London Explained – The Royal Parks…

Green Park, the smallest of the eight Royal Parks. PICTURE: David Adams

One of the most beautiful features of London are its Royal Parks.

The Royal Parks signage in The Regent’s Park. PICTURE: Elliott Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The parks, which covers some 5,000 acres, are owned by the Crown and managed by a charity, The Royal Parks. They include eight of London’s largest open spaces – Hyde Park, The Green Park, Richmond Park, Greenwich Park, St James’s Park, Bushy Park, The Regent’s Park, and Kensington Gardens – as well as some other important open spaces such as Brompton Cemetery, Victoria Tower Gardens, Canning Green and Poet’s Corner.

All eight of the Royal Parks have historically been owned by the Crown with St James’s Park considered the oldest (while Greenwich Park is the oldest enclosed park).

Under an Act of Parliament passed in 1851, the Crown transferred management of the parks to the government. These powers were originally vested in the Commissioners of Works and later transferred to the Minister of Works in 1942. They now rest with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

The Royal Parks charity was created in 2017 when The Royal Parks Agency – a former executive agency of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – and the Royal Parks Foundation came together. It is governed by a board led by chairman Loyd Grossman.

Deer in Richmond Park, largest of The Royal Parks. PICTURE: David Adams

The largest of the eight Royal Parks is Richmond Park which covers some 2,500 acres in London’s south-west (it’s followed by Bushy Park which is just over 1,000 acres). The smallest of the parks is Green Park at just 40 acres.

Interestingly, Hampton Court Palace gardens, which are open to the public are not part of The Royal Parks but instead are under the care of Historic Royal Palaces.

Here’s one fact about each of the eight Royal Parks.

  1. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey gave Bushy Park to King Henry VIII in 1529 (along with Wolsey’s home, Hampton Court Palace).
  2. Green Park was initially known as Upper St James’s Park after it was enclosed by King Charles II in 1668.
  3. The Royal Observatory, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, is located in Greenwich Park.
  4. Hyde Park became the location of the first artificially lit highway in the country when King William III, who had moved his court to Kensington Palace and found his walk back to St James’s rather dangerous, had 300 oil lamps installed upon a route which later became known as Rotten Row.
  5. Queen Caroline, wife of George II, gave Kensington Gardens much of its present form when, in 1728, she oversaw the creation of the the Serpentine and the Long Water.
  6. Horse Guards Parade is considered part of St James’s Park.
  7. Architect John Nash designed a summer palace for the Prince Regent which was to be located in The Regent’s Park but was never built.
  8. Prime Minister Lord John Russell was given a home in Richmond Park (Pembroke Lodge) by Queen Victoria in 1847.

10 London hills – 5. Primrose Hill…

View from the top of Primrose Hill. PICTURE: Steve Cadman (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Standing in a park located just to the north of Regent’s Park in the city’s inner north-west, Primrose Hill stands 63 metres above sea level and, like Parliament Hill, provides panoramic views of the city skyline.

The hill, which features one of six protected views in London, was once part of a chase (unenclosed hunting land) owned by King Henry VIII and was Crown property until 1842 when it became part of a public park through an Act of Parliament.

The name has been in use for at least 500 years and is thought to refer to the flowers that grew here profusely (which it means it can’t have been named for Archibald Primrose, Prime Minister between 1894 and 1895).

The hill forms part of one of Mother Shipton’s “prophecies” – she apparently proclaimed that when London surrounded the hill, its streets would run with blood.

It was for a time known as Greenberry Hill after three labourers – Robert Green, Henry Berry and Lawrence Hill – were found guilty of the murder of magistrate Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey (he had heard Titus Oates’ evidence in the so-called Popish Plot). Sir Edmund was found impaled on his own sword on the hill in October, 1678 – convicted of his murder the three men were hanged on its summit in 1679 (they were later exonerated and the death of Sir Edmund remains something of a mystery).

The hill, which has also apparently been known as Battle Hill, was also the location where the poet and antiquarian Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams) founded the Gorsedd, a community of Welsh bards, on 21st June in 1792.

In 1838, a railway tunnel under the hill was completed by the North Western Railway – it was the first in London and connected Chalk Farm and Swiss Cottage. In the 1840s, a proposal to create a cemetery here was put to Parliament but never went ahead. There were also plans to develop the entire hill as a housing estate but nothing came of it.

On top of the hill is York stone edging with an inscription by William Blake: “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill.” There’s also the remains of an anti-aircraft battery from World War II.

On the hill’s slope, meanwhile, is a tree planted in 1964 to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth (it replaced once planted 100 years earlier in honour of the Bard’s 300th).

Primrose Hill gives its name to part of the surrounding area, which remains a sought-after residential district.

For details on when to visit, head to www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/the-regents-park/things-to-see-and-do/primrose-hill.

LondonLife – Frieze Sculpture at The Regent’s Park…

Arne Quinze, Lupine Tower, 2020, Aluminium, Maruani Mercier Gallery. PICTURE: Stephen White.

Twelve works by leading international artists have gone on show in the English Gardens, The Regent’s Park, in this year’s Frieze Sculpture display. The works, which can be seen until 18th October and form part of an expanded Frieze Week programme, includes pieces from Patrick Goddard, Kalliopi Lemos and Arne Quinze as well as a recent commission by Lubaina Himid which is being exhibited in the UK for the first time. The works touch on a range of themes – from civil rights and ecology to the role of the artist as a disruptor. The display is accompanied by a free audio tour by curator Clare Lilley, director of programme at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and can also be seen virtually in the Frieze
Viewing Room. For more, see www.frieze.com/FriezeSculpture.

