Hidden in Hyde Park

WE OFTEN CIRCUMNAVIGATE the Serpentine. Usually, when we stroll around this large body of water shared between London’s Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, we tend to look mainly towards the water with its busy groups of waterfowl, rather than inland away from the water. Today, in the last week of February 2021, we walked around the Serpentine yet again but this time as we rounded its westernmost end and began heading back along the northern shore, we noticed for the first time a clump of trees within which there is a group of buildings.

Sheep trough in Hyde Park

A wide path leads north from the water towards these buildings, first passing the small single storey Serpentine Lodge, which being close to the lakeshore footpath, I had noticed many times before. It was built in 1839 and was home to various officials connected with the park including the Head Park Constable Joseph Smith (1811-late 1880s), who was living there by 1871 and remained there until his death (https://ifthosewallscouldtalk.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/hidden-histories-serpentine-lodge-hyde-park-london/).  The lodge is now a private residence.  

Moving inland past the lodge, we soon reach an elegant brick-built two storey house with a triple bay on each side of the centrally located front door. This is the Ranger’s Lodge, which was built in 1831/2. It houses the park’s administrative offices. Attractive because of its age and lovely setting, it is not distinguished architecturally.  It stands next to a newer and far more elegant building, The Old Police Station. When I saw the chimney stacks which are built with layers of brick alternating with layers of white stone and the windows framed with white masonry, I was immediately reminded of the former police station and courthouse that stands on Rosslyn Hill in Hampstead. Both police stations, the one in the park (built 1900-02) and that in Hampstead (1912), were designed by the same architect, John Dixon Butler (1860-1920), who designed almost 200 police stations. Two police officers on horses told us that in the yard behind the station, there are stables for the horses of the Park Police.  The police station bears a memorial to Jack William Avery (1911-1940), a war reserve Metropolitan Police Constable, who was murdered near the station on the 5th of July 1940. He was stabbed to death by a homeless labourer named Frank Cobbett (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Jack_Avery). It was only in 2007 that the memorial plaque was placed in the park.

New Lodge, a large Victorian villa with at least three storeys, built in 1876, now a private residence, stands a few yards north of the police station. This lodge as well as others in the park, like Serpentine Lodge, can be leased from the Royal Parks as dwellings by private individuals and their families.  A footpath leads northwest from between the police station and New Lodge and soon passes a disused water pump enclosed within a square area delineated by iron railings. A few feet north of the pump, there is what looks like a large bath next to a vertical pipe that might have once provided water. The map of the park describes these two items as “old sheep trough and water pump”. The bath-like object was the trough and is marked as such on a detailed map surveyed in 1862-6. This map also marks a small “fire engine house”, which no longer exists.

Another structure that no longer stands is a few yards west of Serpentine Lodge. It is commemorated by a stone lying in the grass. The stone bears an inscription that says that it marks the spot where there once stood the ‘Receiving House of the Royal Humane Society’. It had been erected on land granted by The Crown in 1774 and was severely damaged by a bomb during WW2. Its story and that of other receiving houses is related in an interesting article I found on the Internet (https://ifthosewallscouldtalk.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/hidden-histories-serpentine-lodge-hyde-park-london/):

“In 1774 two London doctors, William Hawes and Thomas Cogan, formed the ‘Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned’ which later grew into The Royal Humane Society. The society was founded based on the doctors’ fears that people could be mistakenly taken for dead and thereby accidentally buried alive.

To combat this, a number of Receiving Houses were built along waterways in Westminster in the early nineteenth century. The Receiving Houses were designed as places where people could be taken into if they had gotten into difficulty in the water. A Receiving House was built in 1794 on the edge of the Serpentine…”

Judging by what is marked on a detailed map surveyed in 1914, the receiving house covered a considerably larger area than its neighbour, Serpentine Lodge.

Near to the marker for the former receiving house, there is an ugly black metal drinking fountain, marked on the park map as “Lutyens drinking fountain”. This was one of several similar fountains designed in 1950 by “Messrs Lutyens & Greenwood” (http://mdfcta.co.uk/fountains_lutyens.html). As the architect of New Delhi and Hampstead Garden Suburb, Edwin Lutyens, died in 1944, I imagine that the Lutyens who designed this ugly object might well have been his son Robert Lutyens (1901-1972), who published a book with his co-author Harold Greenwood in 1948.

The ugly drinking fountain no longer works. So, if you are thirsty having searched the hidden items that were new to us as described above, help is at hand a little further west, where there is an attractive modern wood-clad café kiosk, one of several of these designed trecently by the Mizzi Studio’s architects (www.floornature.com/).

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