The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 2 Hyde Park

Water supply for The Serpentine

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The fashion of making sheets of artificial water with curves and twists, instead of a straight, canal-like shape, was just taking the public fancy, when Queen Caroline began the work of converting the rather marshy ponds in Hyde Park into a "Serpentine River." The ponds were of considerable size, and in James I.'s time there were as many as eleven large and small. Celia Fiennes, the young lady who kept a diary in the time of William and Mary, which has been already quoted, after describing the Ring, says, "The rest of the park is green, and full of deer; there are large ponds with fish and fowle." The work of draining the ponds and forming a river was begun in October 1730, under the direction of Charles Withers, Surveyor-General of the Woods and Forests. The cost of the large undertaking was supposed to come out of the Queen's privy purse, and it was not until after her death that it was found that Walpole had supplemented it out of the public funds. The West Bourne supplied the new river with sufficient water for some hundred years, after which new arrangements had to be made, as the stream had become too foul. The water supply now comes from two sources-one a well 400 feet deep at the west end of the Serpentine, where the formal fountains and basins were made, about 1861, in front of the building of Italian design covering the well. The sculptured vases and balustrade with sea-horses are by John Thomas. The water in the well stands 172 feet below the ground level, and the depth is continually increasing. It is pumped up to the "Round Pond," and descends by gravity. The second supply comes from a well 28 feet deep in the gravel on "Duck Island," in St. James's Park. The water, which is 19 feet below the surface, remains constant, that level being the same as the water-bearing stratum of the Thames valley in London. It is pumped up to the Serpentine, and returns to the lake in St. James's Park, supplying the lake in the gardens of Buckingham Palace on the way. The deep well provides about 120,000 gallons, and the shallow about 100,000 a day. The "Round Pond" - which, by the way, is not round-affords the greatest delight to the owners, of all ages, of miniature yachts of all sizes. There are the large boats with skilful masters, which sail triumphantly across the placid waters, and there are the small craft that spend days on the weeds, or founder amid "waves that run inches high," like the good steamship Puffin in Anstey's amusing poem. When the weeds are cut twice every summer, many pathetic little wrecks are raised to the surface, perchance to be restored to the expectant owners.