There are several 19th century bandstands in London but we believe the oldest still standing is in Hyde Park.

This octagonal, Grade II-listed, bandstand was originally located in the adjoining Kensington Gardens (near Mount Gate),  having been built in 1869, only eight years after the first ever bandstand in London had been installed in the nearby Royal Horticultural Gardens in Kensington.

It was moved to Hyde Park in 1886 – it can now be found on the north side of Serpentine Road, just to the north-west of Hyde Park Corner – and concerts were apparently held here three times a week in the 1890s. (Another bandstand was erected in Kensington Gardens in the 1930s).

Featuring cast iron decorative columns and a tent roof, the Hyde Park bandstand appeared in the 1935 film, Top Hat, which starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (although the building in the film was actually a replica located on a Hollywood soundstage). Others who have ‘played’ the bandstand include the famous trumpeter Harry Mortimer.

The bandstand, which is now one of the oldest in Britain, is still used for concerts on occasion as well as being part of the annual Winter Wonderland event. Check The Royal Parks website for details of when events are scheduled here.

PICTURE: Claire Ward/Geograph/CC BY-SA 2.0

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the_jesse_cope_detail_ca-_1310-25_c_victoria_and_albert_museum_londonObjects associated with some of the most notable personages of the Middle Ages – from King Edward I and his wife, Queen Eleanor of Castile through to Edward, the Black Prince, and martyred archbishop, Thomas Becket – will go on show at the V&A in South Kensington as part of a display of medieval embroidery. Opening Saturday, Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery features embroidered treasures such as a seal-bag which, dating from the early 12th century, was made to hold the foundation document of Westminster Abbey, the Toledo Cope which has been brought back to England from Spain for the first time since its creation in the 14th century and an embroidered vestment associated with Thomas Becket. There’s also the Hólar Vestments from Iceland, the Jesse Cope from the V&A’s own collections (pictured), the Daroca Cope from Madrid and an embroidered tunic worn by Edward, the Black Prince. As well as embroidery, the display features panel paintings, manuscripts, metalwork and sculpture. Runs until 5th February along with a season of events. Admission charges apply. See www.vam.ac.uk/opus for more. PICTURE: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Two works by Spanish painter Fray Juan Bautista Maino have gone on exhibition for the first time in the UK at The National Gallery, off Trafalgar Square. The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Adoration of the Kings, dating from 1612-14, have been loaned from the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, Spain, and can be seen for free in a display being held in conjunction with the upcoming exhibition Beyond Caravaggio. Each of the paintings measures more than three metres in height and were originally part of a retable (altarpiece) created for the altar of the Dominican church of San Pedro Martir in Toledo. The work took three years to complete and it was while he was doing so that Maino took religious vows and joined the Dominican Order (there’s also a chance he included a self portrait in the work in the form of a pilgrim on the altar’s far left). Can be seen until 29th January. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

A former disused toilet block has been converted into a new cafe overlooking the 150-year-old Italian Gardens in the Kensington Gardens. Formally opened by Loyd Grossman, chairman of the Royal Parks charity, earlier this month, the cafe has a “living roof” aimed at supporting the biodiversity and wildlife of the gardens and has been designed in sympathy with the gardens and the nearby Grade 2* listed Queen Anne’s Alcove, currently being restored. The Italian Gardens were a gift from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria. For more on the cafe, including opening times, head here.

Alderman Andrew Parmley has been elected as the 689th Lord Mayor of London. In keeping with tradition, he will take up the office after the ‘Silent Ceremony’ in Guildhall on 11th November followed by the annual Lord Mayor’s Show parade through the City the following day.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com for inclusion.

Elfin-OakDelightfully carved out of a hollow oak tree, the Elfin Oak takes its name from the many colourful figures that adorn it.

The sculpture, which sits beside the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground is the work of children’s book illustrator Ivor Innes.

He spent two years – 1928 to 1930 – carving “Little People” upon an ancient oak tree trunk that had been found in Richmond Park and relocated to Kensington Gardens (and in 1930, with his wife Elsie, published the children’s book, The Elfin Oak of Kensington Gardens).

The characters depicted include animals and fanciful creatures such as a gnome called Huckleberry, a series of elves including Grumples and Groodles and a witch named Wookey.

