Hyde Park, which opened to the public in 1637, is the largest of several royal parks in London that are connected to each other, forming one large green lung in the center of the city. The park is famous for its Speakers’ Corner.
The other parks are the neighboring Kensington Gardens, Green Park and St. James’s Park. Hyde Park covers more than 360 acres (142 hectares) and hosts many large events, including celebrations and concerts. It is also a popular place for jogging, swimming, rowing, picnicking and even horse riding.
In 1536 King Henry VIII confiscated Hyde Park from the monks of Westminster Abbey. It was used primarily for hunting. King Charles I opened the park to the public in 1637. The current park layout was planned by architect Decimus Burton in 1825.
Hyde Park boasts plenty of monuments, memorials and other sights, and you can easily spend several hours exploring the park.
The Serpentine, a large artificial lake, is located at the south end of the park and extends northwards into the neighboring Kensington Gardens, where it is called Long Water. Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, had the lake constructed in 1730. It is popular for boating and swimming.
Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain
Just southwest of the Serpentine is a memorial installed in honor of princess Diana. The modern fountain, which more resembles an artificial stream rather than a fountain, was inaugurated in 2004 by Queen Elizabeth II.
The memorial was designed by the American landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson, using computer modeling techniques. The circular fountain consists of 545 pieces of Cornish granite. Water flows from two sides at the top into a small pool at the bottom.
At the south end of Hyde park is Rotten Row, a famous bridle path. The road is almost four miles long (6,4 km) and is now used as a horse riding and jogging route.
In the seventeenth century, the road was often used by William III. The king found the walk from Kensington Palace to St. James’s Palace too dangerous, so he had oil lamps installed along the route, thus creating the first lit public road in England. The term ‘Rotten Row’ is derived from the French ‘route du roi’ or King’s road.
In the nineteenth century, Hyde Park had become a popular place for meetings. In 1872, in response to riots that erupted after police tried to disband a political meeting, Speakers’ Corner was established to create a venue where people would be allowed to speak freely. Here, every Sunday people stand on a soap box and proclaim their views on political, religious or other items, sometimes interrupted and challenged by their audience.
Near Speakers’ Corner, in the north-east corner of Hyde Park, stands the Marble Arch. It was originally built in 1827 as a gateway to Buckingham Palace, but it was moved to its present location in 1851. The design by John Nash was based on the Arch of Constantine in Rome. The upper part of the arch was once in use as a tiny police station.
Still Water and Genghis Khan
East of the Marble arch is a series of fountains, installed here in 1961. Between the fountains and the arch are two large modern statues. One, called Still Water, shows a huge head of a horse, over ten meters tall (about 35 ft). The bronze statue, created by the British sculptor Nic Fiddian-Green, was unveiled here in 2009. Right near the horse’s head is another modern bronze statue erected in 2012. The equestrian statue honors Genghis Khan, a legendary Mongolian warrior, and is a creation of the Russian sculptor Dashi Namdakov.
The largest statue in Hyde Park is the Achilles Statue, installed here in 1822 to honor the Duke of Wellington, the victor over Napoleon’s army at Waterloo. The bronze statue was cast from cannons that were captured from the French at Vittoria, Salamanca, Waterloo and Toulouse. The statue was created by Richard Westmacott, who based its design on the statues of Castor and Pollux at the Piazza del Quirinale in Rome. The statue was nude but true to their reputation, the prudish Londoners were shocked and Westmacott was force to add a fig leaf, hence the quite ridiculous appearance of the statue.
More Statues and Monuments
There are several more memorials and statues in Hyde Park. One of the most notable is the 7/7 Memorial, which commemorates the victims of the terrorist attack of July 7, 2005. The monument consists of fifty-two stainless steel columns; each one represents one of the victims of the bombings.
A very different memorial is the Reformers’ Tree, a circular black and white mosaic laid out in 2001. The mosaic marks the spot of an oak that was burned down during the riots of 1866. The charred stump was used as a notice board for political manifestations organized by the Reform League. The manifestations would lead to the creation of the nearby Speakers’ Corner.
A more conventional memorial honors William Henry Hudson, a writer and naturalist. The monument, a relief created by Jacob Epstein, was quite controversial when it was unveiled in 1925, but today it’s hard to see why.
Yet another Memorial, featuring St. George and a dragon, was unveiled in 1924 and commemorates the Cavalry regiments that served in the World Wars.
A more modern monument is ‘Isis’, a three-meter tall statue of an ibis created by British sculptor Simon Gudgeon. The statue was installed in 2009 near the Serpentine. It is named after the Egyptian goddess of motherhood and patroness of nature and magic.
The Rose Garden
There’s more than just statues and memorials in Hyde Park. Most of the park consists of open grassy areas dotted with large trees. There are very few flowerbeds or shrubs, but an exception is the beautiful rose garden in the southeast corner of Hyde Park.
Here you find plenty of flowers, a long winding pergola and two fine fountains. The oldest of the two is the Artemis Fountain, which shows the Greek goddess of the Hunt Artemis (who is better known by her Roman name Diana). The fountain was created in 1822 by Richard Westmacott, the sculptor of the nearby Achilles Statue. The other fountain is known as the Boy and Dolphin Fountain. It was created in 1862 by Alexander Munro and was originally placed in a sunken Victorian garden. In 1995 the statue was moved to its current location.
Joy of Life Fountain
Another fountain in Hyde Park is the Joy of Life Fountain. The fountain is decorated with bronze sculptures that float over a large circular basin. At the center are two adults, seemingly dancing and holding each other’s arms. Around them are four statues of children who seem to hover over the water. The fountain, a work of sculptor Thomas Bayliss Huxley-Jones, was created in 1963. It is sometimes also called the Four Winds Fountain.