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One observation that always gets mentioned, is the large amount of green open cultivated and manicured park land that we travel through on our itinerary from one sight to another as weave our way through London. In this blog we will be delving into the beauty and appeal of one of London’s most famous green spaces – Hyde Park. Read on to explore what makes Hyde Park so appealing to London’s visitors.
Who is responsible for maintaining Hyde Park?
London enjoys over 5,000 acres of royal parkland that is open to the public. Right in the middle of London we have St James’s Park, Green Park, Regents Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Each park is carefully maintained by The Royal Parks Agency that run the parks on behalf of the Crown Estate. Each park has its own distinctive style and identity and is surrounded by statues and monuments that help to tell the story of its historical past and embellishes London’s heritage. Each park also has a range of activities and amenities that provide outdoor leisure, sport, and entertainment.
The History of Hyde Park
Hyde Park, the largest of all central London parks at 350 acres. It is bounded to the north with Bayswater Road, to the east with Park Lane, to the south with Knightsbridge and Kensington Road and to the west by West Carriage Drive and the adjoining Kensington Gardens. It has a rich history dating back to the 11th century when it was bequeathed to the Monks of Westminster and later when Henry VIII got into a tizzy about his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Henry passed a bill; The Dissolution of the Monasteries and used the land for his own use; Hunting.
To make a park appealing to the public it must have a program of facilities, amenities and entertainment that engage the general populace. Hyde Park has never been short of entertainment; the huge Rolling Stones outdoor concert in 1969 saw an estimated audience of more than 250,000 fans!!
Speakers Corner, located in the north east area of Hyde Park, has been the centre of British Democracy since 1872. It is where an individual has the right to express their views publicly, providing they are not enticing violence, racism, or blasphemy. Sometimes the debates and discussions can become very articulated and heated and are always accompanied by a good display of heckling and banter.
Often regarded as the centerpiece of Hyde Park is The Serpentine Lake. The Serpentine was formed in 1730 by damming one of London’s lost rivers; The Westbourne, as well as acting as a natural boundary between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. It also provided the ideal setting for boating, swimming, and skating as well as some amazing firework displays.
There was another slightly sinister, if somewhat acceptable, form of aristocratic justice enacted in this beautiful park in midst of the Italian Gardens and water features by well-heeled and aristocratic patrons, dueling. Trial by combat to give it an air of respectability, when two buffoons would have a disagreement and to defend their honor and good name, they would throw down the gauntlet and challenge their opponent to a duel. Quite often this could be some catastrophic argument about the affairs of the heart, an outstanding debt, or even one dog barking at another dog.
Hyde Park Memorials and Statues
The park also has an abundance of stunning memorials and statues. The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain and Britain’s first Memorial to the Victims of the Holocaust add to the diversity of the parks culture and interest. Sometimes on a crisp sunny morning you may find a troop from The Household Cavalry, wearing pristine uniforms with gleaming helmets and swords leaving their luxury stables, riding on their immaculate groomed horses along South Carriage Drive. The stables can accommodate more than 270 horses. The troop process through the park via Aspley Gate heading towards Buckingham Palace on route to Horse Guards parade.
Running parallel with South Carriage Drive is Rotten Row, Britain’s first artificially lit thoroughfare. This was to ensure the safety and security of William III on his route from St James’s Palace to his country residence in Kensington, Kensington Palace. The name Rotten Row derives from the French, Route du Roi: The Kings Road.
The Crystal Palace
Hyde Park is also famous for The Great Exhibition of 1851. A giant iron and glass temporary structure known as The Crystal Palace, a huge greenhouse that covered an area of 26 acres and in affect was the world’s first trade fair. It was the brainchild of Prince Albert and was intended to showcase the global advances in industry and technology at home and abroad. It opened for only six months and attracted over six million visitors. The proceeds of the exhibition went towards the funding of The Albert and Victoria Museum, the Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum. Collectively this part of Kensington is known as Albertopolis.
Sometimes, in the peace and tranquility of the park you can hear the deafening boom of cannons being fired with the accompanying plumes of white cloud and the smell of gunpowder. No, they are not a sign of attack, far from it in fact. They are a sign you are amid a royal celebration or ceremony taking place in London’s Hyde Park, Green Park or The Tower of London. Usually there will be 21 rounds fired plus an extra 20 for being in a Royal Park. If you are lucky enough to be near The Tower of London, you will be treated to an extra 21 rounds, because it is in The City of London.