The hollow, incidentally, had been presented to The Royal Parks by Lady Fortescue in response to an appeal run to improve facilities in line with a scheme by George Lansbury (among other things, he also founded the Serpentine Lido).

Now a Grade II listed structure (and well protected by wire mesh), it has a few pop culture associations – among them, the fact that it appeared on the cover of Pink Floyd’s 1969 album, Ummagumma (the head of the band’s lead singer and guitarist David Gilmour can be seen projecting from the trunk).

Meanwhile, in 1996, Spike Milligan – long a fan of the oak – was the face of a successful campaign to raise funds for its restoration.

Announcing the Grade II listing in 1997, then Heritage Minister Tony Banks noted that the oak sat alongside the late Victorian fascination with Little People and complemented Sir George Frampton’s statue of Peter Pan (also located within the gardens).

“Together the two sculptures make Kensington Gardens very much the world capital of fairies, gnomes and elves,” he reportedly said.

PICTURE: Lonpicman/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0/

Queen-Caroline's-Temple

Located in Kensington Gardens, this neo-classical summer house was designed by William Kent for Queen Caroline (who was responsible for much of the shape of the gardens as they are now).

Standing amid naturalistic plantings overlooking the Long Water (which was among the features created at the order of Queen Caroline – consort of King George II), it was built in 1734-35 and designed to be glimpsed down one of the avenues of trees which radiated out from the Round Pond in front of Kensington Palace.

The Grade II-listed ‘temple’, which features graffiti inside dating back until 1821, was later converted to a park keeper’s home but restored to its use as a summer house in 1976.

Kent apparently also designed a second summer house for Kensington Gardens which revolved – it stood on a 13 metre high mound constructed by Kent’s predecessor Charles Bridgeman using spoil from the excavation of the Serpentine in the south-eastern corner of the gardens (the summer house was later demolished and the mound levelled).

Not the most prominent feature of the gardens but like the much later Princess Caroline’s Bath in Greenwich Park (see our earlier post here), it does have an important royal connection and is worthy of a stop when visiting the gardens.

WHERE: Kensington Gardens (nearest tube stations are that of Queensway, Bayswater, Lancaster Gate, South Kensington, Gloucester Road and Kensington High Street); WHEN: 6am to dusk; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/kensington-gardens.

 

Hazy-days-of-summerLooking from Kensington Gardens to the Albert Memorial and Royal Albert Hall in South Kensington.

 

The origins of the name of this inner west London location on the northern side of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens go back to at least the 14th century when it was recorded as Bayard’s or perhaps Baynard’s watering place.

Bayard was the word for a bay-coloured horse but it is thought that instead the name here comes from a local landowner – it’s been suggested he may be the same Baynard whose name is was remembered in the long gone Norman fortification Baynard’s Castle in the City.

The name probably referred to a site where people on their way out of or headed to London stopped for a rest and some water; the water aspect may relate to springs or to the Westbourne Stream which ran through the area.

It’s now known for its culturally diverse population and high concentration of hotels. It’s also known for Georgian terraces – many of which have been converted into flats, mansion blocks and garden squares.

Notable residents have included Peter Pan author JM Barrie and former PM’s Tony Blair and Winston Churchill while landmarks include Whiteleys, a department store which first opened in the mid 19th century (and was later rebuilt after burning down).

Peter-Pan2In JM Barrie’s 1911 novel, Peter and Wendy (based on the stage play Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up), the adventure begins when Peter Pan visits the home of the Darling family.

He secretly listens in – via an open window – while Mrs Darling tells bedtime stories to her children – Wendy, John and Michael – but during one visit loses his shadow and it’s on returning to claim it that he meets Wendy and, well, you know the rest…

Peter Pan is most famously associated with Kensington Gardens – it’s here that we are first introduced to the character of Peter in the book Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (in fact there’s a rather famous statue of him there to this day, pictured above) – it’s most often assumed that the Darling’s house must be nearby.

But, in fact, the book Peter and Wendy never states where the Darlings’ house is located exactly  – just that it is at number 14 in the street in which they live – while in the 1904 play the address is given as “a rather depressed street” in Bloomsbury. Barrie explains that he placed the Darlings’ house in Bloomsbury because Mr Roget (of Thesaurus fame) once lived there and “we whom he has helped to wend our way through life have always wanted to pay him a little compliment”.

