The Serpentine Swimming Club, located on Hyde Park‘s Serpentine, dates its founding from 1864, the year it held the first of its famous Christmas Day Races.

The club, actually the oldest in Britain, was created in response to Londoners’ growing need for recreation – Hyde Park then being at the centre of a heavily built-up area – and came as the mass transit system – London’s Underground – was making it more accessible.

Initial facilities included a shady elm tree and a wooden seat. They’ve since improved somewhat to include changing rooms (although they’re still described as spartan).

These days members are permitted by The Royal Parks to swim in the lake between 6am and 9.30am daily.

While the Christmas Day Race – in which swimmers compete for the Peter Pan Cup (since the first cup was awarded by JM Barrie in 1904) – is the most famous race, the club also hosts numerous other races throughout the year which range in length and include a “bridge to bridge” race from one end of the Serpentine to the other (just held on 14th July).

While members use the Lido – which opened in 1930 – for swimming, it remains a separate entity to the SSC.

For more about the club, see www.serpentineswimmingclub.com.

The Lido on the Serpentine. PICTURE: Phil Russell/The Royal Parks.

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The work of internationally renowned artist Christo, The London Mastaba floats serenely on Hyde Park’s Serpentine, despite the reported ruffled feathers of some swimmers upset over its installation in their pool.

The floating sculpture, which takes up about one per cent of the lake’s surface, is Christo’s first public sculpture created for show in the UK.

Made up of 7,506 multi-coloured and stacked barrels reaching 20 metres high, the sculpture sits on a floating platform of high-density polyethylene cubes which has been anchored into place.

The artwork’s installation coincides with an exhibition of the work of Christo and his late wife Jeanne-Claude’s at the nearby Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens.

Christo & Jeanne-Claude: Barrels and The Mastaba 1958-2018 features sculptures, drawings, collages and photographs spanning more than 60 years and, according to Christo will provide “important context” for The London Mastaba.

The exhibition can be seen at the gallery until 9th September. Meanwhile, the sculpture will be floating on the Serpentine, weather permitting, until 23rd September.

And finally, the Serpentine Gallery’s annual temporary pavilion – this year the work of Mexican architect Frida Escobedo, of Taller de Arquitectura – can be seen until 7th October at the Kensington Gardens’ gallery. For more information on all three projects, see www.serpentinegalleries.org.

PICTURES: Top – The London Mastaba (pinn/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND-2.0); Right – Christo, The Mastaba (Project for London, Hyde Park, Serpentine Lake), Collage 2018: 43.1 x 55.9, Pencil, wax crayon, enamel paint, colour photograph by Wolfgang Volz, map, technical data, mylar and tape, Photo: André Grossmann © Christo 2018; Below – Serpentine Pavilion 2018, designed by Frida Escobedo, Serpentine Gallery, London © Frida Escobedo, Taller de Arquitectura, Photography © 2018 Iwan Baan

Serpentine-2015This year’s Serpentine Pavilion, marking the 15th anniversary of the annual summer commission by the Serpentine Galleries in Kensington Gardens, is a polygonal multi-coloured structure designed by Spanish architects selgascano. Made from a fluorine-based polymer, the pavilion has multiple entry and exit points and takes as its inspiration the site itself as well as the way in which people move through London, notably via the web-like network of the London Underground. Say selgascano: “We sought a way to allow the public to experience architecture through simple elements: structure, light, transparency, shadows, lightness, form, sensitivity, change, surprise, colour and materials. We have therefore designed a pavilion which incorporates all of these elements.” The architects say the pavilion was also designed as a tribute to the previous pavilion commissions, designed by the likes of Frank Gehry, Oscar Niemeyer and Zaha Hadid. For more, see www.serpentinegalleries.orgPICTURE: © Iwan Baan

Boating-on-the-SerpentineBoating on the Serpentine in Hyde Park. The 40 acre lake was created in 1730 by the damming of the Westbourne River on the instruction of Queen Caroline, wife of King George II. It was one of the first lakes in England designed to look ‘natural’. There’s a couple of differing explanations for the name of the lake – that it was named for the body of water’s sinuous shape or that it was named for the colour of the water. For more on Hyde Park, check out www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-parkPICTURE: David Adams

 

In this, the final in our series on historic sporting events in London we take a look at the first time the Peter Pan Cup was presented at the annual Serpentine Swimming Club’s Christmas Day race in Hyde Park.

While the origins of the annual 100 yard Christmas Day day race – and the club itself – go back to 1864, it wasn’t until 1904 that author JM Barrie (writer of Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up and later knighted), first presented the Peter Pan Cup to the race’s winner (Peter Pan was first performed at the Duke of York’s Theatre the same year). Previous winners had received a gold medal.

Barrie’s involvement apparently came from the fact that he lived nearby in Bayswater and had often seen the swimmers.

The race, which starts at 9am on Christmas Day on the south side of the Serpentine near the cafe, is only open to club members (so don’t turn up expecting to be able to join in) and operates on a handicap system (pictured are swimmers in the 2009 race). Last year’s winner was Neil Price.

It’s worth noting that while this is the club’s most famous event, members swim every weekend throughout the year.

For more on the Serpentine Swimming Club, see http://serpentineswimmingclub.com/.

PICTURES: Serpentine Swimming Club

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.

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