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Craig recommends… Here’s my latest Hyde Park review. You might like to read my review of Speakers’ Corner as well. Whilst you’re here you might like to walk around the Serpentine. Or why not have a stroll across Kensington Gardens to see Kensington Palace and the Albert Memorial? If you’re visiting London at Christmas then don’t miss the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland.
The size of Hyde Park is 625 acres, which is split into two halves. Hyde Park proper just forms the eastern half (350 acres), whilst everything west of the Serpentine is known as Kensington Gardens (275 acres).
Hyde Park was originally part of Henry VIII’s hunting grounds, and was opened to the public in the early 17th-century. Kensington Gardens wasn’t opened to the public until 1841, during the reign of Queen Victoria.
The greatest event in Hyde Park was the Great Exhibition of 1851. This was the brainchild of Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, who wanted to raise some money and celebrate the glories of the British Empire.
The exhibition was held inside a specially commissioned Crystal Palace – one of the glories of the Victorian age. It was 1848 feet long and 454 feet wide, and can best be described as a gigantic greenhouse, held together by a lattice of iron rails.
The Crystal Palace housed 13,000 inventions and objects from all over the Commonwealth. Music concerts were given on the world’s largest organ, and musicians, tightrope walkers and escapologists shared space with pet shows, air-shows, and the nation’s first-ever motor show!
Outside there was a magnificent set of water fountains and copies of the world’s greatest statues – some of which still exist inside the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Cast Room.
The six million visitors to the Great Exhibition raised £186,000, which helped to build some of London’s best museums: the Victoria & Albert Museum, Natural History Museum and Science Museum. The Royal Albert Hall and south side of Kensington Gardens also benefited (now known as the Albertopolis).
The Crystal Palace was later moved to Sydenham Hill in South London, where it sadly burnt down on the 30th November 1936.
Rotten Row is believed to be a corruption of ‘route du roi’, or ‘King’s Way’, and links Kensington Palace to St. James’s Palace on the northern edge of St. James’s Park. It was originally used by royalty when out hunting deer. These days you can watch the Household Cavalry riding back to barracks after the Changing of Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
The 28-acre Serpentine lake is actually a man-made stretch of water, and forms the boundary between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. It was created in 1730 by damming up the Westbourne River which used to flow down from Bayswater. Queen Caroline wanted it as a place to bathe and row her boats.
Many events have taken place here – including a great fair in 1814 which famously acted out Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.
On the south-side of the Serpentine boating lake is the controversial memorial to Princess Diana – the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. Many people believe that it fails to live up to its role as a memorial, or a work of art, but it’s very popular attraction for families and their kids, and maybe that is the most important thing – Diana did love the kids.
The famous Speakers’ Corner is situated in the north-east corner of the park, opposite Marble Arch. Whilst it is nothing much to look at, every Sunday lunchtime it turns into the capital’s most famous place for public debate. Free speech is the name of the game here, and anyone with something to say can step up and speak their mind.
Many memorable music concerts in London have taken place at Hyde Park. Probably the most famous concert was the one performed by the Rolling Stones in 1969. It took place shortly after the death of Brian Jones, and Jagger released hundreds of white doves into the sky. Other acts to perform concerts in Hyde Park include Jethro Tull (1968), Pink Floyd (1970) and Queen (1976).
In recent years the park has been home to the British Summer Time Music Festival, and the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland.
There are a couple of restaurants in Hyde Park, both of which overlook the Serpentine lake. The biggest one is the Serpentine Bar & Kitchen on the eastern end, whilst the the Lido is more of a cafe, on the southern edge.
This review originally appeared in his London blog
I thought I’d give the museums and attractions a rest this week and just spend a few hours walking around Hyde Park and looking into every little corner and saw some stuff that I never even knew was there. The place is massive when you do it properly – it took me half an hour just to walk around the lake.
The first little bit I came across was Speaker’s Corner. I’ve been there a few times now but I’ve never once seen anyone speak. It was completely deserted. Just a load of leaves blowing about in the wind and people queueing for the hot dog stand. You’re supposed to go on a Sunday lunchtime to see the speeches, so maybe I’ll go back at the weekend. But today was a total washout.
Next up was the bandstand (with no band). I didn’t have my trombone with me or I would have given the Japanese tourists a tune. So I went round the top edge near the Bayswater Road. This is when I saw my first little thing that I never knew existed: the Pet Cemetery.
You can’t actually go inside but you can peer through the railings at the little graves beyond. You can get a slightly better view if you go outside the park and look through the fence from the road. It is full of little concrete tombstones. There are probably a couple hundred of the things, about a foot tall – just like the ones we have for humans. I would have liked to have read the inscriptions and seen what they said, but it’s just out of reach behind the rusted iron railings. And the whole place is overgrown with trees hanging down and around to cover up their little plots. A strange little place.
If you carry on going around the edge then you’ll come to another spooky little place: Buck House (I didn’t realise Hyde Park was so scary!). It looks like a haunted cottage. After that comes the famous Italian Gardens, which is a big stone courtyard filled with concrete urns and some impressive statues, and some very large and noisy water fountains.
None of the fountains were working today, but if you sit in the seats around the edge then prepare to get your sandwiches wet if the wind picks up, because they spout their spit about ten feet high. It’s a very pretty place when it’s actually working.
After that I began walking around the Serpentine. It’s supposed to be a lake but it felt more like the Pacific Ocean when I started trekking around it. They should lay on some buses or bikes, because it’s huge. There must be a billion ducks and swans and other things with wings living on it, and if you feel like some exercise then you can hire a pedal boat and float around for half-an-hour.
They’re easily the best-fed birds in Britain because it seemed like everyone had a loaf of bread with them. Every five paces was a little old lady crunching and crushing up the crumbs and dishing them out to the fowl. Every bird in the universe was congregating in this one place for a massive slap-up meal (of bread). What happens if you’re a bird and you don’t like bread? You’ll starve. It’s back to the worms for a while. Or you can try the Lido restaurant halfway round that sells posh tea, scones, and those old-fashioned bottles of coke.
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If you enjoy this then try: Green Park (walk it in 18 mins or catch a train from Marble Arch to Green Park); Kensington Gardens (walk it in 16 mins or catch a train from Marble Arch to Kensington Gardens); Regent’s Park (catch the tube from Marble Arch to Regent’s Park) and St. James’s Park (walk it in 28 mins or catch a train from Marble Arch to St. James’s Park).