77-Memorial

It’s not immediately obvious what this series of upright stainless steel pillars standing on the eastern edge of Hyde Park has been placed there for.

But look a little closer and you’ll see inscribed upon a date which any long-term Londoner immediately recognises – 7th July, 2005: the day when a series of bombs claimed 52 lives on three trains and a bus at various locations around central London.

The memorial, designed by architects Carmody Groarke and engineering team Arup working in consultation with victims’ representatives, Royal Parks and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, consists of 52 pillars – one for each victim of the bombings.

The 3.5 metre high, 850 kilogram pillars are clustered together in four groups representing the four locations of the bomb attacks – Tavistock Square, Edgware Road, King’s Cross and Aldgate. They are marked with the times, dates and locations of the bombings and there’s also a 1.4 tonne stainless steel plaque upon which are written the names of the victims located nearby.

The RIBA award-winning memorial, which is located just to the north of the colossal statue Achilles and Hyde Park Corner, was unveiled by Prince Charles and Lady Camilla on the fourth anniversary of the attack in 2009.

For more, see the Royal Parks website www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/hyde-park-attractions/7-july-memorial.

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This year marks the 160th anniversary of the transfer of the care of the Royal Parks to the government (meaning the public was freely able to enjoy access for the first time). To celebrate, over the next weeks we’ll be taking a look at the history of each of them. First up is the 142 hectare Hyde Park, perhaps the most famous of all eight Royal Parks.

Formerly owned by Westminster Abbey, King Henry VIII seized the land in 1536 for use as a private hunting ground. He had it enclosed with fences and the Westbourne Stream, which ran through the park – it now runs underground – dammed.

It remained the king and queen’s private domain (Queen Elizabeth I is known to have reviewed troops there) until King James I appointed a ranger to look after the park and permitted limited access to certain members of the nobility in the early 17th century.

The park’s landscaping remained largely unaltered until the accession of King Charles I – he created what is known as the ‘ring’ – a circular track where members of the royal court could drive their carriages. In 1637, he also opened the park to the public (less than 30 years later, in 1665, it proved a popular place for campers fleeing the Great Plague in London).

During the ensuring Civil War, the Parliamentarians created forts in the park to help defend the city against the Royalists – some evidence of their work still remains in the raised bank next to Park Lane.

After King William III and Queen Mary II moved their court to Kensington Palace (formerly Nottingham House) in the late 1600s, they had 300 oil lamps installed along what we know as “Rotten Row’ – the first artificially lit road in the country – to enable them and their court to travel safely between the palace and Westminster.

The natural looking Serpentine – the great, 11.34 hectare, lake in the middle of Hyde Park (pictured) – was created in the 1730s on the orders of Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, as part of extensive work she had carried out there. It was Queen Caroline who also divided off what we now know as Kensington Gardens from Hyde Park, separating the two with a ha-ha (a ditch).

The next major changes occurred in the 1820s when King George IV employed architect and garden designer Decimus Burton to create the monumental park entrance at Hyde Park Corner – the screen still remains in its original position while Wellington Arch was moved from a parallel position to where it now stands (see our previous posts for more on that). Burton also designed a new railing fence and several lodges and gates for the park. A bridge across the Serpentine, meanwhile, was built at about the same time along with a new road, West Carriage Drive, formally separating Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

While the basic layout of the park has been largely unchanged since, there have been some additions – among them, the establishment in 1872 of Speaker’s Corner as a place to speak your mind in the north-east corner of the park (near Marble Arch), the creation in 1930 of the Lido for bathing in warm weather, and, more recently, the building of the Diana, Princess of Wales’ Memorial Fountain (unveiled in 2004), and the 7 July Memorial (unveiled in July 2009).

Other sculptures in the park include Isis (designed by Simon Gudgeon, located on the south side of the Serpentine), the Boy and Dolphin Fountain (designed by Alexander Munro, it stands in the Rose Garden), and a monumental statue of Achilles, a memorial to the Duke of Wellington designed by Richard Westmacott, near Park Lane. There are also memorials to the Holocaust, Queen Caroline, and the Cavalry as well as a Norwegian War Memorial and a mosaic marking the site of the Reformer’s Tree (the tree was burnt down during the Reform League Riots of 1866).

