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/).

Little Nell and the British Empire

Here’s poor lil’ Nell

  With a fresh fish under each arm

Crazed, scarred, and cracking

CAN YOU BELIEVE that although we have walked through London’s Hyde Park so many times (in order to take exercise as is recommended by our great leader, a biographer of Winston Churchill, and his government) that there are still many things in it for us to discover? Walking in the southwest corner of the park recently, we saw four man-made items that caught our interest.

An octagonal Victorian bandstand, which was built in 1869 and stood in Kensington Gardens, was moved to its current location in Hyde Park not far from Hyde Park Corner in 1886 (www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/). It is said that this bandstand has good acoustics; I have yet to hear music played here. In the 1890s, concerts were held at the bandstand three times a week. Currently, in normal times, that is when there is no pandemic, the bandstand is used occasionally for concerts and other events as well as becoming part of the annual Winter Wonderland fairground held in Hyde Park.

The bandstand, which was/is often used by military bands, is about 100 feet northwest of a black coloured bronze equestrian statue depicting St George slaying a mammoth dragon. Its coiled, scale covered body, my wife considered accurately, resembles a haphazard pile of discarded lorry tyres. The stone base is surrounded by a frieze depicting cavalrymen in action. The equestrian sculpture stands in front of a low wall which bears the names of cavalry regiments involved in WW1. The monument, though erected before WW2, also those involved those:

“… in the war / 1939-1945 / and on active service thereafter.”

The monument, The Cavalry Memorial, which used to stand nearer Park Lane was unveiled in 1924 by Field Marshal, The Earl of Ypres (formerly Sir John French; 1852-1925) and the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII, who reigned for 11 month). The knight on the horse was modelled on:

“…a 1454 effigy of the Earl of Warwick, mounted on horseback holding an uplifted sword, and the horse on a C15 century engraving by Albrecht Dürer.” (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1278118).

The sculptor was Captain Adrian Jones (1845-1938). Jones was an army veterinary surgeon between 1867 and 1890. He took up painting and sculpting after he retired, specialising in depicting animals. His best-known work, created in 1912, is not far from the cavalry monument: it is the Quadriga that adorns the top of the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner.

The cavalry monument is a mere 200 yards north by north-east of a modest memorial to a fairly recent tragedy that stands beside the South Carriage Drive. It remembers the eleven soldiers who were killed by a bomb planted by IRA terrorists near this spot on the 20th of July 1982.

Returning to a path that leads north from a spot between the Cavalry Memorial and the bandstand, you will quickly reach a small art-nouveau structure. Formerly a fountain, this is a depiction of an almost naked girl wearing a hat and holding a fish under each of her arms. We asked a gardener working nearby if he knew anything about this curious garden sculpture. He informed us that it was a sculpture of Little Nell, a character in “The Old Curiosity Shop” by Charles Dickens and that it used to stand in Hyde Park’s Rose Garden.

The sculpture, created by William Robert Colton (1867-1921) has been variously known as the ‘Memorial Fountain’, ‘The Mermaid Fountain’, ‘The Colton Memorial’, and, much later, as ‘Little Nell’ (www.victorianweb.org/sculpture/colton/7.html). It is not clear why Colton’s sculpture should be associated with Dicken’s character, Nell.  What we see today is a concrete cast of the original that was made in 1897. It looks as if it could do with a lot of tender love and care as it seems to be crazed, cracked and scarred.

Colton created various public sculptures in London, but his work is found further afield. I read (www.speel.me.uk/sculpt/coltonwr.htm) that:

“Important in his career was a series of Indian portraits in the mid-1900s, including statues and busts of the Maharajah of Mysore and the Dewan of Mysore, and a monument to J. Tata, including allegorical figures, for Bombay.”

I have probably seen some of his Indian works both in Mysore and Bangalore but took little notice of them. A website (http://mysore.ind.in/chamaraja-circle) extolling the virtues of Mysore reveals:

“The French born celebrated sculptor of the time, William Robert Colton was commissioned to execute a statue in memorial of the maharaja. He is the same sculptor who executed many famous sculpture in India including the statue of Sir K Seshadri Iyer, at Cubbon Park in Bangalore, who was the Dewan of Mysore State from 1883 to 1901. Also the 8 bronze tigers of Mysore Palace too are the works of Colton.

He spend[sic] some three months in Mysore during 1912 for the preliminary study for making the statue of Chamaraja Wodeyar. The statue was executed in white Italian marble in England … In the statue the maharaja is portrayed in standing posture in military uniform.

Though Colton was famous for executing lifelike sculptures, one glitch was the in the appearance of the face of the maharaja. There was not much resemblance between face of the maharaja and the face of the statue. When the statue finally arrived in Mysore in 1918, the queen the late maharaja Chamaraja Wodeyar was not happy with this aspect.”

Colton, whose father was an architect, was born in Paris, but was taken to England when he was three years old. He studied art first at the Lambeth School of Art and then at the Royal Academy.