Worth noting, however, is a property at 31 Kensington Park Gardens. Once the home of the Llewellyn Davies family, family friend Barrie was a frequent visitor here and in fact went on to adopt the five Llewellyn Davies children following the death of their parents in the early 1900s. The property, which is divided into a series of flats, is, as a result, said to have been something of a model for the Darling’s house.

Barrie, himself, meanwhile, owned a house at 100 Bayswater Road – not far from Kensington Gardens where he first meet the Llewellyn Davies family – but, interestingly, had previously lived in Bloomsbury. The house is marked with a blue plaque.

Another Peter Pan-related address we have to mention is that of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children to which Barrie gave the rights to receive royalties from Peter Pan in perpetuity. You can arrange for a tour of the hospital’s Peter Pan-related memorabilia.

For more on the story behind the writing of Peter Pan, see Andrew Birkin’s book, J.M.Barrie and the Lost Boys.

Serpentine-Sackler-Gallery

 

Designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Zada Hadid, the new Serpentine Sackler Gallery opened to the public in Kensington Gardens on Saturday. Located just a few minutes walk from the Serpentine Gallery on the north side of the Serpentine Bridge, the 900 square metre premises is partly located in a renovated Grade II*-listed building, The Magazine (built in 1805 as a gunpowder store and used by the military until 1963), as well as in a curvaceous modern extension to the north and west. The new gallery, which also features a ‘social space’ and restaurant, is named after Dr Mortimer and Dame Theresa Sackler, whose foundation provided the largest donation for the project – the largest single gift donated to the Serpentine Gallery in its 43-year history. The opening exhibition, Today We Reboot The Planet, features the large scale sculptural work of Argentinian artist Adrián Villar Rojas. The exhibition runs until 10th November. For more, see www.serpentinegallery.orgPICTURES: Serpentine Sackler Gallery, © 2013 Luke Hayes

Serpentine-Sackler-Galllery2

Deckchair-dreams

Summer is fading fast but until the end of October, there’s still time to sit back and relax in one of the 550 “designer deckchairs” which have been placed in five central Royal Parks this summer. Designed by the likes of Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, comedian Harry Enfield and actor Miranda Richardson and artists Michael Craig-Martin, Susan Stockwell and Maggi Hambling under the theme of ‘Nature’s Grand Designs’, the deckchairs can be found in Hyde Park, Green Park, St James’s Park, Kensington Gardens and the Regent’s Park. The chairs join the more than 6,700 deckchairs already in the five Royal Parks which are available for hire (they can also be bought at the Royal Park’s online shop). For more on hiring a deck chair in the Royal Parks, check out http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/facilities-in-hyde-park/park-deck-chairs.

• A new exhibition exploring the relationship between author Charles Dickens, the Foundling Hospital and its secretary and former foundling, John Brownlow, opened at the Foundling Museum today. Received, a Blank Child: Dickens, Brownlow and the Foundling Hospital looks at how Dickens supported the institution in various ways including helping a young mother petition for a place for her child and publicising the work of the hospital through his writing – in particular the 1853 article Received, A Blank Child (the phrase comes from the wording used on the hospital’s entry forms). Among the items on display are never before displayed letters from Dickens relating to the hospital. The exhibition, which runs until 16th December, is free with the museum admission. And if you haven’t yet had a chance to see it, there’s still time to catch Dickens and the Foundling, in which six contributors including actor Gillian Anderson and journalist Jon Snow, have chosen objects to be displayed. This ends on 28th October. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

Images from the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition have gone on display at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich (which runs the competition in conjunction with Sky at Night Magazine). Among the winning images were The Whirlpool Galaxy taken by Martin Pugh of the UK/Australia, Star Icefall by Masahiro Miyasaka of Japan, and Venus-Jupiter Close Conjunction, by Laurent Laveder of France. The exhibition is free of charge and runs until February next year. For more (including an online gallery), see www.rmg.co.uk/visit/exhibitions/astronomy-photographer-of-the-year/2012-winners/.

