Let’s face it, the West End is the indispensable part of Central London, being its retail and entertainment hub. No wonder then, millions of tourists each year flock to its bright lights, high-quality boutiques and, yes, its glorious Royal parks and excellent, affordable accommodation – among them some of the finest romantic hotels in London.
One such hotel is, of course, our very own Park Grand Hyde Park and, frankly, one visit to the fabulous 42-hectare expanse of green on its doorstep will ensure you understand just why it was named after this Grand Park London Hyde Park…
Tudor and Stuart beginnings
You may be surprised to learn that the ground that’s now Hyde Park was originally owned by Westminster Abbey monks; that is, until it was taken from them in 1563 by King Henry VIII, so he had a bit more land for hunting. Eventually, it became publicly-accessible parkland in 1637 when Charles I (the king whom, soon after, was beheaded) and eventually laid out in its current manner in 1825 by the marvellously monikered Decimus Burton – this design included the park’s grand entrance on its eastern edge, Apsley Gate.
As well as being famed for all its green space and luscious flora and fantastic fauna, Hyde Park’s renowned for its many landmarks. We’re talking the likes of the Serpentine lake; Speakers’ Corner; the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial and Joy of Life fountains and the awesome statue of Achilles.
All of which can be discovered, once the world begins to return to normal once more following lockdown, just a few minutes’ walk away from many of the plush yet affordable 4 star hotels Hyde Park, to be found dotted about in its general Bayswater vicinity. So, let’s take a closer look these landmarks, which you can take in while having a run, jog, walk or just lazing in the park…
A purpose-built recreational lake that serves as a divide between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens (at the far western end of which lies Kensington Palace), the Serpentine was called for by the then monarch’s consort Queen Caroline and added to the park in 1730. Enjoyed by thousands every year due to its popular boating activities (and, occasionally, swimming), the lake is officially split into two sections; the Serpentine (east) and the Long Water (west, which borders Kensington Gardens), both of which are divided by the road-vehicle-going Serpentine Bridge (built in 1820).
Statues and swimmers
Standing 18-feet-tall, the park’s statue of Greek mythological hero Achilles is quite something. It was unveiled in 1872 and features 33 tonnes of solid bronze, which was sourced from cannons acquired during the Duke of Wellington’s Napoleonic War campaigns. Laurence Olivier is believed to have said it possesses the best backside in London!
But what of the swimmers? Well, they’re to be found, most famously, taking to the Serpentine… every Christmas Day. Yes, really. These oddly eager folk take to the water each mid-winter and compete for the Peter Pan Cup; so named because, in 1904, it was donated as a prize for this swimming race by J M Barrie, the creator of the ‘boy who never grew up’. Another connection with Peter Pan is the glorious bronze statue that almost magically adorns one corner of Kensington Gardens – a must-visit for every child from three to 93, truly.
A space for debate
It seems 1872 was an important year for Hyde Park because it also saw the designation, on Sundays, of a small area near Apsley Gate for public discourse – which quickly became known as Speakers’ Corner. Its origins date back to when demonstrations commonly convened in the park, but one went too far and became violent. As long as they don’t resort to obscenity, blasphemy or hate-speech or encourage violence, today’s politically engaged can rock up to Speakers’ Corner and talk their mind; potentially generating a debate, if anybody’s engaged enough by what they have to say.
A cemetery for pets
It sounds a little bizarre but it’s true, Hyde Park contains a Pet Cemetery. Granted, it’s tucked away, yet if you look for it next to the Victoria Gate Lodge on Bayswater Road, you ought to be able to find it and its rather moving, miniature graves.
The cemetery was established in late Victorian times, when friends of the Victoria Gate’s lodge-keeper wanted somewhere to bury their beloved terrier; the lodge-keeper allowed them to do so in the lodge’s garden and, soon, the small enclosure developed into a place of rest for more sadly departed furry friends. Indeed, within the next two decades, more than 300 graves filled the quiet, respectful enclosure.
In memory of a princess
A striking oval-shaped fountain, which sees water tipple down a bank in two separate directions, before meeting in a pool at the bottom (supposedly reflecting the complexity of its subject’s life), the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain was obviously added to the park to commemorate the life of the world-renowned Royal family member, who died in 1997. Its construction, involving the combination of 242 pieces of granite sourced from the English county of Cornwall, was completed in 2004 and, ever since, it’s been a popular spot for reflection for many visitors from all over the world.
And don’t forget Marble Arch
Finally, it seems remiss that an article all about the history and must-see landmarks of Hyde Park should contain no mention of Marble Arch, even though the famed landmark actually stands just outside the park. Located to the north-east of Apsley Gate, just a few moments’ stroll from Speakers’ Corner, it wasn’t intended as a low-grade London answer to Paris’s Arc de Triomphe (as some may assume), but was instead inspired by Rome’s Classical Era Arch of Constantine.
Curiously, once construction was completed in 1827, it was intended to stand in The Mall, where it would be a grand ‘entrance’ to Buckingham Palace. This plan didn’t come to proper fruition, though, for just 14 years later, it was moved to the spot it’s occupied ever since; ensuring its small patch of the capital came to be colloquially named after it. And one further fantastic fact – once upon a time it contained a tiny police station!