Hyde Park is the largest Royal Park in London. It is bounded on the north by Bayswater Road, to the east by Park Lane, and to the south by Knightsbridge. Further north is Paddington, further east is Mayfair and further south is Belgravia. To the southeast, outside the park, is Hyde Park Corner, beyond which is Green Park, St. James' Park and Buckingham Palace Gardens. The park has been Grade I listed on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens since 1987. To the west, Hyde Park merges with Kensington Gardens. The dividing line runs approximately between Alexandra Gate to Victoria Gate via West Carriage Drive and the Serpentine Bridge. The Serpentine is to the south of the park area. Kensington Gardens has been separate from Hyde Park since 1728, when Queen Caroline divided them. Hyde Park covers 142 hectares (350 acres), and Kensington Gardens covers 111 hectares (275 acres), giving a total area of 253 hectares (625 acres). During daylight, the two parks merge seamlessly into each other, but Kensington Gardens closes at dusk, and Hyde Park remains open throughout the year from 5 a.m. until midnight.
The park's name comes from the Manor of Hyde, which was the northeast sub-division of the manor of Eia (the other two sub-divisions were Ebury and Neyte) and appears as such in the Domesday Book. The name is believed to be of Saxon origin, and means a unit of land, the hide, that was appropriate for the support of a single family and dependents. Through the Middle Ages, it was the property of Westminster Abbey, and the woods in the manor were used both for firewood and shelter for game.
Hyde Park was created for hunting by Henry Vlll in 1536 after he acquired the manor of Hyde from the Abbey. It was enclosed as a deer park and remained a private hunting ground until James I permitted limited access to gentlefolk, appointing a ranger to take charge. Charles I created the Ring (north of the present Serpentine boathouses), and in 1637 he opened the park to the general public. It quickly became a popular gathering place, particularly for May Day celebrations. At the start of the English Civil War in 1642, a series of fortifications were built along the east side of the park, including forts at what is now Marble Arch, Mount Street and Hyde Park Corner. The latter included a strongpoint where visitors to London could be checked and vetted. In 1652, during the Interregnum, Parliament ordered the then 620 acre park to be sold for "ready money". It realised £17,000 with an additional £765 6s 2d for the resident deer. During the Great Plague of London in 1665, Hyde Park was used as a military camp. Following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, Charles II retook ownership of Hyde Park and enclosed it in a brick wall. He restocked deer in what is now Buck Hill in Kensington Gardens. The May Day parade continued to be a popular event; Samuel Pepys took part in the park's celebrations in 1663 while attempting to gain the King's favour.
In 1689, William III moved his residence to Kensington Palace on the far side of Hyde Park and had a drive laid out across its southern edge which was known as the King's Private Road. The drive is still in existence as a wide straight gravelled carriage track leading west from Hyde Park Corner across the southern boundary of Hyde Park towards Kensington Palace and now known as Rotten Row, possibly a corruption of rotteran (to muster), Ratten Row (roundabout way), Route du roi, or rotten (the soft material with which the road is covered). It is believed to be the first road in London to be lit at night, which was done to deter highwaymen. In 1749, Horace Walpole was robbed while travelling through the park from Holland House. The row was used by the wealthy for horseback rides in the early 19th century. Hyde Park was a popular duelling spot during the 18th century, with 172 taking place, leading to 63 fatalities. Charles Mohun, 4th Baron Mohun fought James Hamilton, 4th Duke of Hamilton in a duel in 1712. Baron Mohun was killed instantly, while the Duke died shortly afterwards. John Wilkes fought Samuel Martin in 1772, as did Richard Brinsley Sheridan with Captain Thomas Mathews over the latter's libellous comments about Sheridan's fiancee Elizabeth Ann Linley. Edward Thurlow, 1st Baron Thurlow fought Andrew Stuart in a Hyde Park duel in 1770. Military executions were common in Hyde Park at this time; John Rocque's Map of London, 1746 marks a point inside the park, close to the Tyburn gallows, as "where soldiers are shot."
The first coherent landscaping in Hyde Park began in 1726. It was undertaken by Charles Bridgeman for King George I, but following the king's death the following year, it continued with approval of his daughter-in-law, Queen Caroline. Work was undertaken under the supervision of Charles Withers, the Surveyor-General of Woods and Forests. The principal effect of the work was to sub-divide Hyde Park and create Kensington Gardens. The Serpentine was formed by damming the River Westbourne, which runs through the park from Kilburn towards the Thames. It is divided from the Long Water by a bridge designed by George Rennie in 1826. The work was completed in 1733. The 2nd Viscount Weymouth was made Ranger of Hyde Park in 1739 and shortly after began digging the Serpentine lakes at Longleat. A powder magazine was built north of the Serpentine in 1805.
