Dave the Taxi Driver's


Guide to London

Hyde Park, London Grand Entrance, Hyde Park, London Achilles Statue, Hyde Park, London Hyde Park London

Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens

Anyone who looks at a map of Central London will notice the familiar rectangular shape of Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens. The ‘Park’ as it has been known for centuries, even though it is by far not the only major park in London, (but is the largest open space), became a Royal Park after Henry VIII seized the lands from the Church in 1536.

Henry the VIIIHenry VIII has become, I suppose, the archetypal example of kingship. A man with a love of the good life, he possessed an exuberant and extrovert personality and a cast iron will to achieve what he desired. In his youth tall, handsome Henry became an accomplished musician. He loved hunting, jousting, gambling, all the pageantry which went with his lofty position and of course women.

Henry’s dispute with the Catholic Church came about because the Pope refused to grant an annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Behind the scenes he had committed an infidelity with Anne Boleyn, in fact probably many more than one. He wanted Catherine out of the way so that he could marry Anne, but the Pope refused to grant the annulment. Henry’s response was to ignore the Pope and divorce Catherine. In 1533 Henry broke away from the Catholic Church, installed himself as Head of the Church of England and married Anne Boleyn. Thereafter during the Dissolution of the Monasteries church property and land were confiscated by the Crown. This was not an isolated action as the Reformation was already underway in Europe but Henry’s actions were not borne from religion but from ego and politics.

It was the significant acquisition of the Manor of Eia from which Hyde Park was to come into being and which assured its destiny as the great open space it is today.

Henry being an avid huntsman decided to sell Eabury and Neyte and keep Hyde to add to his hunting grounds which, by this acquisition extended further westward and northward all the way from The Palace of Westminster up to Hampstead and Highgate.

There were more animals there in those days than people; bulls, wild boar, deer and game. The Manor of Eia consisted of three estates, Eabury, Neyte and Hyde. During Saxon times it belonged to the Master of the Horse but after the Norman Conquest by William I in 1066 all land in England was taken by the Normans and divided amongst the noblemen. The Manor of Eia had been bequeathed to the Church by the owner Geoffrey de Mandeville in the late eleventh century.

Tyburn Tree, Hyde Park, LondonThe City of London lay far to the east. The old Saxon villages of Chenistun (which became Kensington) and Cnotingas (Notting Hill) were small hamlets within the forested wild land. Two rivers flowed through the area, the Westbourne and further east near where Marble Arch is now, the Tyburn. Marble Arch, which originally stood near where Buckingham Palace stands now, was the site of the notorious Tyburn Tree and later the gallows which were used for mass hangings up until 1783, when the executions were moved to Newgate Prison.

There used to be a Roman military road, the Via Trinabantinum which led from the City to Silchester. This roughly follows the route of Oxford Street and Bayswater Road. Another Roman road, Watling Street corresponds to Edgware Road and eventually leads to the Kent coast. With the road to Reading to the south, these roughly defined the Park’s boundaries.

Queen ElizabethThe shepherds and charcoal burners who were used to seeing the monks scratching around for their firewood now witnessed Henry and his entourage giving chase. The hunting continued for the next two hundred years or so. Certain areas were fenced off to rear and protect the deer for future stock. The young King Edward VI, Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne Boleyn and James I were all enthusiastic hunters. In 1582 Elizabeth had two buildings erected in the Park so that her intended husband The Duke of Anjou could view the hunt as it went by. But the marriage was never to be. Elizabeth was the first to introduce troop reviews there in 1569. These continued well into Regency times with up to twenty thousand men assembling.

It became the height of fashion to parade there dressed in your fine clothes. Men known as ‘Dandies’ would stroll (or perhaps mince) around in what I think would have been considered flamboyant or maybe peculiar garb. These men had long hair at the sides with ribbons tied on. These were known as lovelocks. They used to decorate their faces with designs such as stars and moon and wear spurs which would jingle as they walked. This, I believe was to attract the ladies.

Festivals were held on May Day and thousands would go there on Sundays, to eat drink and be merry. The well off would partake of syllabub ,a dairy dish, accompanied with sack, the rough dry sherry. We hadn’t invaded India yet so there was no tea. The Park was the place to be seen. From then on it was the place for the rich to display the latest fashions.

