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The History of Hyde Park

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Introduction to Hyde Park

Nestled within the heart of London, Hyde Park offers a welcome respite to both city-dwellers and tourists alike. Visit the calm, open and green space to catch your breath, and see the beauty of nature within the bustling metropolis. A stone’s throw from many major attractions, the park is easily accessible on the Underground and is right on your doorstep if you choose our SO Paddington Hotel, where comfort and elegance meet. Today, Hyde Park is a popular meeting point for friends and families, often playing host to great concerts and events, it has become a much-loved green space within the city. Visit Hyde Park and immerse yourself in one of London’s greatest treasures.

History of Hyde Park

Hyde Park was not always the public space it was today. The oasis has grown and developed with the great city to which it belongs and as such, provides an interesting insight into the city’s history. It’s history dates back to the early medieval period where it played host to Eia, a manor in the parish of Westminster. About 2 miles south-west of the walled City of London, the manor and its grounds lay on land adjacent to the River Tyburn, a greatly reduced version of which now flows beneath the courtyard and south wing of Buckingham Palace.

The site itself has passed through many interesting hands; home to Edward the Confessor and his queen consort in the late Saxon times, it was eventually bequeathed to the monks of Westminster Abbey by Geoffrey de Mandeville, who was gifted in by William the Conqueror after the Norman Conquest.

And so, around the time of the Domesday Book some 900 years ago, the land which would later become Hyde Park belonged to the monks of the Abbey, and it would have been full of plentiful meadows with roaming deer, wild bulls, and boars.

In 1536, with England excommunicated from the Catholic Church, the manor was seized from the monks on King Henry VIII’s orders. He sold some land, but with the rest created a sizable hunting park covering the lands from Kensington to Westminster. However, this version of Hyde Park would remain private until King James allowed limited access, appointing a keeper to look after the park. The park was opened to the public by King Charles I in 1637, and less than thirty years later it would be full of the common people in tents, seeking refuge from the Great Plague which killed so many in the 1660s.

Things to see in the park

Visit the pet cemetery

One of Hyde Park’s weirdest and most popular attractions is the pet cemetery which can be found to the north of the Park, nears Bayswater road. Hidden in the garden behind a lodge, the collection of tiny little headstones cannot be seen without entering the garden on a tour, except for perhaps fleetingly from the top deck of a passing bus. One tour guide describes the cemetery as a happy place which speaks to us about the special relationship that we have with our pets. 

The cemetery had its first internment in 1881 when the grieving owners of Cherry, a Maltese terrier who loved to visit the Park, approached the lodge-keeper Mr Winsbridge to ask if their beloved companion could be buried in the gardens. Perhaps some coins changed hands, and Cherry was buried in the garden of the lodge. A year later, Prince, a Yorkshire terrier owned by the wife of the Duke of Cambridge, was hit by a carriage on Bayswater road and his lifeless body was taken to the lodge. Cherry now had a companion, and a new trend was started, with hundreds of pets being interred over the following decades. 

The matching headstones seem to suggest that there was some kind of fee to bury one’s companion in the garden, and it should be assumed that this was only achievable for the upper classes. It should be noted that the graveyard was started in the time of Jack the Ripper when London was a very different city. Whilst the upper classes were remembering their furry loved ones with headstones and small ceremonies, there were many people on the other side of the city heading straight for a pauper’s grave.

Those interested in the pet cemetery may also be interested in visiting the Animals in War memorial on Park lane.

 Princess Diana memorial

Another important monument to see on your walk through the Park is the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, a unique fountain opened by the Queen on July 6th 2004. The Memorial symbolizes Diana’s openness and the design is said to reflect her life. Three bridges cross the water which flows in two directions from the highest point, cascading and bubbling down into the calm pool at the bottom. You can walk right into the heart of the fountain and experience it from every angle.

The fountain was constructed with a combination of modern technology to shape the 545 pieces of Cornish rock, and traditional skills to piece them together. Some time spent here can be a good way to escape the sounds of the city and appreciate the beauty of nature and man working together. 