Hyde Park hosted a Great Fair in the summer of 1814 to celebrate the Allied sovereigns' visit to England, and exhibited various stalls and shows. The Battle of Trafalgar was re-enacted on the Serpentine, with a band playing the National Anthem while the French fleet sank into the lake. The coronation of King George IV in 1821 was celebrated with a fair in the park, including an air balloon and firework displays. One of the most important events to take place in Hyde Park was the Great Exhibition of 1851. The Crystal Palace was constructed on the south side of the park. The public did not want the building to remain after the closure of the exhibition, and its architect, Joseph Paxton, raised funds and purchased it. He had it moved to Sydenham Hill in South London. Another significant event was the first Victoria Cross investiture, on 26 June 1857, when 62 men were decorated by Queen Victoria in the presence of Prince Albert and other members of the Royal Family, including their future son-in-law Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia, later Emperor Frederick III. The Hyde Park Lido sits on the south bank of the Serpentine. It opened in 1930 to provide improved support for bathing and sunbathing in the park, which had been requested by the naturist group, the Sunlight League. The Lido and accompanying Pavilion was designed by the Commissioner of Works, George Lansbury, and was partly funded by a £5,000 donation from D'Arcy Cooper. It still sees regular use in the summer into the 21st century.
Hyde Park has been a major venue for several Royal jubilees and celebrations. For the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887, a party was organised on 22 June where around 26,000 school children were given a free meal as a gift. The Queen and the Prince of Wales made an unexpected appearance at the event. Victoria remained fond of Hyde Park in the final years of her life and often drove there twice a day. As part of the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977, a Jubilee Exhibition was set up in Hyde Park, with the Queen and Prince Philip visiting on 30 June. In 2012, a major festival took place in the park as part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. On 6 February, the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery fired a 41-gun Royal Salute at Hyde Park Corner. On 20 July 1982, in the Hyde Park and Regents Park bombings, two devices linked to the Provisional Irish Republican Army caused the death of eight members of the Household Cavalry and the Royal Green Jackets and seven horses. A memorial was constructed to the left of the Albert Gate to commemorate the soldiers and horses killed in the blast. Since 2007, Hyde Park has played host to the annual Winter Wonderland event, which features numerous Christmas-themed markets, along with various rides and attractions, alongside bars and restaurants. It has become one of the largest Christmas events in Europe, having attracted over 14 million visitors as of 2016, and has expanded to include the largest ice rink in London, live entertainment and circuses.
During the late 18th century, plans were made to replace the old toll gate at Hyde Park Corner with a grander entrance, following the gentrification of the area surrounding it. The first design was put forward by Robert Adam in 1778 as a grand archway, followed by John Soane's 1796 proposal to build a new palace adjacent to the corner in Green Park. Following the construction of Buckingham Palace, the improvement plans were revisited. The grand entrance to the park at Hyde Park Corner was designed by Decimus Burton, and was constructed in the 1820s. Burton laid out the paths and driveways and designed a series of lodges, the Screen/Gate at Hyde Park Corner (also known as the Grand Entrance or the Apsley Gate) in 1825 and the Wellington Arch, which opened in 1828. The Screen and the Arch originally formed a single composition, designed to provide a monumental transition between Hyde Park and Green Park, although the arch was moved in 1883. It originally had a statue of the Duke of Wellington on top; it was moved to Aldershot in 1883 when the arch was re-sited.
An early description reports: "It consists of a screen of handsome fluted Ionic columns, with three carriage entrance archways, two foot entrances, a lodge, etc. The extent of the whole frontage is about 107 feet (33 metres). The central entrance has a bold projection: the entablature is supported by four columns; and the volutes of the capitals of the outside column on each side of the gateway are formed in an angular direction, so as to exhibit two complete faces to view. The two side gateways, in their elevations, present two insulated Ionic columns, flanked by antae. All these entrances are finished by a blocking, the sides of the central one being decorated with a beautiful frieze, representing a naval and military triumphal procession. This frieze was designed by Mr. Henning, junior, the son of Mr. Henning who was well known for his models of the Elgin Marbles. The gates were manufactured by Messrs. Bramah. They are of iron, bronzed, and fixed or hung to the piers by rings of gun-metal. The design consists of a beautiful arrangement of the Greek honeysuckle ornament; the parts being well defined, and the raffles of the leaves brought out in a most extraordinary manner."