Three of the items, which I have described, have connections with Britain’s former empire. Some of the cavalrymen remembered on the Cavalry Memorial, fought in not only in WW1 but also in Egypt, South Africa, and British India. Several major cavalry units were based in India and included soldiers of Indian origin. The other item with an association with part of the former British Empire is the small lady with two fishes, created by an artist who has sculpted some notable Indians. The bandstand near these two park features is typically Victorian and octagonal, and not markedly different in appearance from one that stands in Cubbon Park in Bangalore (India). And all of these are but a few minutes leisurely stroll from Apsley house, the former home of Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852), who fought in India in the late 18th century.

Strolling around the Serpentine

THE RIVER WESTBOURNE may be known by few, but seen by many, living in, or visiting, London. Much of this tributary of the River Thames is hidden from view; it runs underground. The river rises in West Hampstead, passes through Kilburn and beneath Bayswater Road, flows through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, then runs into the Thames near the gardens of The Royal Hospital Chelsea, home of the annual Chelsea Flower Show, (close to the Bull Ring Gate bus stop).

Italian Gardens with 3 arched pump house and behind it on the right, the Queen Anne Alcove

What I will refer to as ‘The Serpentine’ is really the combination of the Long Water (in Kensington Gardens) and the contiguous Serpentine (in Hyde Park). It occupies part of the valley of the River Westbourne and is thus the only part of this river that most people can see. The Serpentine was created between 1730 and 1733 for Queen Caroline (1683-1737), wife of King George II. The body of water was formed by linking several existing ponds fed by the River Westbourne and by water pumped from the Thames. Today, some of the water is supplied from borewells in Hyde Park. Prior to the creation of the Serpentine, two of the ponds were separated by a building called ‘Price’s Lodge’. The “Daily Post” dated 20th of April 1733 reported that:

“The old Lodge in Hyde Park, together with part of the grove, is to be taken down in order to compleat the Serpentine River.”

Price’s Lodge, formerly known as ‘the Cheesecake House’ was a place where the nobility riding around Hyde Park could purchase refreshments (https://georgianera.wordpress.com/tag/prices-lodge/). The newspaper quoted above refers to ‘The old Lodge’, which might possibly been a separate building from Price’s Lodge, which might have still been in existence and being used as a boat house in 1801, but it was no longer standing later that century.

We begin our stroll at the end of the Serpentine just across Bayswater Road close to Lancaster Gate Underground Station. It was here that after flowing beneath Bayswater Road that the River Westbourne flowed into the Long Water section of the Serpentine. The so-called Italian Gardens consists of four large basins or reservoirs, each with eight sides. There is a fountain in the centre of each of them and another in the middle of them. The reservoirs are set on a platform adorned with sculptures and a statue of Edward Jenner, of vaccination fame. The platform is about eight feet above the water level of the rest of the Serpentine. At the north end of the platform with the reservoirs and fountains, there is a decorative building with a central single chimney and roofed with Italianate tiles. Facing the fountains, the building has a loggia, a convenient shelter during a rain shower. Behind the loggia there is a large room housing machinery to pump the water that shoots out of the fountains.

Between the Italian Gardens and Bayswater Road, there is a relatively new café, The Italian Gardens Café, which overlooks the fountains. The café is next to a neo-classical structure which contains a concavity lined with wood panelling. Made in 1705, designed by Christopher Wren (of St Pauls Cathedral fame) and bearing the crest of Queen Anne (reigned 1702-1714), this is the Queen Anne Alcove. This decorative building was moved to its present site from near Kensington Palace in 1868.

The four reservoirs, which make the Italian Gardens delightful, were built in 1861 and were intended to act as filter beds for the Serpentine. The loggia-cum-engine house was designed by Robert Richardson Banks (1812-1872) and Charles Barry (1823-1900). The sculptural features, including urns and nymphs, through which water flows from the Gardens into the Serpentine, were designed by John Thomas (1813-1862).

Moving on from the Italian Gardens southwards along the east side of the Long Water, you can, if you are lucky, spot birds such as herons and cormorants standing in the water near the opposite shore.  After a short stretch along which the lake is well hidden from the path by vegetation you reach an open space in the centre of which there is a huge sculpture made of travertine stone, “The Arch”, presented to the park by its creator, Henry Moore (1898-1986), in 1980. Looking through the arch and across the Serpentine you can see the equestrian sculpture “Physical Energy” by the Victorian sculptor GF Watts. The two sculptures are in line with Kensington Palace, of which there is an unobstructed view from the Moore artwork. “The Arch” is irregularly shaped because it is based on the for of an animal bone that the sculptor had in his possession. A path leads away from the Serpentine to the  Serpentine Sackler art gallery, which is often worth visiting. However, we will ignore that and continue to follow the Long Water in a south easterly direction.

