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.

LondonLife – Marking 72 years of the NHS…

The Royal Parks have created two flowerbeds outside Buckingham Palace which spell out the letters ‘NHS’ in honour of the service’s 72nd birthday. The two 12 metre long flowerbeds, located in the Memorial Gardens – officially part of St James’s Park – contain some 45,000 flowers including scarlet geraniums, especially selected to match The Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace, as well as white begonias on a blue background of drought resistant succulents which, together replicate the colours of the NHS. The floral display – an appropriate tribute in this year of pandemic – can be seen until mid-September. PICTURES: Courtesy of The Royal Parks.

LondonLife – Facelift for one of the UK’s “most unique” cemeteries…

A4605B1E7E3F-21Brompton Cemetery in London’s west is to undergo a major renovation thanks to a £6.2 million  project. Designed by Benjamin Baud and consecrated by the Bishop of London in 1840, the 39 acre cemetery – one of the oldest Grade I listed cemeteries in the country and known as one of London’s “magnificent seven” cemeteries – was strongly influenced by landscapes around St Peter’s in Rome. Among the 205,000 people buried there are suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, Sir Thomas Spencer Wells – Queen Victoria’s surgeon, and thousands of former Chelsea pensioners. The project will see the chapel, central colonnades and catacombs restored and the transformation of North Lodge into a visitor’s centre with shop and cafe as well as other conservation and improvement works. It is funded by an almost £4.5 million grant from the BIG Lottery Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as a £1.2 million investment from The Royal Parks, managers of the site, and £500,000 from The Royal Parks Foundation, only half of which has been raised. Those looking to donate to the foundation’s appeal, can visit www.SupportTheRoyalParks.com. PICTURE: © The Royal Parks

Treasures of London – The Isabella Plantation…

Isabella-Plantation2


Isabella-PlantationAn area first fenced off within Richmond Park in the early 19th century, this ornamental garden remains an enchanting place to escape city life.

It was former Prime Minister Lord Sidmouth who established the plantation in the south-west corner of Richmond Park in 1831 when he was deputy ranger, enclosing the 42 acre site with fences to keep the deer out and planting oak, beech, and chestnut trees with a view to growing them for timber.

It was also he who, drawing on an older name for the area – Isabella Slade (Isabell is thought to have meant ‘dingy yellow’ in Old English and may refer to the colour of the topsoil in the plantation area while Slade meant a shallow valley) – gave it the name the Isabella Plantation.

The garden as we largely know it now was established on the site in the years immediately after World War II with clearings, ponds and waterways (these are today fed from Pen Ponds), thanks in large part to George Thomson, superintendent of the park from 1951-71, and his head gardener, Wally Miller.

Isabella Plantation was opened to the public in 1953 although improvements – including the Bog Garden which was reconstructed in 2000 – continue to be carried out.

Highlights among the flora include the National Collection of ‘Wilson 50’ Kurume azaleas (introduced by plant collector Ernest Wilson from Japan to the West in the 1920s) and large collections of rhododendrons and camellias. The garden also attracts a wide range of birds as well as other wildlife and offers the visitor something to see all year round.

There’s a number of trails you can download free-of-charge from the Royal Parks website which will help you to fully engage with the plantation.

WHERE: Isabella Plantation, Richmond Park (pedestrian access to the plantation from Peg’s Pond Gate, Broomfield Hill Gate, Bramble Gate, Deer Sanctuary Gate and High Wood Gate); WHEN: Daily (check Richmond Park opening times); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park/richmond-park-attractions/isabella-plantation.

PICTURES: © Greywolf/The Royal Parks