But troubled years lay ahead. James I believed himself to be King by divine right. This attitude prevailed throughout the reign of his son Charles I. There was great conflict between the King and parliament . The English Civil War began in 1642. Charles I had fortifications built in the Park where his troops which were known as ‘trained bands’ would exercise. During the 1630s the Park was opened to the public for the first time and took on the identity that became its future. The Park became the Resort of London and it has remained so down to modern times.

Oliver CromwellIn 1649 at the end of the Civil War, Charles was beheaded at Whitehall and England became a republic under the control of the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.

Under Puritan rule strict social reforms took place. Horse racing gambling, cock-fighting and theatre were all banned. Drinking alcohol was discouraged and attendance at church was compulsory. Cromwell as Lord Protector ran a military government and ignored Parliament when it suited him just as Charles I had done. The Commonwealth, as it was known was in effect a dictatorship.

In 1652 being a Royal Estate, Hyde Park was sold off for £17068. 2shillings and 8 pence. From then on it cost one shilling for a coach to enter the Park and 6 pence for each horse.

After Cromwell’s death in 1659 it was clear that the people were unhappy with the austere form of government during the puritan years.Coach Races were very popular in the Park .Oliver Cromwell had a serious accident in Hyde Park when he lost control of the horses pulling his coach. He was dragged along between the horses and despite his pistol firing off in his pocket, he survived the ordeal, to the dismay of Royalist supporters.

Charles II of EnglandCharles the son of Charles I had been in exile in Holland. Considering the state of government in England it was evident that something had to be done to stabilise the country. Therefore Parliament offered the Crown to Charles and discussed certain terms and conditions concerning the democratic role of Parliament and religious tolerance. In 1660 the Restoration of the Monarchy brought Charles II to the throne.

Hyde Park was taken back by Charles. It was reopened to the public and once again it became the fashionable place it used to be, the theatre of the people.

Just north of where the Serpentine is now there used to be a circular area which was bordered by railings. That was called the Tour or more famously The Ring. The Ring was the haunt of the beautiful people who would ride around in their fine carriages passing each other on numerous occasions waving, exchanging wit and pleasantries and no doubt flirting. Bearing in mind the reputation of the Ring, on one occasion King Charles having attended a ceremony on St. George’s Day with The Knights of the Garter decided that it would be fitting to go to the Ring and parade in their ceremonial clothes. So they kept their robes on until later in the day and did just that, King Charles still wearing his crown. That’s a King with a sense of humour. Certainly upstaged the dandies.Charles though, over the years also had many difficulties with Parliament but the political strife which caused the English Civil War never reoccurred. He was a popular king, the father of many illegitimate children and was known as the ‘Merry Monarch’.

Charles had the park enclosed by having a six foot wall built. The view from Park Lane was not very good for the next 150 years. George II increased the height of the wall to eight feet. It was George IV that did away with the wall and put iron railings in its place.

The antics of the well -to -do were interrupted in 1665 when London was hit by the Great Plague. Many poorer people moved to the fresh air of Hyde Park away from the City where people were dying by the thousand. They lived in a camp as refugees from the terrible sickness. Despite their escape from the City some still succumbed and were buried somewhere within the Park. Some people disagree that these burials took place but I think anybody who died of the Plague would have been buried as soon as possible in the most convenient location.

When William III came to the throne in 1689 he decided that because of his asthma he would rather live away from the River Thames with its damp atmosphere so he bought Nottingham House. This stately home was built in what was Hyde Park but became Kensington Gardens in 1728 when Hyde Park was reduced to half its size at the will of Queen Caroline, the wife of George II.

Rotten Row, Hyde Park, LondonWilliam was concerned that Hyde Park could be a dangerous place at night because of thieves and footpads. He had lamps installed in the trees that lined the road that led from Hyde Park Corner to Kensington Palace in order to discourage robbers. This was not entirely successful as the Prime Minister Horace Walpole was robbed there in 1749. This road was known as the King’s Road or the Route du Roi. The Rotten Row of today is believed to be a corruption of this. However the writer and antiquary John Timbs suggests that the word ‘rotteran’ was of military origin meaning ‘to muster’. As troops were regularly inspected in the Park I would lean to this explanation.

The Serpentine, Hyde Park, LondonQueen Caroline was a keen gardener. To have such a green space available to her right on her doorstep was obviously too tempting so she decided to develop Hyde Park into what in effect was a landscaped garden. This enormous project involved damning the River Westbourne to becoming a small stream (pun intended).This was the origin of The Serpentine. This beautiful stretch of water has been the centrepiece of The Park ever since.