The Bird sanctuary

For those seeking calm and respite, Hyde Park is also home to a bird sanctuary where you can forget the city for a while. A refuge for smaller birds including robins, tits, blackbirds, wrens and goldcrests, sit for a while and enjoy the birdsong. As you leave, don’t forget to pay your respects at the Memorial to William Hudson, a 19th-century writer and naturalist who campaigned for wild areas and helped to establish the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. 

The memorial was immediately controversial when it was installed in 1924. Go and see Sir Jacob Epstein’s carving of Rima, the child goddess of nature from Hudson’s 1904 fiction Green Mansions, and see if you can work out why. 

Speakers corner

Another interesting attraction is Speaker’s Corner, a public speaking area close to Marble Arch, where since 1872, anyone and everyone has been allowed to turn up without warning and talk on any subject they want. Said to be a symbol of freedom of speech, speakers are usually left unbothered by the law unless there are complaints, which usually regard the use of profanity. Of course, this doesn’t mean to say that you won’t be heckled, a favourite pastime of many regulars at the spot. Famous speakers on the Corner include Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and George Orwell. 

   It all started in 1855 with political riots over the Sunday Trading Bill, which would forbid the buying and selling of goods on the common man’s one day off. Karl Marx optimistically described the public riots which broke out in the park, as “the beginning of the English revolution”. The Chartist movement would continue to assemble there to protest, but no permanent location was settled. In 1866 and 1867 The Reform league organized mass demonstrations, leading to the enfranchisement of most working-class men. Several scuffles broke out with the police in those times, but with the Prime Minister’s blessing, since 1872 the Speaker’s Corner has been a site of free speech and debate.

How to get there from the hotels

Hyde Park can be accessed easily from our London hotels, it is around a ten-minute walk from the Paddington Hotel to the entrance on Bayswater road, and an easy Underground journey from the London Star. If you stay with us in Paddington, it’s the perfect place for both your early morning constitutional and your sunset stroll, and our staff at both hotels will be happy to give you suggestions and advice on what to do in and around the park.

Other attractions nearby

Hyde Park is conveniently located near many of London’s most popular attractions, so if after an afternoon in the park you find yourself not quite ready to head back to your comfortable rooms, there is plenty more that you can do in the area. 

Why not go to the Victoria and Albert Museum to soak up some culture and beauty? Founded in 1852 and named for one of the most famous Royal couples, the Victoria and Albert Museum covers 12.5 acres, and it’s 145 galleries hold one of the world’s largest and most impressive collection of applied, arts, decorative arts and sculpture. Outside of Italy, the museum is home to the largest collection of Italian Renaissance Art. Ask at our receptions if you are interested in knowing more about the Museum, or if you need help in planning your trip. 

Or right next door to Hyde Park, check out Kensington Gardens and the 1912 statue of Peter Pan which can be found in the exact spot where Peter landed his bird’s nest in “The Little White Bird”, (to the west of the Long Water.) The creator of Peter Pan, JM Barrie, was a local resident who found inspiration in Kensington Gardens, and he commissioned Sir George Frampton to build the bronze statue which represents one of London’s favourite characters. The statue, one of the most visited monuments in the park, shows Peter Pan surrounded by fairies, squirrels, mice, and other woodland creatures. 

And of course, it would be impossible to find yourself in the borough of Westminster without going to see Buckingham Palace, the residence of the Sovereign. It’s a must-see for any tourist or traveller with an interest in British history, architecture or the Royal family. Don’t forget to check out the Mall and St James’s Park where you can try to find the pelicans. If you can, make sure your visit coincides with the changing of the guards, an experience not to be missed. 

And when you’re finished exploring some of the beautiful sights that the historical city of London has to offer, you’re only a short journey away from your home away from home in our fine establishments. So no need to stress, have your time in nature, take a deep breath and relax, and then get back to the excitement!

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