The park has been integral part of any national celebrations for centuries – in 1814 a fireworks display there marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Great Exhibition – with the vast Crystal Palace – was held there in 1851 and in 1977 a Silver Jubilee Exhibition was held marking Queen Elizabeth II’s 25 year reign. Cannons are fire there on June 2nd to mark the Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and on 10th June for the Duke of Edinburgh’s birthday.

Facilities these days include rowing and pedal boats, tennis courts, deck chairs, a restaurant and cafe (the latter based in the Lido) and, of course, some Boris bikes. There is a heritage walk through the park which can be downloaded from the Royal Parks website.

WHERE: Hyde Park (nearest tube stations are that of Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner, Lancaster Gate, Knightsbridge and South Kensington); WHEN: 5am to midnight; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Hyde-Park.aspx?page=main

PICTURE: Courtesy of Royal Parks. © Indusfoto Ltd 

Best known for his defeat of Napeleon at the Battle of Waterloo, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, was not a native Londoner. But his involvement in the military and politics meant he went on to have a significant impact on the city.

Wellesley (whose surname was actually Wesley until his family changed it in 1798) was born in Ireland in early May, 1769, and, following his schooling – including time spent at Eton and in France, he entered the British Army as an ensign in 1787, subsequently serving as an aide-de-camp to two Lords Lieutenant of Ireland. While in Ireland, he was also elected an MP in the Irish Parliament.

His military career took him to the Netherlands and then India, where he was later appointed Governor of Seringapatam and Mysore.

Returning to Europe, Wellesley took a leave of absence from the army and, having been knighted, again entered politics becoming the Tory MP for Rye in 1806, then MP for Newport on the Isle of Wight before being appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland.

He left these tasks to fight in the Napoleonic Wars – most notably in the Peninsular War where he led the allied armies to victory at the 1813 Battle of Vitoria (and was subsequently promoted to the rank of field marshal).

Following Napoleon’s exile, Wellington was created the Duke of Wellington. He served briefly as ambassador to France before Napoleon’s return in 1815. It was for his subsequent role at the Battle of Waterloo, in which Napoleon was finally and totally defeated, that Wellington is mostly remembered now.

Entering politics after his return to England in 1819, he was named Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in 1827 and was twice elected Prime Minister, from 1828-30 and again in 1834, before his death in 1852 after which he received a state funeral.

It’s not hard to find reference to the duke in today’s London and countless pubs testify to his one-time popularity.

He purchased his most famous residence, Apsley House (which attracted the nickname of Number 1 London, thanks to it being the first house one encountered in London after passing through the toll gate) in 1817. Indeed, it was the installation of iron shutters at this property – a measure taken to prevent a mob demanding electoral reform from destroying it – that led to him being given the nickname, the “Iron Duke”.

These days Apsley House is managed by English Heritage and contains the Duke’s collection of artworks and furnishings.

Opposite Apsley House, close to Hyde Park Corner, stands an equestrian statue of Wellington and behind it Wellington Arch, which dates from between 1826-30, and originally stood parallel to the Hyde Park Screen. In 1846, a vast statue of the Duke was mounted on top of the arch but this was replaced with a sculpture of Peace in her Quadriga when the arch was relocated to its present site in 1882 due to a need to widen the road. There are great views from the top.

At Hyde Park Corner, close to Park Lane, stands another memorial to Wellington, this time a massive statue of the Greek hero Achilles. It was put there in 1822 (and incidentally sparked considerable controversy – it was London’s first nude public sculpture in centuries and despite the careful placing of a fig leaf, didn’t please everybody).

Wellington was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral and his huge block-like tomb in the crypt is given a level of prominence only equaled by that of Admiral Nelson.

The National Portrait Gallery this week launches an exhibition, Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance, which features the Duke’s favorite painting of himself (not the one above). The painting, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, hasn’t been on public exhibition for 60 years. From 21st October.

PICTURES: Image of the Duke of Wellington is by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1814). Source: Wikipedia.