Sarah Lucas, Sandwich, 2011 – 2020, Concrete, Sadie Coles HQ. PICTURE: Stephen White.
Lubaina Himid, Five Conversations, 2019, Acrylic paint on five reclaimed wooden doors from traditional Georgian townhouses, Hollybush Gardens. PICTURE: Stephen White.
Gavin Turk, L’Âge d’Or (Green & Red), 2019, Painted Bronze, MARUANI MERCIER. PICTURE: Stephen White.
Kalliopi Lemos, The Plait, 2020, Mild steel, Gazelli Art House. PICTURE: Stephen White.

This Week in London – Statue of slave owner removed; Finsbury Circus to be redesigned; and, ZSL London Zoo reopening…

A statue of slave owner Robert Milligan has been removed from its position outside of the Museum of London Docklands. The Canal and River Trust removed the statue this week in recognition of the “wishes of the community”. The move had the support of the museum which is one of only three museums in the UK to address the history of the transatlantic slave trade. “The Museum of London recognises that the monument is part of the ongoing problematic regime of white-washing history, which disregards the pain of those who are still wrestling with the remnants of the crimes Milligan committed against humanity…” the museum said in a statement issued earlier in the week. “Now more than ever at a time when Black Lives Matter is calling for an end to public monuments honouring slave owners, we advocate for the statue of Robert Milligan to be removed on the grounds of its historical links to colonial violence and exploitation.” Milligan was a prominent British slave owner who, by the time of his death in 1809, owned 526 slaves and two sugar plantations in Jamaica. The statue, the work of Sir Richard Westmacott, was moved to a position outside the museum in West India Quay in 1997. Earlier this week, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced a new Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm which will review landmarks – including murals, street art, street names, statues and other memorials – across the city of London with a view to improving diversity in the public realm.

The City of London Corporation has launched a competition to redesign the Grade II-listed gardens at Finsbury Circus. The two-stage competition aims to identity creative and sustainable design ideas in a bid to return Finsbury Circus Gardens to being a multifunctional public space with a pavilion as well as a “sanctuary” within the Square Mile. The corporation is seeking a joint bid from an architect and a landscape architect to deliver a new design for the reinstatement of Finsbury Circus Gardens and Pavilion. Some two-thirds of the Finsbury Circus Gardens, one of the oldest parks in the City, have been used by Crossrail for the past 10 years to provide access to a section of tunnel between Farringdon and Liverpool Street. The works required the removal of historic features like the bowling green and historic Grade II drinking fountain and these will now be reinstated into the new design. PICTURE: Looking across Finsbury Circus Gardens in 2006 (David Williams /licenced under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tickets for ZSL London Zoo have gone on sale ahead of its planned reopening next week. The zoo will reopen on Monday, 15th June, for the first time since its closure on Saturday, 21st March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The zoo, which is offering pre-allocated, timed entry slots, limited to just 2,000 visitors a day, says its taken numerous measures to ensure the safety of visitors. For more, head to www.zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo.

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LondonLife – The gates are closed, but life goes on at ZSL London Zoo…

Amid the many institutions which have closed their gates in London thanks to the COVID-19 crisis is one which has 18,000 live inhabitants to keep fed and cared for. ZSL London Zoo closed on 21st March for the first time since World War II but a core team including zookeepers, vets, security and grounds staff have remained on site to keep life as normal as possible for the animals within. Images released today show the zookeepers – some of whom are now living on site in the Zoo’s Lion Lodge guest accommodation – caring for the animals. The 200-year-old charity has launched a new fundraiser to support the care of the animals while it’s closed. Head to zsl.org/support-our-zoos. PICTURES: Top – Zookeepers feed the meerkats; Below – Keeper Martin Franklin cleans Penguin Beach; Far below – A Western lowland gorilla.

LondonLife – Four London sites heritage listed in 2019…

We’ve entered a new year but before we leave 2019 completely behind, here’s quick look at four sites in London that were put on the National Heritage List for England last year…

1. Sainsbury Supermarket, Camden TownListed at Grade II, it was the first purpose-built supermarket to be placed on the National Heritage List. The store was built in 1986-88 as part of Grand Union Complex designed by architectural practice Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners.

2. The Curtain Playhouse, Shoreditch. A scheduled monument, the theatre dates from about 1577 and hosted performances of Romeo and Juliet during Shakespeare’s lifetime, as well as Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour with Shakespeare himself listed as a performer. Archaeological investigations in the years from 2011-16 revealed parts of the stage as well as the wings, galleries and yards and 17th century structures which showed the later use of the site as tenement housing.

3. Nursemaid’s Tunnel, Regent’s Park. Grade II listed, this is one of the earliest surviving pedestrian subways in London. It was built under New Road (now Marylebone Road) – linking Park Crescent with gardens in Park Square – in 1821 after residents campaigned for its construction due to the dangers of navigating the busy road (especially for children being taken to the playground by their nursemaids).

4. Cabman’s Shelter, corner Northumberland Avenue and Embankment Place. Grade II-listed, this still-in-use shelter was built in 1915 on the orders of the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund. It was based on Maximilian Clarke’s original design of 1882 and is one of just 13 examples to survive in London.

PICTURE: Google Maps.