Royal Parks: Walking on Sunshine
The Royal Parks were originally owned by the British Monarchy for the recreation of the royal family. They are part of the hereditary possessions of The Crown. With the introduction of the Crown Lands Act 1851 some of the parks were preserved as freely accessible open space and became public parks.
There are eight which are managed by The Royal Parks agency: Bushy, Green, Greenwich, Hyde, Kensington Gardens, Regent's, Richmond and St. James's, which total almost 2,000 hectares (4,900 acres) of land in Greater London. The agency also manage Victoria Tower Gardens, Brompton Cemetery. Grosvenor Square Gardens and the gardens of 10, 11 and 12 Downing Street.
I've already walked this route back in winter and then again during spring, so today was the summer stroll. This time I've included some information on Hyde Park, Green Park and St. James's Park.
Distance: around 26 miles walking + public transport.
The Regent's Park & Primrose Hill
Grosvenor Square Gardens
Hyde Park was created an enclosed deer park for hunting by Henry VIII in 1536 when he acquired the manor of Hyde from the monks of Westminster Abbey. It remained a private hunting ground until James I permitted limited access and by 1637 Charles I had opened the park to the general public.
When William III moved his court to Kensington Palace he had 300 oil lamps installed to light his route to St. James's, this was the first artificially lit highway in the country. The route is known as Rotten Row, which is a corruption of the French 'Route de Roi' or King's Road.
It was Queen Caroline, wife of George II, who oversaw extensive renovations and in the 1730s had The Serpentine created by damming the River Westbourne that flowed through the park.
One of the most important events to take place in the park was the 1851 Great Exhibition which saw the Joseph Paxton designed Crystal Palace constructed on the south side. After the exhibition the structure was moved to Sydenham Hill in South London, where it stood there from 1854 until its destruction by fire in 1936.
More information about the history and architecture and landscape of Hyde Park can be found on the Royal Parks website.
Green Park, or The Green Park to give it it's proper title, is said to have once been a burial ground for lepers from the nearby hospital at St. James's. It was first enclosed in 16th century when it formed part of the Poulteney family's estate and was known as 'Sandpit Field'. In 1668 it was surrendered to Charles II who enclosed much of the land with a brick wall, stocked it with deer and renamed it 'Upper St. James's Park'. By 1746 it was called The Green Park and various improvements during the 18th century made it more of a leisure garden than a deer park.
In contrast to Hyde and St. James's, Green Park has no lakes, building, playgrounds and very few monuments - the only ones being the Canada Memorial by Pierre Granche, the Diana Fountain by Jim Clark, and the RAF Bomber Command Memorial, but this wasn't always the case. The park once contained lodges, a library, an ice house and two vast 'temples' called the Temple of Peace and The Temple of Concord (both of which were destroyed during festivities). There was also the Tyburn Pool and a drinking water reservoir called the Queen's Basin. The park was opened to the public in 1826 but by 1855 the lodge, library, basin and pool had all been demolished.
More information about the history and architecture and landscape of The Green Park can be found on the Royal Parks website.
St. James's Park
St. James's Park is the oldest Royal Park in London and is surrounded by three palaces - the Palace of Westminster (which is now the Houses of Parliament), St. James's Palace, and Buckingham Palace.
In the 13th century a leper hospital was founded which was dedicated to St. James the Less and it is from this hospital that the local area and park took its name. In 1532 Henry VIII purchased, what was then marshland, to create a deer park and the Palace of St. James's was built. James I ordered for the park to be drained and landscaped and kept exotic animals such as camels and crocodiles there. He also had aviaries of exotic birds along what is now Birdcage Walk.
It was in the reign of Charles II that the most dramatic changes were seen. Inspired by his time in exile in France, Charles had the park redesigned into a more formal style, with avenues of trees, lawns and at it's centre a straight canal (2560ft long and 125ft wide) lined on each side by trees. He also opened it up to the public.
The 18th century saw the reclamation of part of the canal to create Horse Guards Parade and the purchasing of Buckingham House (now Palace) for the use of Queen Charlotte in 1761. Between 1826-27 further remodelling, commissioned by the Prince Regent (later George IV), saw the rest of the canal converted into a more naturally-shaped lake and the formal avenues of Charles II changed to more romantic winding paths.
More information about the history and architecture and landscape of St. James's Park can be found on the Royal Parks website.