The Westbourne, admittedly was not of Amazonian proportions but it was at least a respectable river. At the south eastern end of the Serpentine you will find a weir. Beyond this is a quiet little backwater. Here is what remains of the flow of the Westbourne as it exits the Park and makes its way underground through a very expensive area, eventually flowing through a conduit under Sloane Square to the Thames, giving up its energy and history to the London sewer system. While you’re pondering this give a little bread to the waterfowl that I am sure will be running towards you.

Hyde Park DuelAnother popular activity in the Park in the eighteenth century were the duels that took place. Certain men who had arguments to settle, would meet early in the morning with various weapons to settle their scores. The most bloody and gory duel took place in 1712 between Lord Mohun and the Duke of Hamilton. They took to the fight with swords and became so enraged that they disregarded their own safety and protection to such an extent that they attacked each other with such frenzy that, covered in blood they both were killed. The so called gentlemanly rules were completely ignored.

Meanwhile it is recorded that the effeminate would still parade in their finery. This was regarded by some as an insult to the fine men of old that fought and protected England.

Apsley House, Hyde Park, LondonThe Reading Road had become Piccadilly. The Tyburn flowed down to the Thames near Westminster Palace. The farmland remained for many years but slowly to the east, and south of the green pastures the small villages of Knightsbridge and Kensington began to grow. Park Lane and Mayfair developed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the 1770s Apsley House, which was the home of The Duke of Wellington was built at Hyde Park Corner, and has since become The Wellington Museum. The address was officially No.1, London.

So gradually Hyde Park started to become what it is today. The Industrial Revolution and the coming of the Railways caused the completion of the urbanisation of the surrounding areas. The term urbanisation is perhaps not truly representative. These were the elegant estates in Mayfair, Belgravia, Knightsbridge and Kensington which stand today as examples of classical and beautiful architecture.

In 1805 the Powder Magazine was built just north of The Serpentine. In 1814 there was a mock staging of The Battle of Trafalgar which took place on the Serpentine and involved blowing up the French Ships to much cheering and rejoicing.

Next to Apsley House at The Grand Entrance stands the Ionic Screen designed by Decimus Burton. This was built in the 1820s

The Coronation of George IV was celebrated by fireworks in 1820.

Statue of Achilles, Hyde Park, LondonIn 1822 the controversial Statue of Achilles was unveiled near Park Lane. Unveiling being the controversy as it was apparently the only nude male statue in London. This caused much embarrassment and shock. One woman reputedly had a stroke, but was told to behave herself.

The Serpentine Bridge which affords such lovely views of the Serpentine and the Long Water, was built in 1826. The nineteenth century saw great events within the Park. There were many celebrations and many drinking tents and cake houses to entertain the masses who had come to London on the crest of the industrial upsurge.

Crystal Palace, Hyde Park, LondonThe greatest event ever to be held in the Park was The Great Exhibition of 1851. This was planned by Prince Albert. The enormous glass construction, known as the Crystal Palace was designed by Sir Joseph Paxton. There were over six million visitors to the Great Exhibition and around 13000 exhibits from all corners of the world, most of which was under British Rule at the time. Many of these eventually found their way into the Museums that were built in Kensington. The Crystal Palace was moved to South London and eventually burnt down in 1936.

The Park throughout the nineteenth century took on a more formal appearance. Gates such as the Prince of Wales Gate, Albert Gate and Edinburgh Gate were built. It is said that the Great Exhibition was the reason that The Knowledge of London came into being. At the time the cab drivers were only used to doing local trips. The millions of visitors that the Great Exhibition attracted obviously wanted to go further afield so the training and examination of the Knowledge was born.

Later in the 1800s there were a number of demonstrations in the middle of the Park. These were illegal and were severely dealt with by the Army and later the Police. They centred around what is known as The Reformers’ Tree. The largest was a gathering of 150.000 demonstrating against the proposed Sunday Trading Laws.

Marble Arch, Speaker's Corner, Hyde Park, LondonAlong from the Grand Entrance is South Carriage Drive and Hyde Park Barracks. This is the base of The Household Cavalry who can be seen riding to and from Whitehall where the Changing of the Guard takes place twice daily. Hyde Park is one of the two locations in London which carries out the Royal Gun Salutes. (Green Park is also used for this purpose on the occasions of State Visits). Eventually in 1872 it was decided that people should have a place to vent their grievances so Speaker’s Corner was designated for this purpose. This stands near Marble Arch. On Sundays at Speaker’s Corner you will see democracy in action. Anyone can speak on any subject providing that they don’t blaspheme, behave obscenely or pose a threat to the peace. There is of course a great deal of listening and heckling.