Soon, we reach an elegant masonry bridge with five arches spanning the water. This was built in the 1820s to the designs of John Rennie junior (1794-1874), son of John Rennie, who designed the first Waterloo Bridge. The foot path around the Serpentine passes under each end of the bridge through semi-circular stone lined tunnels. The bridge marks the boundary not only between Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park but also between the Long Water and the Serpentine.

Walking along what has become the north shore of the water because of the bend in the Serpentine, you will pass numerous waterfowl of various shapes and sizes, including swans, gulls, ducks, coots, moorhens, geese, and cormorants. Step carefully to avoid their squidgy droppings along the footway. As you approach the modernistic Serpentine Bar and Kitchen (designed as ‘The Dell’ by Patrick Gwynne [1913-2003] and built in 1964) at the eastern end of the lake, you will pass two boat houses and a shed where in normal times, small pedal-operated boats may be hired by visitors. Look away from these boat houses towards the parkland north of the water and you will spot a roughly hewn monumental stone, a granite boulder. This is the Norwegian War Memorial, presented by the Norwegian Navy and Merchant Fleet in 1978. On one side it bears the words:

“You gave us a safe haven in our common struggle for freedom and peace”,

and on another:

“Worked and shaped by forces of nature for thousands of years”, which refers to the stone itself.

The Serpentine Bar and Kitchen is at one end of the Serpentine. Walking around the back of it, you will notice a small monument that marks the spot from which a supply of water to the Abbey of Westminster was granted by King Edward the Confessor (reigned 1042-1066). Further along the path, heading south, we cross a balustraded bridge with arches facing the Serpentine. Water from the lake flows under the path and emerges from beneath it just before it falls over a cascade (made in 1820) into the luxuriantly vegetated ‘Dingley Dell’.  South of the bridge, there is an ornamental urn, the Queen Caroline Memorial, beneath which there is the following inscription:

“To the memory of Queen Caroline wife of George II for whom the Long Water and the Serpentine were created between 1727 . 1731.”

The path around the Serpentine begins heading west along the south shore of the lake. It is flanked by many trees including weeping willows. Eventually, we reach the Lido. The Lido includes a café and an outdoor bathing area, where bold swimmers, who are not averse to pondweed and sharing the water with waterfowl, can swim in the unheated water of the Serpentine. The front of the café is supported by a row of pillars with Doric capitals. A plaque attached to the wall facing the water commemorates the once leader of the Labour Party George Lansbury (1859-1940), who created the bathing area in about 1930. When the situation is normal, when there is no covid19 pandemic, swimmers use the bathing area throughout the year whatever the temperature of the water.

After enjoying a refreshment at the Lido, we move towards Rennie’s mighty bridge, passing first the Diana Memorial Fountain, opened by the Princess’s mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II, in 2004. This curiously designed water feature consists of two streams of water that flow down curved slopes and meet each other at the lower end of the fountain closest to the Serpentine. Near this, there is a huge, rather unattractive, sculpture of a bird with a long beak. Titled “Isis”, this artwork was created by Simon Gudgeon in 2009. Its circular base has bands of metal inscribed with the names of supporters of the Look Out Hyde Park appeal.

A short stretch of foot path takes one from Isis to the beautiful bridge across the Serpentine. After emerging from the tunnel under the bridge, we find ourselves back in Kensington Gardens and alongside the Long Water section of the Serpentine, walking in a north-westerly direction. Looking away from the water, you will spot a single storey building with three arches each topped with triangular pediments. Built in 1734-35, this is Queen Caroline’s Temple, which might have been designed by William Kent (1685-1748). Opposite it and across the water you get a fine view of Henry Moore’s sculptural arch.

Further on, the pathway runs alongside the water, affording a good view of the distant Italian Gardens and many waterfowl perched on a series of wooden posts crossing the water. Looking away from the water, you will see a statue of Peter Pan standing above a collection of children and animals. Peter Pan is a character created by the author James Barrie (1860-1937), who lived on Bayswater. The statue was created in 1912 by the artist George Frampton (1860-1928).

A few yards further, and we come alongside the western edge of the Italian Gardens. Looking west, you can see a distant obelisk, a memorial to the explorer John Hanning Speke (1827-1864). Near the north west corner of the Gardens, there is a cute sculpture of two bears embracing each other. This metal artwork is placed upon a disused stone drinking fountain. A plaque attached to it notes that it commemorates the 80th anniversary of The Metropolitan Drinking Fountain & Cattle Trough Association, which was founded in 1859. If you get thirsty reading this plaque, then help is close at hand at the lovely Italian Gardens Café.

Finally, one more brief note about Queen Caroline, for whom the Serpentine was created, and which now provides much joy to many Londoners and others. When she inquired of Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745) the cost of enclosing the publicly owned St James Park to secure it for her exclusive use, he replied:

“Only three crowns”

By this, Walpole, the Prime Minister, meant the Crowns of England, Scotland, and Ireland because what she was asking was politically impossible.