The ancient manor of Hyde once
formed part of the lands belonging to Westminster Abbey.
In 1536, at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, this land
was seized by Henry VIII and became part of the King's hunting
It has remained a royal park
ever since. In the early 17th century James I opened
Hyde Park as London's first public park.
Although it was plagued by highwaymen
and duelling nobles, Hyde Park soon became one London's most
prized public spaces and a fashionable place to see and be
seen. Queen Caroline (wife of George II) was a keen
landscape gardener and in the 1730s the queen was behind the
scheme that dammed the Westbourne river to create an artificial
lake. Known as the Serpentine, this became the park's
central feature; popular for both boating and bathing.
In 1851 Hyde Park was the setting
for the Great Exhibition. Joseph Paxton's magnificent
'Crystal Palace' stood between the Serpentine and the Prince
of Wales Gate. In 1852 the vast glass building was dismantled
and rebuilt in south-east London. (That area is still
named after the great glass-house, although the actual Crystal
Palace was destroyed by fire in 1936).
Today, despite being surrounded
by some of the world's busiest streets, Hyde Park is a peaceful
haven for the capital's office workers and tourists.
At 1.5 miles long and just under 0.5 mile wide, it is central
London's largest park. There are 350 acres of woods,
grasslands, lake and gardens.
Hyde Park also has a horse riding
track, originally laid out from the West End to Kensington
Palace by William III. This famous track is known as
Rotten Row, a corruption of 'route du roi'.
Other highlights include a children's
playground and boating on the Serpentine. In the summer
there are Sunday afternoon concerts at the bandstand and open
air music concerts are also regularly held here.
On Sunday mornings, Speaker's
Corner, at the north-east corner near Marble Arch, is a venue
for free speech (an 1872 law made it legal for a speaker to
assemble a crowd and address them on any subject).
At around 10.30 am every day
the Household Cavalry can be observed riding through the park
from Hyde Park Barracks to Buckingham Palace. On royal
anniversaries and other important occasions a 41-gun salute
is fired in Hyde Park, opposite the Dorchester Hotel in Park