Popular areas within Hyde Park include Speakers' Corner (located in the northeast corner near Marble Arch), close to the former site of the Tyburn gallows, and Rotten Row, which is the northern boundary of the site of the Crystal Palace. Though Hyde Park Speakers' Corner is considered the paved area closest to Marble Arch, legally the public speaking area extends beyond the Reform Tree and covers a large area from Marble Arch to Victoria Gate, then along the Serpentine to Hyde Park Corner and the Broad Walk running from Hyde Park Corner to Marble Arch. Public riots broke out in the park in 1855, in protest over the Sunday Trading Bill, which forbade buying and selling on a Sunday, the only day working people had off. The riots were described by Karl Marx as the beginning of the English revolution. Karl Marx observed approximately 200,000 protesters attended the demonstration, which involved jeering and taunting at upper-class horse carriages. A further protest occurred a week later, but this time the police attacked the crowd. The Chartist movement used Hyde Park as a point of assembly for workers' protests, but no permanent speaking location was established. The Reform League organised a massive demonstration in 1866 and then again in 1867, which compelled the government to extend the franchise to include most working-class men. The riots and agitation for democratic reform encouraged some to force the issue of the "right to speak" in Hyde Park. The Parks Regulation Act 1872 delegated the issue of permitting public meetings to the park authorities (rather than central government). Contrary to popular belief, it does not confer a statutory basis for the right to speak at Speakers' Corner. Parliamentary debates on the Act illustrate that a general principle of being able to meet and speak was not the intention, but that some areas would be permitted to be used for that purpose. Since that time, it has become a traditional site for public speeches and debate, as well as a major site of protest and assembly in Britain. There are some who contend that the tradition has a connection with the Tyburn gallows, where the condemned man was allowed to speak before being hanged.
In 1867 the policing of the park was entrusted to the Metropolitan Police, the only royal park so managed, due to the potential for trouble at Speakers' Corner. A Metropolitan Police station ('AH') is situated in the middle of the park. The 1872 Parks Regulation Act created positions of "park keeper" and also provided that "Every police constable belonging to the police force of the district in which any park, garden, or possession to which this Act applies is situate shall have the powers, privileges, and immunities of a park-keeper within such park, garden, or possession."
Although many of its regular speakers are non-mainstream, Speakers' Corner was frequented by Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, George Orwell, C. L. R. James, Walter Rodney, Ben Tillett, Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah and William Morris. Its existence is frequently upheld as a demonstration of free speech, as anyone can turn up unannounced and talk on almost any subject, although always at the risk of being heckled by regulars. Lord Justice Sedley, in his decision regarding Redmond-Bate v Director of Public Prosecutions (1999), described Speakers' Corner as demonstrating "the tolerance which is both extended by the law to opinion of every kind and expected by the law in the conduct of those who disagree, even strongly, with what they hear." The ruling famously established in English case law that freedom of speech could not be limited to the inoffensive but extended also to "the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome, and the provocative, as long as such speech did not tend to provoke violence", and that the right to free speech accorded by Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights also accorded the right to be offensive. Prior to the ruling, prohibited speech at Speakers' Corner included obscenity, blasphemy, insulting the queen, or inciting a breach of the peace. The Free Hugs Campaign has taken place several times at Speaker's Corner. Speaker's Corner became increasingly popular in the late 19th century. Visitors brought along placards, stepladders and soap boxes in order to stand out from others, while heckling of speakers was popular. Donald Soper, Baron Soper was a regular visitor throughout the 20th century, until just before his death in 1998. The rise of the Internet, particularly blogs, has diminished the importance of Speaker's Corner as a political platform, and it is increasingly seen as simply a tourist attraction. As well as Speaker's Corner, several important mass demonstrations have occurred in Hyde Park. On 26 July 1886, the Reform League staged a march from their headquarters towards the park, campaigning for increased suffrage and representation. Though the police had closed the park, the crowd managed to break down the perimeter railings and get inside, leading to the event being dubbed "The Hyde Park Railings Affair". After the protests turned violent, three squadrons of Horse Guards and numerous Foot Guards were sent out from Marble Arch to combat the situation. On 21 June 1908, as part of "Women's Sunday", a reported 750,000 people marched from the Embankment to Hyde Park protesting for universal suffrage. The first protest against the planned 2003 invasion of Iraq took place in Hyde Park on 28 September 2002, with 150,000–350,000 in attendance. A further series of demonstrations happened around the world, culminating in the 15 February 2003, anti-war protests, part of a global demonstration against the Iraq War. Over a million protesters are reported to have attended the Hyde Park event alone.