It’s Harvest Festival time at London’s Royal Parks and this Sunday, between 11am and 4pm, people are invited to attend the Kensington Gardens’ allotment to see the fruits of the gardeners’ labour including the “big dig” of the potato crop as well as seasonal vegetables. There’s also the chance for families to see the allotment chickens being fed and children’s activities run by Ginger Cat. This week’s event follows one last weekend at Regent’s Park. For more, see www.royalparks.org.uk.

• On Now: Ritual and revelry: the art of drinking in Asia. This new free exhibition in room 91 of the British Museum features a display of objects which have been used in the consumption of liquids in various Asian contexts and the manner in which their use is intertwined with ritual, religious and otherwise. Among the vessels on display is a Tibetan skull-cap known as a kapala which is made from a human skull and used in religious rituals as well as a silver tea set from western India which features handles shaped like bamboo stems and a lacquered wooden sake bottle which was used as an altar piece. Runs until 6th January. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

The 12th in the Serpentine Gallery’s annual architecture series, this year’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in Kensington Gardens has been designed  by Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei, the design team behind for the Beijing National Stadium, star of the 2008 Olympic Games and commonly known as the “bird’s nest”. Twelve columns – each of which represents one of the 12 annual pavilions created so far (including this one) – support a floating platform roof standing 1.5 metres off the ground. The interior is clad in cork and the pavilion designed to “inspire visitors to look beneath the surface of the park as well as back in time across the ghosts of the earlier structures”. Open until 14th October. For more information, see www.serpentinegallery.orgPICTURE: Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2012. Designed by Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei © Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei. IMAGE –  © 2012 Iwan Baan.

• It’s all about the Olympics in London this week and many of the events – like the Opening Ceremony and Torch Relay (see last week’s post) – are well covered elsewhere, but we thought we’d mention a couple of things in relation to the Games: 

The first is the ‘All the Bells’ project which will see bells across London being rung at 8:12am on Friday to “ring in” the first day of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Work No. 1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes, commissioned as part of the London 2012 Festival, is the brainchild of Turner Prize-winning artist and musician Martin Creed and will involve thousands of bells across the nation. Speaking of bells, the City of London has announced that some of the City’s churches will be ringing continuously during the three Olympic marathon events – the men’s, women’s, and Paralympic events. As many as 57 of the country’s most experienced bell ringers, co-ordinated by the Ancient Society of College Youths (a ringing society created in London in 1637) will be working for three to four hours continuously at churches including St Paul’s Cathedral, St Mary le Bow, St Lawrence Jewry, St Magnus the Martyr, St Vedast and St Katharine Cree. During the women’s marathon, an all-female band will be attempting a peal at St Paul’s, the first all-woman attempt on the bells. (Apologies, this article had originally had the time for the bell ringing at 8.12pm – it is in the morning, not the evening!)

A new exhibition exploring London’s Olympic history has opened at the British Library. Olympex 2012: Collecting the Olympic Games features a range of memorabilia including a swimming costume and the finishing tape broken by – later disqualified – marathon runner Dorando Pietri  from the 1908 London Games (see our earlier post for more on him) as well as posters and artworks, stamps, letters and postcards. The exhibition also features audio interviews with Olympians including William (Bill) Roberts, a relay runner in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and Dorothy Tyler, a medal-winning high jumper who competed in the 1936 and 1948 Olympics. Presented by the British Library and International Olympic Committee, the exhibition runs until 9th September at the library in St Pancras. Entry is free. For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: Rare 1948 postcard by an unknown artist (c) Private collection/IOC

• A new free wifi network has been launched in London’s West End. Westminster City Council and telco O2 launched the network this week. It will initially cover Oxford and Regent Streets, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and Parliament Square with further areas in Westminster and Covent Garden the next to be included in the network. A once-only registration process is required to join.

• Henry Moore’s famous sculpture, The Arch, has been returned to its original home in Kensington Gardens. The six metre high work was presented to the nation by Moore in 1980 and was positioned on the north bank of the Long Water until 1996 when the structure became unstable and was placed in storage. In late 2010, the Royal Parks began a project with The Henry Moore Foundation to see if the work could be returned to the gardens. Work began to restore the piece – which consists of seven stones weighing 37 tonnes – to its original location earlier this year. For more on Kensington Gardens, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/kensington-gardens.

