Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Parks, Commons and Heaths - Hyde Park

Hyde Park, long the favourite resort of the fashionable world, is an extremely beautiful and very delightful spot, embracing in extent an area of 395 acres, in which the combination of hill and dale, wood and water, are so happily blended, as to pro duce, though not an extensive, a rich and varied landscape. The view from Apsley House, terminated by Kensington Gardens, is eminently beautiful; the vicinity of the latter is studded with stately trees, and presents some very pleasing scenery. The house of the keeper is in a beautifully secluded situation. Hyde Park has within the last twelve years been very much improved, by the addition of many plantations and drives, and the erection of a bridge across the Serpentine River. The most fashionable drive for carriages at the present day is the road next Park Lane, which, with a view to increased accommodation, has been extended to four times its former width. The sheet of water termed the Serpentine River is in form nearly a parallelogram, the water being supplied by a small stream that rises near Hampstead and falls into the Thames at Chelsea. On the north side of the Serpentine is a station of the Humane Society, the keeper's lodge, two powder magazines, and a guard-house; here are also two mineral springs. On the south side are barracks for the Life Guards. Hyde Park is much frequented as a promenade, particularly on Sundays, between the hours of two and six in the afternoon There are six entrances, five of which are adorned with neat modern lodges, and the sixth, at Hyde Park Corner, with a triumphal arch. This was erected in 1828, from designs by Mr. Decimus Burton : it consists of a screen of fluted Ionic columns with three arches for carriages, and two for foot passengers; the whole frontage extends about 170 feet. It possesses an air of great elegance, and the gates, which are of bronzed iron-work, are very beautiful: near it is a neat lodge. On the right of this entrance stands Apsley House, the town residence of the greatest hero of any age or nation, - the Duke of Wellington; and facing the entrance is a colossal statue, executed by Mr. Westmacott Its expense was defrayed by a subscription raised by the Ladies of England, by whose order it was erected, in honour of the Duke of Wellington and his brave companions in arms, for the gallantry displayed in their various struggles with the Continental despot The figure of Achilles, eighteen feet high, stands on a basement of granite; it was cast from cannon, twelve 24-pounders, taken in the battles of Salamanca, Victoria, Toulouse, and Waterloo.

Victoria Gate, and improvements in its vicinity. - The Victoria Gate in Hyde Park, within a minute's walk of Kensington Gardens, is a new opening to that delightful spot, made by order of her present Majesty, with the view of affording increased accommodation to the nobility and gentry whose dwellings border its northern boundary. These, from Park Lane to Victoria Gate, form, with some few exceptions, a continued range of stately edifices, of which Connaught Place, Hyde Park Terrace, and last, though not least, Hyde Park Gardens, with its well-disposed inclosure, are the leading features. The view they command is eminently beautiful; the foreground being filled by Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, with its mass of foliage, and, ex~ tending for some miles over the valley of the Thames, is terminated by the Surrey hills. In the rear of these are rapidly rising ranges of streets and squares, that, when completed, will constitute one of the most beautiful localities and best modern improvements of which the metropolis can boast.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844


Sir, - A meeting, crowded to excess, hundreds being dismissed from want of room by the police, was held lately to petition the House of Commons for a supply of wholesome water in the Serpentine, which has long been infamous for impurity and stench. The petition, signed by about 2,000 inhabitant householders of the West-end, was the result of this meeting, which Lord Morpeth, I am informed, is to present. Allow me, Sir, to enlist your valuable columns in behalf of this important sanitary cause.
    At the present time the Serpentine is truly a water-hole - a stagnant pond - the recipient of delinquent or unfortunate dogs and cats - the outlet for much other indescribable filth, and the reservoir of sickening and putrefying fish. Several eminent physicians addressed the meeting held on this subject, and they most distinctly pointed out the many evils resulting from it. The Free Watermen complain that no one will ride in their boats on account of the filthy water; the medical profession advise their patients not to lounge near this cloaca maxima; and the bathers are fairly frightened away. As one of the many (for we are numbered by the Royal Humane Society at "half a million annually") who bathed hitherto in Hyde-park, but now one of the multitude who dread such a method of lubricating our skins, I beseech you, Sir, pray take us under your protection; for if you will but take up the cudgels, the matter will be settled.
    Rome had nearly 1,000 public baths, well supplied with every appliance for health and luxury: London, the first city in the world, has one bath - a stagnant pool - the receptacle of extensive sewerage - the grave of every unnecessary domestic quadruped - the nucleus of malaria - the disgrace of this vast metropolis.
    I am, Sir, most obediently, yours,
June 26,                        T.E.

