What is Hyde Park?
Hyde Park is the largest Royal Park in central London, established by King Henry VIII in the 16th century.
Hyde Park History
Hyde Park can trace its history to the Middle Ages. The land was originally owned by the monks of Westminster Abbey. However, after King Henry VIII had the Abbey suppressed in 1536 during the English Reformation, royal interest for the land meant that he could take it for himself. Proximity to Whitehall Palace (the principal royal palace in central London) rendered the site attractive to the king, keen to create a riding and hunting ground for deer and wild boar close to his seat of government.
As a private hunting ground it remained, until the early 17th century when James I allowed limited public access. By 1637, under the reign of Charles I, the park became permanently open to the public and was used as a popular camping ground by the people of London who fled the city in 1665, during the Great Plague.
Since then, many monarchs have exerted their influence over the park’s appearance. William III created Rotten Row (a corruption of Route du Roi, or ‘Road of the King’ in French) to provide a safe riding route between his home at Kensington Palace to the Palace of St James. In fact, it’s still used for exercising the horses of the Household Cavalry today.
Similarly, Queen Caroline, wife of George II, had extensive renovations carried out in the park, including the creation of a large artificial lake – the renowned ‘Serpentine’, named after its curved shape. The lake, popular with swimmers and a variety of water birds, was used for the men’s and women’s triathlon events at the London 2012 Olympics.
Over its history as a publicly accessible space, Hyde Park has provided the backdrop for many prominent events, including duels, protests and concerts. During the Victorian era, the park became a focal point for social protests. In 1851, it was the location of the Great Exhibition, for which the spectacular Crystal Palace was constructed on the park (before being moved out of central London and reconstructed in the area which has taken on the palace’s name).
Protest and dissent continues today, even among the deckchairs and games of five-a-side football. In the north-east part of the park you’ll be able to visit the famous Speakers’ Corner. Here on Sunday mornings orators step up to give speeches on various topics (mainly focused on religion and politics).