• On Now: From Paris: A Taste for Impressionism. This Royal Academy of Arts exhibition at Burlington House features 70 works from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and includes works by Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Degas, Sisley, Morisot and Renoir as well as those of post-Impressionist artists Corot, Théodore Rousseau and J-F. Millet, and ‘academic’ paintings by Gérôme, Alma-Tadema and Bouguereau. Runs until 23rd September. Admission charge applies. See www.royalacademy.org.uk for more.

Now perhaps best known as a Tube station and a street and square in Bayswater, just west of the City, the name Lancaster Gate was actually first applied to a gateway located on the northern side of Kensington Gardens, close to where the ornamental water gardens known as the Italian Gardens now stand.

The gate is believed to have been named after Queen Victoria, in her capacity as the head of the Duchy of Lancaster (since the days of King Henry IV, the duchy has been the personal property of the monarch).

The nearby housing development of Lancaster Gate, centred on Christ Church followed in the mid 1800s (designed by Sancton Wood). The church closed in 1977 and was turned into housing in 1983; all that now remains architecturally are the church’s tower and spire.

Among people associated with the street is the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie who resided in a hotel here at the start of World War II.

The Tube station where bears the name Lancaster Gate opened in 1900.

For more on Tube station names, try Cyril M Harris’ What’s in a Name?: Origins of Station Names on the London Underground.

Located in Hyde Park (not far from the Lido), this memorial to Diana, Princess of Wales, is designed as a ring of water – rather like a stream bed – with two cascades tumbling down to meet in a pool at the bottom.

The fountain, which was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in July, 2004, also features three bridges which lead into the heart of the fountain – a symbol, apparently, of Diana’s openness to people.

Designed by US architect Kathryn Gustafson, the fountain – which cost £3.6 million – is made of 545 pieces of Cornish granite, each of which was shaped using laser cutting technology before being pieced together using traditional skills.

Gustafson’s design was selected after more than 10,000 plans were submitted to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain Committee in 2002. The architect has been reported as saying she wanted the design to reflect Diana’s inclusive “personality”.

The fountain was briefly closed to the public shortly after opening in 2004 because of safety concerns but reopened with new guidelines soon after.

The fountain is located on the route for the the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Walk, which takes on four of the royal parks – Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Green Park and St James’s Park.

Diana, whose divorce from Prince Charles had only been finalised the previous year, died in a car crash in Paris in August, 1997, along with Dodi Al Fayed.

WHERE: Hyde Park (nearest Tube stations are Knightsbridge and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: 10am to 8pm until end of August (check website for times after that); COST: Free; WEBSITE: http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/diana-memorial-fountain

Where is it? #23…

March 30, 2012

The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and what it’s of. If you think you can identify this picture, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

Well done to Jameson Tucker and Sean Dennis, both of whom identified this correctly as the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens. The gallery, which features modern and contemporary art, was created in 1970 and is housed in a tea pavilion which dates from the 1930s. Every summer since the year 2000, the Serpentine – named for the body of water which, strictly speaking, just runs through Hyde Park (although the section in Kensington Gardens is also often referred to in the same way) – has had a different temporary pavilion, designed by a leading architect, set up outside.

The Serpentine Gallery is to be expanded this year with the creation of the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in The Magazine building in the gardens. Located only a short distance from the existing gallery, the new premises is being designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid and is named after Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler, whose foundation made the project possible through the largest single donation ever received by the Serpentine Gallery.

WHERE: Kensington Gardens; WHEN: Daily 10am to 6pm; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.serpentinegallery.org.

Queen Elizabeth II looks over gifts exchanged by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in a display which forms part of the Victoria Revealed exhibition at Kensington Palace.

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh visited palace last week to officially reopen the building following a £12 million, two year renovation project aimed at “transforming the visitor experience”.

The works have involved restoring the palace gardens – which will now be permanently open to the public free-of-charge – and reconnecting the palace with the surrounding parklands of Kensington Gardens partly through the provision of a new entrance. Landscape designer Todd Longstaffe-Gowan’s plan – which centres on a statue of Queen Victoria – features new lawns and avenues and a “maze-like path” inspired by 18th century “wilderness walks”.

There is also a new visitor reception area and “orientation hub” as well as a new courtyard terrace and cafe to complement The Orangery, shop and learning centre.

