentine. CHAIRS. Besides the numerous free benches there are abundant chairs on hire (charge 2d.; ticket valid for one day in any of the four royal parks - Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Green Park, St. James's Park). BOATS on the Serpentine may be hired at 1/-2/ per hour BATHIHG in the Serpentine. BAND at the bandstand daily at 3 and 7 p.m., except on Thursday afternoons; at 3 and 8 p.m. on Sunday in July and August. HISTORY. The manor of Hyde belonged to the monks of Westminster Abbey from the Conquest to the Dissolution, when Henry VIII. seized it and converted it into a royal hunting-park. Under Charles I. the place began to be a fashionable resort, though the deer were hunted until after the middle of the 18th century and did not finally disappear until about 1840. In Charles I.'s reign the 'King,' a circular drive and race-course, situated between the present Ring Tea House and the Ranger's Lodge, was laid out, and was much frequented by fashionable carriages. Under the Commonwealth, the park was sold and the public had to pay for admission; but at the Restoration it reverted to the Crown and speedily became the scene of fashion and frivolity so graphically described by Pepys. Under William and Mary and Queen Anne the park was somewhat neglected. The roads leading across it to the royal palace of Kensington were infested by footpads, and the park became a favourite resort of duellists. Thackeray, in 'Esmond,' describes the famous duel here in 1712 between the Dake of Hamilton and Lord Mohun, who were both killed. In 1730 Queen Caroline, wife of George II., began her improvements in Kensington Gardens, including the formation of the Serpentine. The Ring by this time had disappeared; the park became more and more a resort for all classes of the public and was frequently the scene of military displays and reviews. In 1851 the first Great International Exhibition was held in Hyde Park on a space of about 20 acres between Rotten Row and Knightsbridge. This attracted over 6,000,000 visitors, and resulted in a profit of �186,000, with which the ground now occupied by the Albert Hall and the museums at South Kensington was purchased Sir Joseph Paxton's famous exhibition-building of glass and iron was afterwards re-erected at Sydenham as the Crystal palace. The wrought-iron gates at the point where the carriagedrive (see above) enters Kensington Gardens were originally the entrance gates to the south transept of this 'palace.' Several detached areas in the park are enclosed as 'bird sanctuaries.' On entering the park from Hyde Park Corner we have on our left the carriage-road running along the south side of the park, passing the north side of Knightsbridge Barracks. Almost parallel is Rotten Row, the famous sand-track for riders, who are to be seen at all hours of the morning, but especially before breakfast, when the 'liver brigade' makes its appearance. The footpaths on either side of the Row (especially the north side) are the chief rendezvous for 'church parade' on Sunday morning. Perhaps the finest flower-beds and shrubberies are to be found to the north of the east end of the Row. Here, too, are the Dell, a sub-tropical garden in a hollow at the east end of the Serpentine, and, a little farther east, a graceful fountain, with a figure of Artemis, by the Countess Feodora Gleichen (1906). From Hyde Park Corner another broad road runs north to the Marble Arch, parallel with Park Lane. On the left is a colossal bronze figure known as the Achilles Statue, by Westmacott, erected in 1822 in honour of the Duke of Wellington and his companions-in-arms 'by their countrywomen.' The statue is not an Achilles but a modified copy of one of the 'Horse-Tamers on the Monte Cavallo at Rome. On the right, in the enclosure of Hamilton Gardens, is a statue of Byron, by Belt (1880). At Stanhope Gate, farther on, is the Cavalry War Memorial for 1914-18 with a figure of St. George, by Adrian Jones, cast from the metal of cannon captured by the cavalry. The architectural background is by Sir John Burnet. The Dolphin Fountain, on the raised grass plot farther on, dates from 1861. Near the Marble Arch, just inside the park gates, is a wide space where open-air orators and lecturers of all kinds are accustomed to hold forth, especially on Sunday afternoons, sometimes attracting considerable crowds. The discussions that follow (or interrupt) the lectures are often amusing. The most comprehensive survey of Hyde Park is obtained from the road which runs north-west from Hyde Park Corner along the north bank of the Serpentine, passing a Band Stand. A stone at the east end of the Serpentine marks the fountain-head of the water supply granted by Edward the Confessor to the Abbey of Westminster. The part of the road skirting the lake is known as the Ladies' Mile, and here the Coaching and Four-in-Hand Clubs hold their meets in spring. On the left are boat-houses, where boats may be hired, and on the right is a receiving house of the Royal Humane Society (open from 11 to 5), ready in case of accidents on the Serpentine. A little distance behind the latter are the Ranger's Lodge and a Police Station, to the left of which is a 'bird sanctuary,' behind a muchcriticized memorial (by J, Epstein; 1925) to W. H. Hudson (died 1922), the writer and field-naturalist. The figure is understood to represent the character Rima, in Hudson's 'Green Mansions.' To the east is the Ring Tea House, where luncheons, teas, and light refreshments may be obtained. Not far off is the depression known as the Cockpit, where open-air theatrical performances occasionally take place. The island in the Serpentine is the home of Peter Pan (see below), 'where all the birds are born that become baby boys and girls.' On the south bank of the Serpentine, to the east of the bridge, are the bathing-places, open between 5 and 8.30 a.m. and in the afternoon at hours varying with the seasons (never before 4 or after 8.30 p.m.); also during the school holidays (July & August) from 1 to 6 p.m. The depth of the Serpentine varies from 4+ to 14 ft. Rennie's Bridge (built in 1828 by the brothers Rennie), which spans the Serpentine, commands fine views. Near the north end is a Powder Magazine, at the other end a Refreshment Pavilion. The bridge is crossed by the road that forms the main thoroughfare across the park from south to north and marks the division between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. This we now follow to the north to the Victoria Gate, on the Bayswater Roadied Behind the lodge at this gate is a 'Dogs' Cemetery, some of the little tombstones in which may be seen from the Bayswater Road. Immediately to the west is an entrance to Kensington Gardens, adjoined by a flower garden that is particularly beautiful in the dahlia season.