To the north of Regent's Park, and only divided from it by a road, lies Primrose Hill. This curious conical hill, 216 feet high, so well known as an open space enjoyed by the public, formerly belonged to Eton College, but became Crown property about the middle of last century, and is now under the Office of Works, who keep it in order, and have done all the planting which has of late years improved this otherwise bare eminence. Some of the guide-books to London refer to the lines of Mother Shipton's prophecy that Primrose Hill "must one day be the centre of London." The passage this is supposed to be based on, is that which used to be said to foretell railways, and now people see in it a foreshadowing of motor cars. At one time also the marriage reference which is in the same poem was applied to Queen Victoria. The lines are these- "Carriages without horses shall go, And accidents fill the world with woe: Primrose Hill in London shall be, And in its centre a Bishop's see. The British Olive next shall twine, In marriage with the German Vine."
The early editions of the prophecy contain none of these lines except the two last, which are quoted in the 1687 edition, and are there interpreted to refer to the marriage of Elizabeth, daughter of James I., and the Elector Palatine. The Primrose Hill lines first made their appearance in 1877! So, although now quite surrounded by houses, and well within the County of London, that this would be so in time to come, was not foretold three hundred years ago.
The delightfully rural name dates from the time of Queen Elizabeth, and is said to be derived from the number of primroses which grew there. The earlier name was Barrow Hill, from supposed ancient burials. After the mysterious murder of Sir Edmondsbury Godfrey in October 1678, his body was found in a ditch at the foot of the hill. At one time the superstitious thought his ghost haunted the place, and a contemporary medal has this inscription- "Godfrey walks up hill after he was dead; [St.] Denis walks down hill carrying his head."
The fresh air and pleasant view from the top of the hill, and the cheery sounds of games, have long ago dispelled all these gloomy memories.