Rolling Stones Concert, Hyde ParkSince the 1960s the Park has also become a great venue for concerts, Pink Floyd, Blind Faith and The Who were among the megabands that performed there in the 1970s. But it was the Rolling Stones July 1969 free concert in Hyde Park which was intended to introduce the youth of London to their new guitarist Mick Taylor, and turned out to be a memorial concert after the death of Brian Jones two days earlier, that was probably the most famous of these shows. The concert, at least the Stones portion, was captured on film and is still a big seller on DVD. In fact it was a good day to be in London because many people who saw the concert, which also featured Family, Roy Harper, Alexis Korner, and King Crimson (who by general consensus all out-played the Stones), later moved on to the Royal Albert Hall to see Chuck Berry and the Who.

The Party in the Park is held every year in July. I went there with my wife and daughter in 2001. Surprisingly my wife and I were not the oldest teenagers there. There was the Live 8 Make Poverty History Concert in 2005 and there are regular modern bands playing there in summer. The last night of the Proms synchronised with the concert in the Albert Hall in September and beamed to and shared with the rest of Britain is a real stalwart of culture. There is also a funfair at Christmas along North Carriage Drive. Occasionally you will also see marquees erected near Marble Arch for other events such as the Startrek one some years ago.

Kensington Gardens, LondonKensington Gardens unlike Hyde Park does not have any traffic as there are only paths and walkways such as the Flower Walk and the grand Broadwalk, and has a more open aspect. There is the fine Kensington PalaceMuseum, the Orangery, open for teas and light meals with the Sunken Garden adjacent and the Round Pond nearby. There is the Statue of Peter Pan down by The Long Water. Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, the creation of the author J.M. Barrie who lived close by. The Arch by Henry Moore stands near The Long Water and the Monument to Speke, the explorer. The beautiful Italian Gardens are near Lancaster Gate.

The Serpentine Gallery which specialises in exhibitions of modern and contemporary art is open daily from 10.00a.m. to 6.00p.m. There are also the Tea Rooms next door.

Albert Memorial, London The Albert Memorial which faces the world-renowned Albert Hall was restored some years ago at considerable cost--over £11 million. There is no doubt that it is a beautiful edifice with Albert sitting there as the lone occupant, although personally I think the gold has been overdone. I was told a few years ago that originally this was one of the most reviled buildings in London because it was viewed as part of the excesses of Victorian Society and that Prince Albert was a foreigner. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are joined at Buck Hill Walk which starts at Victoria Gate and the boundary is the Serpentine Bridge and down to Alexandra Gate.

Princess Diana Memorial FountainI have never witnessed a greater outpouring of grief and bewilderment that took place in 1997 after the death of Princess Diana. From the gates of Kensington Palace to Kensington Road was a sea of floral tributes. Thousands and thousands and thousands of flowers. An absolutely utterly incredible sight with people wandering around seemingly not knowing what had happened and why, simultaneously not knowing what to do. Princess Diana smiled at me once as she left an official engagement in the West End. So what! you might say, but the point is she didn’t have to. After all most people, when they see me, usually just point and laugh, but it was that genuine smile that comes from within. What a tragic loss ! She will always be remembered. The People’s Princess. There are fitting memorials to Diana, The Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park, the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens and the Diana Memorial Walk which winds its way through both.

Together with Kensington Gardens there are over 600 acres in which you can wander, run ,cycle, row, hire a pedalo, rollerblade, play bowls, putt, swim at The Serpentine Lido ,go horse riding or watch the wildlife. The birds, as well as padding about among the deck chairs in which you might be sitting trying to sleep, also like to sit on the wooden pillars in the Serpentine. There is also the Bird Sanctuary and Education Centre. At the gates there are Information Boards with maps. In case you lose your bearings there are also signs pointing you to where you might want to go or alternatively to confirm how lost you are.

The Tennis and Sports Centre is close to The Alexandra Gate and has a café. There are other refreshment establishments such as at Speaker’s Corner, Serpentine Bridge, the Dell Restaurant at the other end of the Serpentine , The Lido Café and The Broadwalk Café plus a few smaller coffee houses.

