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Prior to its redesign as a Royal Garden and then as a park open to the people of London, the area was part of a network of land parcels owned by English abbeys during the Middle Ages. In the 16th century the land belonged to Hyde Manor which was owned by Westminster Abbey, but in 1536, Henry VIII acquired it and it was turned into a deer park and hunting ground.
The first efforts to landscape the park came in the early 18th century when Queen Caroline started refining Kensington Gardens. The was around the same time that William Bridgeman dammed the River Westbourne to create the Serpentine Lake that now divides the present day Kensington Gardens from Hyde Park.
Sites & Activities
Like the other Royal Parks in London, Hyde Park has expanses of green space for picnics, sport, and children who need to blow off some steam. If you’d like a lawn chair, they are available for rental most days at any entrance to the park.
For adults with a taste for history, Hyde Park is one of the best places to explore some of London’s most famous memorials. East of the Serpentine you’ll find the Holocaust Memorial, which is a series of epitaphs and sculptures that commemorates the atrocities of the European Holocaust. To the south of the lake you’ll find the oval stone memorial to Princess Diana which was installed in 2004.
But perhaps the most striking of the memorials is the one dedicated to the victims of the 7/11 terrorist attacks on the subway system of downtown London. The memorial consists of 52 engraved, steel pillars that represent each of the victims.
Also quite popular with visitors is the expertly landscaped rose garden which was added in 1994.
The famous Speaker’s Corner is located in the north eastern corner of Hyde Park in central London, where anyone is allowed to stand on their soapbox to advocate an issue or debate another speaker.
The practice has its roots in the social upheaval of 19th century London. Riots broke out in Hyde Park in 1855 when buying and selling was forbidden on Sundays. Throughout the latter half of the 19th century, Hyde Park was the setting for any number of worker’s protests that called for working men, and not just land owning nobility the right to vote. This was the period that the north eastern corner of the park was solidified has the world’s most famous location for stump speeches and calls for social change.
Speeches take place almost any day of the week and cover topics ranging from politics to religion to world events. Debates can get heated and maintaining civil language isn’t always the priority, so you may want to avoid the north eastern corner if you’re travelling with children.
Hyde Park and the adjoining Kensington Gardens is an enormous green area in the centre of London larger than the Principality of Monaco. Therefore, it is easy to come by in your wanderings. But if you’re seeking it out, it can be easily accessed via London’s underground tube stations. You can take the Central Line to Lancaster Gate to arrive at the north west corner, the Central Line to Marble Arch to arrive at the north east corner near Speaker’s Corner, or take the Piccadilly Line to Hyde Park Corner to arrive at the south east corner of the park. Signs will direct you to the numerous gates and entrances to the park.