Hyde Park. What a world of memories is suggested by the name.

Standing right in the heart of London, it is almost the only surviving out-of-door public pleasure resort left in the West-End, wherein fashion may display itself and take exercise, since St. James's Park has now no social life, and Spring Gardens, Vauxhall, Old Ranelagh, and Cremorne are long since dead.

Gay as it is now in the season with its well-dressed saunterers, its beautiful equipages, its noble trees, and its wide expanse of water, it conjures up dark and evil memories, for the Park has been the scene of stirring events in our national history. Nor is its romantic mystery entirely of the past, even now.

As Hyde Park, however, its importance really began under Henry VIII., who seized it from the Church. Then it became Hyde Park for the first time; before that it was merely grazing land and ditches of no particular interest, known as "The Manor of Hyde."

Surrounded by the palaces of the rich, the resort of the favoured ones of the earth, for whose wealth and ostentation it provides a fitting ground; it forms also the refuge of the vicious and the destitute, and, alas, its greensward serves as the dormitory of filthy vagrants, whose very existence in this city of boundless wealth is an eyesore and a reproach. There, vice and virtue still jostle each other, poverty and riches, greed and simphcity: there, every creed is expounded, every grievance aired, every nostrum advocated with violent vociferation hard by the spot where, upon the fatal Triple Tree of Tyburn, scores of miserable martyrs went to their doom for daring to put into words the thoughts that were their own. The Park now extends from Park Lane to Kensington Gardens, and from the Bayswater Road to Knightsbridge; but the creation of Kensington Gardens in the reign of George II. -- sheltering the Royal Palace where Queen Victoria was born in 1819 -- robbed Hyde Park of 300 acres of land. Queen Caroline devoted much time and thought to the formation of the Serpentine and the beautifying of the surroundings of her Palace.

Rotten Row as a tan ride has been laid out in the memory of people still living. The Marble Arch on its present site is Victorian. Burton's Arch, and the screen at Hyde Park Corner, are but a little earlier. Queen Anne planted avenues of stately elms. Charles I. made "The Ring," though few now-a-days will identify the spot which for so long was the meeting-place of the fashion of the town. With all this the Park is very old, and as open land left to nature undisturbed, its history may be traced back in an unbroken record to the time when it was part of the wild forest that originally surrounded London.

Roughly speaking, Hyde Park is about 3¼ miles round, or covers an extent of 360 acres. This is by no means enormous, not as large as the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, nor as wild as Thier Qaarten in Berlin, but there are trees in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens which far surpass in bulk and beauty the trees of either of these Continental rivals. We have in Hyde Park none of the "ancestral statues" such as Berlin has to represent the noble army of the Kaiser's forebears. Our Park is not quite like the Castellana in Madrid, where fashion drives from the Prado during the dusk, shut up in truly Spanish fashion in closed carriages, or the Prater in Vienna, where so many beautiful women may be seen; nor is it nearly as large as the Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, which, however, is more of wild common than cultivated land.

Hyde Park differs from all these; and Hyde Park stands within a huge city, and not a mile or two outside. It is not newly planted or freshly made, and some of the trees within its railings, dating back through many centuries, would be hard to rival in any land. At an early period in the history of Great Britain, this district must have been part of the vast forest that lay inland from the little British settlement, founded on the banks of the Thames before the Romans landed. These early inhabitants of London lived in rude huts, probably stretching from where the Tower now stands to Dowgate, their simple tenements forming the beginning of the present great throbbing heart of the Empire.

"The rows of carriages, often two deep, continued in Hyde Park down to about 1860, as thick as shown in Doyle's sketches for Pip's Diary in Punch. Ten or twenty thousand 'bucks' or 'dandies' hung over the rails on the footpath to look on. And the carriages were so closely packed in line that they could only just walk. On one occasion, about 1856, the throng of carriages to see the muster of the Four-in-Hand Club Drags was so great that the carriages could not be extricated from the line. Many had to remain into the night, and the fine ladies were obliged to descend and walk home in the dusk.

From those far distant days to the present Hyde Park has never lost its prestige as a meeting-place for all classes of Enghsh Society.

Victorian Hyde Park we still have with us, and such changes as have been introduced, except in the early days of the reign, are within the memory of some. Chief of these structurally is the Marble Arch. It has stood on its present site since 1851. The public entrance -- for only the King and Queen use the centre Arch -- is still known as Cumberland Gate, so named after the Duke of Cumberland.


After tea on Sundays in the summer the Park fills again. People stroll in to have chats with their friends or rest in the cool shade; and again those thousands of chairs are occupied. In the eighties and nineties the people dressed most smartly.

Various classes are to be found in Hyde Park. For instance, the elite drive on summer afternoons from five to seven, when four or five rows of motors and carriages moving along at crawling pace is quite a common sight. The fashionable drive used to be from Hyde Park Corner to Knightsbridge Barracks, but every few years fashions change, and during the last two seasons far more carriages were to be found between Hyde Park Corner and the Marble Arch.



Hyde Park has been a Royal Forest, the happy fishing ground of monks, from whose hands it passed at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. A closely preserved Royal Park, the scene of vile tragedies, a famous racecourse (the precursor of Newmarket), the training-ground of Cromwellian troops; and it was even sold by auction. The playground of Society, a refuge from the plague, the scene of public rejoicings, and the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Truly Hyde Park has an unparalleled record. For four hundred years the makers of history, politicians, beauty, nobility, bravery -- and knavery, alas! -- have all tendered homage to the charm of its acres, its noble trees, its grassy sward. Generation after generation has proclaimed love or it; and now, indeed, what would the babies and the beauties do without the famous stretch from Marble Arch to Piccadilly?

From those far distant days to the present Hyde Park has never lost its prestige as a meeting-place for all classes of Enghsh Society. And thus from generation to generation Hyde Park has been the playground of London's rich and poor, the wide theatre upon which their tragedies and comedies have been enacted, the forum in which many public liberties have been demanded, the scene where national triumphs have been celebrated.

And Hyde Park still remains the great social open-air centre of London, where the gay world desports itself as it has done through many centuries. That great green sward has been the high-ground of history and romance.

Exerpts from: Hyde Park; Its History and Romance; Mrs. Alec (Nee Harley) Tweedie. 1908.

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