Throughout the grounds are various sculptures and statues such as the Dolphin and Boy, Epsteins’s sculpture at Edinburgh Gate , Artemis ,The Holocaust Memorial,The Cavalry Memorial and the curiously carved Elfin Oak near The Diana Memorial Children’s playground.

There are also children’s playgrounds near Victoria Gate and opposite Hyde Park Barracks.

You could spend a week here but I recommend you go back to your hotel at night.

Although cars are permitted in Hyde Park as well as taxis (quite rightly so), commercial vehicles are not allowed unless on necessary business, so a permit will be required. Traffic access is via Alexandra Gate, Cumberland Gate, Edinburgh Gate, Prince of Wales Gate, Queen Mother’s Gate and Victoria Gate. It is over three miles around the perimeter and there are numerous other gates for access. The Royal Parks Department can be contacted for detailed information. Guided walks are organised by The Royal Parks and Prince Michael has been instrumental in making facilities for the disabled available.

There are those who claim that to be a London Taxi Driver is the best job in the world. There are probably about three billion others who disagree. While millions of people are swarming through the underground and packing themselves onto buses I am able to take time out and walk in Hyde Park.

Italian Gardens, LondonEven though there are roads that cross the Park, you only need to walk a little way into the green and the sound from the traffic is subdued by the surging silence that envelopes you. You hear instead the muffled hoofs of the horses that are trotting along the dusty bridleways; the cawing of the crows and the gentle lapping of the water of the Serpentine as it ripples to the shore from some distant boat that is bobbing its way across the lake; the splashing and shouts of the swimmers in The Lido and the panting breathing of the red faced lone jogger thumping their feet on the turf. A different world that is so close to the hubbub of London and yet so far away.


Royal Garden Hotel This must be the most beautiful partof Central London to have on your doorstep. Book your hotel on the north side in Bayswater, east on Park Lane in Mayfair or south and west in Knightsbridge and Kensington, and you will be enjoying great views over the largest park in London, and if you are up early enough, sunrise over the Serpentine. There are also many more hotels which don’t necessarily overlook Hyde Park but are only a few minutes away especially in the Bayswater/Paddington area. Here you also have easy access to the Heathrow Express train to the airport and it is not far from the West End.

Hotel Lancaster, Hyde Park, LondonOn or close to Bayswater Road on the north side of the park the 4-star Lancaster London (photo)sits opposite Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The 3-star Central Park Hotel offers excellent value accommodation and a restaurant, next to Hyde Park. The elegant 4-star London Hilton has fine views over Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Just a few steps from Hyde Park, The 4-star Commodore Hotel is in a romantic town house in a quiet yet central location on a tree-lined square near Paddington Station has a Mediterranean restaurant, clean rooms, a cosy bar and a fitness studio. For economy minded travelers the  London House Hotel is one of the most popular budget hotels in central London and is just a few blocks away from Hyde Park and faces the Kensington Gardens Square. For those who don't mind spending a bit of money for a hotel that has luxury king-size beds, iPod docks and large HD TVs with international satellite channels, marble bathrooms have rain showers and luxury toiletries where guests can choose one of 6 room fragrances then look no futher than the 5-star Montcalm Hotel.

Marriot Hotel, LondonOnce a stately apartment building, the 5-star 
London Marriott Hotel Park Lane (photo) has a magnificent location, looking out over Marble Arch and Hyde Park. Further south on Park Lane the historic 5-star Grosvenor House has a stylish champagne bar, an exquisite French restaurant and a delightful Parisian coffee house. There is also a fitness centre and 33 meeting rooms.

South of the park on Kensington Road the 3-star Best Western John Howard Hotel offers an oasis of tranquillity and elegance in the heart of London along with free satellite TV and wireless internet access. The 5-star Royal Garden Hotel has spectacular London views, 3 bars and 2 restaurants, including Min Jiang on the 10 floor with its spectacular views over Kensington Gardens and a holistic spa. The luxurious 5-star Sheraton Park Tower Hotel offers award-winning dining and stunning views of London from every room.

You can find many more hotels with photos, descriptions, maps and booking information on the Hotels Page

Nearest underground
: Notting Hill Gate Queensway Bayswater Lancaster Gate Marble Arch.
: High Street Kensington Knightsbridge Hyde Park Corner.
Buses 2 9 10 12 14 16 19 22 36 49 52 70 73 74 82 94 137 148 274
Taxis from anywhere.

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