London’s Royal Parks – Kensington Gardens & Hyde Park

In the first part of this series of articles looking at the Royal Parks of London, the spotlight was on the two largest parks, both located in the South West of London, Bushy Park and Richmond Park. Continuing the progression eastwards across the capital, the next two parks for consideration are the contiguous Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.

Kensington Gardens

  • Location: Straddling the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the City of Westminster, Kensington Gardens borders Hyde Park to the east to form one large green space in west central London. The park is surrounded to the west and south by the area of London with which it shares its name while the streets of Paddington and Notting Hill sit to the north.
  • Character: The 270 acres of gardens follow a more formal layout than neighbouring Hyde Park due to their purpose as the gardens for Kensington Palace. At its centre is the large Round Pond, whilst to the north the ornamental Italian Gardens sit at the head of the stretch of water known as the Long Water, which itself separates the two parks before continuing into Hyde Park under the name the Serpentine.
  • Attractions: The formal gardens are home to a good number of cultural, artistic and fun attractions including the Princess Diana Memorial Playground with its Peter Pan inspired Pirate Ship, the ornate gothic Albert Memorial, the quirky Elfin Oak, the carved stone and water features of the elegant Italianate Gardens, a Peter Pan sculpture, Henry Moore's The Arch sculpture and the renowned Serpentine Gallery
  • History: The gardens were established by reclaiming a portion of Hyde Park as formal gardens for the palace at Kensington in the 18th century. At this time, the River Westbourne, which previously flowed through Hyde Park was damned to form the Long Water/Serpentine. The park has a strong association with JM Barrie and his Peter Pan character after his book Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens was set in the location.

Hyde Park

  • Location: Forming the eastern half the aforementioned green space in West London with Kensington Gardens, the parks are enclosed by some of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in the UK with Knightsbridge to the south, Mayfair to the east and Marylebone and Paddington to the north.
  • Character: Hyde Park covers around 350 acres and is almost split in two by the Serpentine which sweeps down from the Long Water in Kensington Gardens and under the West Carriage Drive which separates the two parks. It incorporates expanses of lawn, punctuated by mature trees, as well as formal rose gardens and wilder meadows.
  • Attractions: The park is known as a venue for being heard and remembering the past. In terms of the former, it is home to Speakers Corner, where all-comers can voice their opinions to an audience, and often plays host to large open air concerts; notably the Rolling Stones in 1969 and Blur during the closing of the 2012 Olympics. For the latter, the relatively recent feature, the Diana, Princess of Wales, Fountain can be found just beside the Serpentine whilst the even more recent memorial to the victims of the 7/7 bombings across London is located in the east of the park.
  • History: Having originally been the possession of Westminster Abbey, the park, like many others, came into the ownership of Henry VIII as a deer park. James I subsequently allowed the public in, however, and the park we recognise today began to take shape in the mid 18th century when it was landscaped as part of the changes that spawned its more formal neighbour, Kensington Gardens. As mentioned above, parks strongest feature, the Serpentine was formed at this time by damning the River Westbourne, which previously flowed through the park from Hampstead Heath as a tributary to the Thames (giving its various names along the route to areas of London such as Kilburn and Bayswater). The park went on to stage many significant public gatherings down the centuries with perhaps the Great Exhibition of 1851 being the most notable with the construction of the grand Crystal Palace. Most recently the park has had a key role in the London 2012 Olympics as the venue for the Triathlon and the 10k swimming as well as showing the rest of the games on large outdoor screens.

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