During the late 20th century, over 9,000 elm trees in Hyde Park were killed by Dutch elm disease. This included many trees along the great avenues planted by Queen Caroline, which were ultimately replaced by limes and maple. The park now holds 4 acres (1.6 ha) of greenhouses which hold the bedding plants for the Royal Parks. A scheme is available to adopt trees in the park, which helps fund their upkeep and maintenance. A botanical curiosity is the weeping beech, which is known as "the upside-down tree". A rose garden, designed by Colvin & Moggridge Landscape Architects, was added in 1994.
There are a number of assorted statues and memorials around Hyde Park. The Cavalry Memorial was built in 1924 at Stanhope Gate. It moved to the Serpentine Road when Park Lane was widened to traffic in 1961. South of the Serpentine is the Diana, Princess of Wales memorial, an oval stone ring fountain opened on 6 July 2004. To the east of the Serpentine, just beyond the dam, is London's Holocaust Memorial. The 7 July Memorial in the park commemorates the victims of 7 July 2005 London bombings. The Standing Stone is a 7-tonne (7.7-ton) monolith at the centre of the Dell, to the east of Hyde Park. Made of Cornish stone, it was originally part of a drinking fountain, though an urban legend was established, claiming it was brought from Stonehenge by Charles I. An assortment of unusual sculptures are scattered around the park, including: Still Water, a massive horse head lapping up water; Jelly Baby Family, a family of giant Jelly Babies standing on top of a large black cube; and Vroom Vroom, which resembles a giant human hand pushing a toy car along the ground. The sculptor Jacob Epstein constructed several works in Hyde Park. His memorial to the author William Henry Hudson, featuring his character Rima caused public outrage when it was unveiled in 1925. There has been a fountain at Grosvenor Gate since 1863, designed by Alexander Munro. There is another fountain opposite Mount Street on the park's eastern edge.
The bandstand in Hyde Park was originally built in Kensington Gardens in 1869, moving to its current location in 1886. It became a popular place for concerts in the 1890s, featuring up to three every week. Military and brass bands continued to play into the 20th century. The music management company Blackhill Enterprises held the first rock concert in Hyde Park on 29 June 1968, attended by 15,000 people. On the bill were Pink Floyd, Roy Harper and Jethro Tull, while John Peel later said it was "the nicest concert I’ve ever been to". Subsequently, Hyde Park has featured some of the most significant concerts in rock. The supergroup Blind Faith (featuring Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood) played their debut gig in Hyde Park on 7 June 1969. The Rolling Stones headlined a concert (later released as The Stones in the Park) on 5 July that year, two days after the death of founding member Brian Jones, and is now remembered as one of the most famous gigs of the 1960s. Pink Floyd returned to Hyde Park on 18 July 1970, playing new material from Atom Heart Mother. All of the early gigs from 1968–71 were free events, contrasting sharply with the later commercial endeavours. Queen played a free concert organised by Richard Branson in the park on 18 September 1976, partway through recording the album A Day at the Races. The band drew an audience of 150,000 – 200,000, which remains the largest crowd for a Hyde Park concert. The group were not allowed to play an encore, and police threatened to arrest frontman Freddie Mercury if he attempted to do so. The British Live 8 concert took place in Hyde Park on 2 July 2005, as a concert organised by Bob Geldof to raise awareness of increased debts and poverty in the third world. Acts included U2, Coldplay, Elton John, R.E.M., Madonna, The Who and Paul McCartney, and the most anticipated set was the reformation of the classic 1970s line-up of Pink Floyd (including David Gilmour and Roger Waters) for the first time since 1981. The gig was the Floyd's final live performance. Acts from each of the four nations in the UK played a gig in the park as part of the opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The headliners were Duran Duran, representing England, alongside the Stereophonics for Wales, Paolo Nutini for Scotland and Snow Patrol for Northern Ireland. Since 2011, Radio 2 Live in Hyde Park has taken place each September in the park. Local residents have become critical of Hyde Park as a concert venue, due to the sound levels, and have campaigned for a maximum sound level of 73 decibels. In June 2012, Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney found their microphones switched off after Springsteen had played a three-hour set during the Park's Hard Rock Calling festival, and overshot the 10:30pm curfew time.