Victoria Revealed, a new permanent exhibition at the palace looks in intimate detail at the life of the Queen who once lived here and features everything from her black silk baby shoes to her wedding dress and the mourning clothing she wore following the death of Prince Albert as well as archive film footage showing the celebrations for the Diamond Jubilee of her reign in 1897.

The palace reopens on 26th March.

WHERE: The Broad Walk, Kensington Gardens, Kensington (nearest Tube stations are High Street Kensington or Queensway); WHEN: Daily 10am to 6pm (until 31st October); COST: £14.50 adult/£12 concession/children under 16 free (online booking discounts available, Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace.

PICTURES: Courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam.co.uk

Perhaps the most overlooked and least celebrated of central London’s Royal Parks, Green Park (officially The Green Park) is a peaceful oasis of leafy trees between the bustle of Piccadilly and traffic of Constitution Hill and part of an unending swathe of green which connects Kensington Gardens with, eventually, St James’ Park.

Originally meadowland used for hunting, the earliest known mention of the area where the park now stands was apparently in 1554 when it was believed to be a staging point for Thomas Wyatt (the younger) who led a group of rebels protesting against the marriage of Queen Mary I to King Philip II of Spain. The unfortunate – and unsuccessful (in terms of his rebellion at least) – Wyatt was later beheaded for treason.

In 1668, King Charles II had the park enclosed with a brick wall and stocked with deer, as well as having a ranger’s lodge and icehouse built (to keep his drinks cool when entertaining in summer). While it was initially known as Upper St James’s Park, by 1746 Green Park had its own name. It’s not really known what prompted the name change but the unofficial story is that Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II, found out that her philandering husband had picked some flowers there for another woman – a milkmaid. In revenge, she had every flower in the park pulled up with orders they were not to be replanted. To this day, while some 250,000 daffodils bloom here in spring, there remain no formal flowerbeds in the park.

The 47 acre (19 hectare) park, which was also used on occasion as a duelling ground, underwent further development at the beginning of the following century with the creation of the ornamental Tyburn Pool near the centre of the park.

Queen Caroline, the wife of King George II, meanwhile, had a reservoir built to supply water to St James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace (it was known as the Queen’s Basin) as well as a library and the Queen’s Walk. Planted in 1730, this runs along the eastern side of the park and helped to turn it into a fashionable place in which to be seen (and led to the building of many a mansion in nearby Piccadilly).

Other buildings in the park have included two temporary ‘temples’ – the Temple of Peace (erected in 1749 to mark the end of the War of Austrian Succession) and the Temple of Concord (erected in 1814 to mark 100 years of the rule of the Hanoverian dynasty). Both of these, believe it or not, burnt down during the celebrations they were built for.

The park, which underwent a redesign in which the first trees were planted in the 1820s as part of architect John Nash’s grand plans for St James’s Park, was opened to the general public in 1826 but by then many of its earlier features – including the ranger’s house, Tyburn Pool and the Queen’s Basin – were already gone.

In more recent times, war memorials have been added to the park – the maple-leaf daubed, Pierre Granche-designed memorial to Canadian soldiers in 1994 (Canada is also remembered in Canada Gate on the park’s south side, installed in 1908 to mark the nation’s contribution to the Empire), and a set of memorial gates on Constitutional Hill at the park’s western end which is dedicated to the five million people from the Indian Sub-Continent, Africa and the Caribbean who served in World War II in 2004. The park also features the ‘Diana fountain’, installed in 1952 by the Constance Fund (and currently undergoing restoration).

On 14th June, a 41 royal gun salute is fired here to mark the Queen’s birthday. Salutes are also fired here for the State Opening of Parliament in November or December, Remembrance Sunday, and for State Visits.

WHERE: Green Park (nearest tube station is Green Park and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: http://www.royalparks.gov.uk/Green-Park.aspx

PICTURE: Courtesy of Royal Parks. © Anne Marie Briscombe 

Once the western part of King Henry VIII’s hunting ground, the 111 hectare Kensington Gardens is now primarily associated with the palace which sits at its heart.

The origins of the gardens go back to 1689 when King William III and Queen Mary II decided to make Kensington Palace (which, as we mentioned last week, was formerly known as Nottingham House) their home. Queen Mary oversaw the creation of a formal, Dutch-style garden featuring hedges and flower beds.

