Hyde Park in London
Hyde Park is one of London’s larger Royal Parks. With lots of open space and features that include Speakers’ Corner and a memorial to Diana, Princess of Wales, Hyde Park is a pleasant place to meander or to sit and catch your breath.
With its 350 acres of playgrounds, woods, lake, formal and informal sporting areas, and greenery, Hyde Park provides a welcome retreat from the noise and hurly-burly that defines much of London life. Should you be in the park around 10:30 a.m., you might catch the Household Cavalry as the members ride from Hyde Park Barracks to Buckingham Palace.
The origins of some of London’s parks, Hyde Park included, can be traced to the royal passion for hunting. After he confiscated the grounds from Westminster Abbey, Henry VIII enjoyed hunting deer and wild boar there, as did his daughter Elizabeth. Credit goes to James I for declaring the area London’s first public park, although access was limited. In 1637, his son Charles I would open Hyde Park to the general public.
The adjacent Kensington Gardens was once part of Hyde Park. The two parks are now effectively divided by a man-made (well, Queen-made) lake. Queen Caroline, wife of George II, came up with the idea to dam the Westbourne River, which ran through the park, and create the Serpentine.
Built during the 1730s, this artificial lake and its banks are used for summer swimming, sunbathing, and boating. Its long and snakelike shape seems to have given the Serpentine its name; the northern part of the lake is called the Long Water. Despite its putrid name, the byway south of the lake also has a connection with the monarchy: Rotten Row is a corruption of the French Route de Roi, or King’s Road.
All those subjects—politics, religion, sex—that one is supposed to avoid during polite conversation are given free reign at Speakers’ Corner, an area in the northeast corner of the park. Orators and free-thinkers can voice their thoughts and ideas on almost any subject, and onlookers are free to answer back and often do. An 1872 law enshrined this right and place of free speech. The two restricted subjects are the British Royal Family and the overthrow of the government. Sunday is the best day to check out the venue.
The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain is one of the newest attractions in the park. Made with beautiful Cornish granite, the oval fountain’s waters flow in two streams, cascading down to a still pool. Visitors are free to sit on the Memorial and dip their hands and feet in the water; the lack of restrictions would probably have pleased Diana.
by Katie Calvert