Kensington Gardens are generally regarded as being the western extent of the neighbouring Hyde Park from which they were originally taken, with West Carriage Drive (The Ring) and the Serpentine Bridge forming the boundary between them. The Gardens are fenced and more formal than Hyde Park. Kensington Gardens are open only during the hours of daylight, whereas Hyde Park is open from 5 am until midnight all year round. Kensington Gardens has been long regarded as "smart" because of its more private character around Kensington Palace. However, in the late 1800s, Hyde Park was considered more "fashionable," because of its location nearer to Park Lane and Knightsbridge. Kensington Gardens was originally the western section of Hyde Park, which had been created by Henry VIII in 1536 to use as a hunting ground. It was separated from the remainder of Hyde Park in 1728 at the request of Queen Caroline and designed by Henry Wise and Charles Bridgeman in order to form a landscape garden, with fashionable features including the Round Pond, formal avenues and a sunken Dutch garden. Bridgeman created the Serpentine between 1726 and 1731 by damming the eastern outflow of the River Westbourne from Hyde Park. The part of the Serpentine that lies within Kensington Gardens is known as "The Long Water". At its north-western end (originally the inflow of the River Westbourne) in an area known as "The Italian Garden", there are four fountains and a number of classical sculptures. At the foot of the Italian Gardens is a parish boundary marker, delineating the boundary between Paddington and St George Hanover Square parishes, on the exact centre of the Westbourne river. The land surrounding Kensington Gardens was predominantly rural and remained largely undeveloped until the Great Exhibition in 1851. Many of the original features survive along with the Palace, and now there are other public buildings such as the Albert Memorial (at the south-east corner of Kensington Gardens, opposite the Royal Albert Hall), the Serpentine Gallery, and Speke's monument. The park also contains the Elfin Oak, an elaborately carved 900-year-old tree stump.
Liberty Drives provides free mobility for anyone who finds it difficult to see all 760 acres of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. There are 7 pick up locations around the parks. Electric buggies with wheelchair facilities, each seating five people glide around the parks providing half hour rides. It is also possible to be dropped off at a favourite place and be picked up later. This scheme is supported by donations from the community and operated by volunteer drivers. Groups of people can be catered for by arrangement.Liberty Drives operates May through to October.
There are numerous entrances to Hyde Park. Most of the entrances have level access through them and all are wide enough to allow wheelchairs or mobility scooters to pass though with ease. Vehicle access to West, North and South Carriage Drives is gained via the main gates, which also provide pedestrian access.
There are numerous pathways in and around the park. All of the designated pedestrian paths are level and wide enough to allow wheelchair or mobility scooter users to pass each other with ease. There are no steps within the park to get to different areas, however there are some sloped pathways to navigate. On the main thoroughfares, the pedestrian routes are next to cycle lanes and are only separated by a white line, so pedestrians must take caution. There are also designated bridle ways for the use of horses. Some crossing points are provided along the bridle paths, however caution must be taken when using these.
There are two car parks for Hyde Park, both of which are located on West Carriage Drive. Both car parks operate pay and display policies and have accessible bays available. Parking is free for Blue Badge holders. Two further car parks are available underground. One is accessed via Park Lane, the other via Cumberland Gate. On-street parking is available on West Carriage Drive and South Carriage Drive. These are also pay and display but free for Blue Badge holders.
Refreshment kiosks and cafe huts can be found at various intervals along the main park pathways. Seating is available at some huts and a variety of refreshments are served. The Lido Cafe and Serpentine Bar & Kitchen are also available for visitors wishing to sit and enjoy a meal.
They have fully accessible toilets installed at most premises. They provide facilities for people who are visually impaired. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Hyde Park, Westminster, London W2 2UH
London Buses North: C2, 6, 7, 10, 16, 19, 23, 36, 52, 73, 82, 98, 113, 274, 390, 414
London Buses South: 2, 36, 137, 148, 159, 436
London Buses West: 9, 10, 14, 19, 22, 52, 74, 94, 148, 414
London Buses East: 8,15, 23, 30, 38,274
Opening Times: Daily, Hyde Park 05:00 to Midnight
Opening Times: Daily, Kensington Gardens 06:00 to 20:00
Tickets : Free.
Tel: 0300 061 2000