Queen Anne expanded the gardens after King William III’s death and commissioned landscape designers Henry Wise and George Loudon to create an English-style garden. She also ordered the construction of the Orangery which still stands to the north of the palace complex today (and houses a fine restaurant).

But it’s to Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, to whom Kensington Gardens owe its current form for it was she who in 1728, scythed off 300 acres of Hyde Park and employed Charles Bridgeman to create a new garden. His designs included damming the Westbourne stream to create the Long Water and the adjoining Serpentine in Hyde Park. He was also responsible for the creation of the Round Pond in front of the palace and, a landscape-history making move, used a ditch known as a ha-ha to separate the gardens from Hyde Park.

By the reign of King Charles II, the gardens had become fashionable for the elite to stroll in with the Broad Walk a popular promenade. But the gardens gradually fell from favour – a move exacerbated when Queen Victoria, who was born in Kensington Palace, moved to live at Buckingham Palace.

There were some changes made during the era, however. They included the creation of the ornamental Italian water gardens at the northern end of the Long Water and the Albert Memorial (see our previous story here) on the southern edge of the gardens.

Other highlights there today include the Peter Pan statue (see our earlier story on this), the Serpentine Gallery (with, in summer, a temporary pavilion), the Peter Pan-themed Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground (opened in 2000), and the Elfin Oak, a stump which originally came from Richmond Park and is carved with tiny figures of woodland animals and fairies.

There’s also a statue of Queen Victoria directly outside of Kensington Palace which, interestingly, was sculpted by her daughter Princess Louise in celebration 50 years of her reign, as well as statues of Edward Jenner, creator of the small pox vaccine, and John Hanning Speke, discoverer of the Nile.

Other facilities include a cafe and, next to the magazine, an allotment.

WHERE: Kensington Gardens (nearest tube stations are that of Queensway, Bayswater, Lancaster Gate, South Kensington, Gloucester Road and Kensington High Street); WHEN: 6am to dusk; COST: Free; WEBSITE: http://www.royalparks.gov.uk/Kensington-Gardens.aspx

PICTURE: Courtesy of Royal Parks. © Giles Barnard

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 

It’s now one of the most popular statues in London – the diminuative “boy who wouldn’t grow up”. But few people today are aware of its somewhat unusual origins.

Located about half-way along the western shore of the Long Water in Kensington Gardens, the bronze statue first “appeared” in the park in 1912. The story goes that author JM Barrie, who published his first story about Peter Pan – The Little White Bird – in 1902, chose the location of the statue based on it being the place where, in the story, Peter Pan landed after flying out of the nursery window of his home.

Peter Pan first appeared on stage two years later in 1904 in the play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, and this was later expanded into a novel by Barrie, Peter and Wendy. He’s since appeared in numerous film and stage adaptations – including sequels and prequels to the original tales.

Barrie had apparently been thinking about the statue for some time prior to its appearance – in 1906 he went so far as to take a series of photographs of six-year-old  Michael Llewelyn Davies wearing a Peter Pan costume (it was Barrie’s relationship with the Llewelyn Davies family which is said to have inspired Peter Pan’s creation).

Six years later Barrie commissioned Sir George Frampton to create the statue – interestingly, in what was a cause of some friction between the artist and patron, Sir George modelled his figure not on Llewelyn Davies but on another boy. Peter is seen playing on some pipes and is surrounded by small animals and fairies. There’s no sign of Captain Hook.

On the 1st of May, the statue simply appeared in its current position after being taken into the park under the cover of darkness. Barrie announced what he called his “May Day gift” to the children of London in The Times newspaper, describing it as “delightfully conceived”.

There was apparently some initially concerns raised among MPs about the appropriateness of an author erecting a statue to promote his own work but it has since become an iconic symbol of the gardens (and undergone some repairs – including after an incident in 1952 when Peter’s pipes were stolen).

So popular has the statue proved, that copies of the Peter Pan statue – created using Sir George’s mould – can now be found in Liverpool as well as in countries including Canada, Brussels, Australia and the US. There are others (not copies) in Kirriemuir, Scotland (Barrie’s birthplace) and another of him with Tinkerbell outside Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (which holds the copyright to the character).

WHERE: Peter Pan statue (nearest Tube station is Lancaster Gate); WHEN: 6am to dusk daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Kensington-Gardens.aspx