As one of the most famous parks in London, it’s no surprise to find that Hyde Park holds a great many secrets. With just under 351 acres of land, Hyde Park acts as an oasis of green in the centre of the city and is adjoined by the equally popular Kensington Gardens. These two royal parks combine to create a truly magnificent day out that offers everything from art galleries, music concerts, swimming pools and horse riding. A truly eclectic park then, and what’s more, it’s only a short walk from the Park Grand Paddington Court Hotel.
With great fame comes great history. With the kings and queens who frequented the park throughout the centuries, art architecture and stories have layered to create a green treasure trove of secrets. Below are just some of the unique stories and insights that out of town visitors might not know about the twinned parks.
It was only Charles I who first opened it to the public
Though Hyde Park had been Royal property throughout the 16th century, it wasn’t until the 17th that Charles I opened it to the general public. King Charles I created what would become the Serpentine Boathouses in 1637, and from then the park became popular for Mayday celebrations and was further developed.
Before that, it was Henry VIII private hunting grounds
The park’s genesis came in reclaimed land during the dissolution of the Monasteries. After the usurping of Westminster Abbey’s Manor of Hyde, Henry VIII created a deer park out of the land. This was to be the King’s private hunting ground and remained so until after his reign when James I first allowed the nobility to visit the area.
Kensington Gardens Was Also Private
As was the way with many of these 16th and 17th-century kings, the annexing of Kensington Gardens was again to make space for their own private property. Kensington Gardens was separated from the park by George II for his wife Queen Caroline of Brunswick in 1728. To further separate the two areas, the Serpentine Lake was built through damming off flow from the nearby River Westbourne.
The Achilles Statue Holds Tonnes of Secrets
For architecturally keen visitors on solo travel London trips, the Achilles Statue will no doubt be one of your draws to Hyde Park. based in the southeast corner, this monument to the 1st Duke of Wellington and his victories in the Peninsular War was inaugurated in 1822. The statue itself consists of a whopping 33 tonnes of bronze, sourced entirely from cannons that were used during the war. This statue depicts the mighty Greek legend of Achilles, one of the best-known fighters of the mythical world.
Queen Victoria Was Born at Kensington Palace
Born in 1819, the childhood home of the legendary Queen Victoria would have been spent frolicking through the private gardens around Kensington Palace. Many of her most life-defining moments would have been within the walls of the palace. It’s where she first met Prince Albert, her future husband, and where she discovered her love for art in the surroundings of the palace and people who visited her.
There’s Still Graffiti From the Victorian Era Inside Queen Caroline’s Temple
The small outhouse located in the fields of Kensington Gardens was built for Queen Caroline by William Kent in 1734. When it was first opened to the public, many visitors from all classes roamed the grounds. This obviously led to a few vandals finding their way in and is probably one of the reasons why some of the graffiti in the stone structure dates back as far as 1821.
From Potting Shed To Sunken Garden
What the best London hotel deals around Hyde Park won’t tell you, is the humdrum past of some of its most popular attractions. Kensington Gardens Sunken Garden for instance, was the spot of medieval potting sheds before it’s transformation. Hardly the rich Italian landscape art that was so fashionable in the 18th century, these potting sheds were used for maintenance and garden storage.
George Orwell Spoke At Speaker’s Corner
Speakers Corner is located on the North-East edge of Hyde Park and overlooks Marble Arch. This informal spot has now been marked out by a symbolic set of stairs, but it was never consecrated as such, and instead was developed over years of gatherings and protests in the area. In fact, it has hosted such noted speakers as Karl Marx and George Orwell, who used it to preach their socialist philosophies.
The Peter Pan Cup at Serpentine Lido
The Serpentine Lido is a section of the lake that has been cut off and is commonly used as a swimming pool. Every December this 100-metre swimming pool is used as a spot for the Peter Pan cup, a swimming competition held in the heights of the chilly London winter. Why not join the swimming club and take part in the race? It would certainly be an appetite whetter for dinner at the many restaurants near Paddington Station.
The Serpentine Gallery Is Actually Two Galleries
The Serpentine Gallery is a free to visit art gallery and was opened in 1970. With its focus on contemporary and experimental artworks, the Serpentine has hosted the likes of Grayson Perry and Marina Abramovich over the years and is in fact made up of two gallery spaces. Rarely open at the same time, the Serpentine Sackler and the Serpentine Pavilion have two distinct personalities. The Sackler was opened in 2013 and was developed from an old gunpowder storage house and comprises of 900 metres of gallery space. The Pavilion was built from a Grade II listed tea room and was opened in 1970.
Weird Sculptures of Hyde Park
Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are home to many famous statues and monuments, but there are far more than you might expect dotted around the green lung of the royal parks. The Diana Memorial Fountain is more akin to a water sculpture, carving a walk through waterway within the southwest of Hyde Park. The giant horses head balancing on a tongue, entitled Still Water and made by Nic Fiddian-Green is another oddity, as is the four metre model of a child’s hand grabbing a Ford sports car, named Vroom Vroom by Lorenzo Quinn – hardly the memorials of past won wars that much of London’s more grandiose statues represent.