letter in The Times, June 28, 1848

Victorian London - Publications - Humour - Punch - cartoon 57 - Manners and Customs of Ye Englyshe in 1849 No.3

spring-49-hydepark.gif (84126 bytes)

Ye Fashonable Worlde Takynge its Exercyse in Hyde Parke

Punch, Jan.-Jun. 1849

HYDE PARK. One of the lungs of London, connecting the Green Park with Kensington Gardens, and thus carrying a continuous tract of open ground, or park, from the Horse Guards, at Whitehall, to the hamlet of Kensington. The whole park is intersected with well-kept foot-paths, and the carriage driers are spacious and well-attended. The Park is accessible for private carriages but hackney-coaches and cabs are excluded. ... A review of troops in Hyde Park is a sight worth seeing, but reviews of late years have been of very rare occurrence.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

RING (THE). A circle in Hyde Park, surrounded with trees, and forming, in the height of the season, a fashionable ride and promenade. It was made in the reign of Charles I., and partly destroyed at the time the Serpentine was formed, by Caroline, Queen of George II. Oldys had seen a poem in sixteen pages, entitled The Circus, or British Olympicks, a Satyr on the Ring in Hyde Park. "This is a poem," says Oldys, "satirising many fops under fictitious names. Near a thousand coaches," he adds, "have been seen there in an evening." Several of the trees still remain.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

ROTTEN ROW, HYDE PARK. A road-way for saddle horses only, on the south side of Hyde Park, between Hyde Park corner and Kensington, which in the months of May, June, and part of July, between the hours of five and seven, is crowded with hundreds of equestrians, and ladies in great numbers, adding brilliancy to the scene.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

SERPENTINE RIVER. 50 acres of water, partly in Hyde Park and partly in Kensington Gardens, formed, 1730-1733, by Caroline, Queen of George II., who threw several ponds into one, and carried a stream into it which had its rise near West- end, in the parish of Hampstead. This small tributary Stream, for many years the Bayswater sewer, was cut from the Serpentine in 1834, and the loss of water, or rather sewerage, which the river sustained in consequence, was supplied from the Thames by the Chelsea Water-works Company. After quitting the Park at Albert Gate, the Serpentine joins the Ranelagh sewer, and falls into the Thames at Chelsea.  ...  The waterfall at the east end (frequently dumb and dry) was made in 1820. The stone bridge was built by Ronnie in 1826. On the north side is the neat classic edifice erected by D. Burton as the head-quarters of the Royal Humane Society; near it the Boat-house, where boats are let for hire. The ornamental sheets of water in Buckingham Palace Gardens and in St. James's Park are fed by the Serpentine. The depth varies from one to forty feet. There is some talk of removing the mud deposits from the bottom of this river, of reducing it throughout to one uniform depth, and of devising means so as to insure a constant stream of pure water throughout. When we reflect how many bathe in the river, even in its present dirty state, (12,000 on one Sunday),* (*Sunday July 8th, 1849. See Report of Humane Society in Times of 12 July, 1849)  and how many more inhale its stagnant waters by driving or walking along its banks, or by living in its neighbourhood, it is much to be regretted that the contemplated change is not at once carried into effect. Sir John Rennie's estimate for making the improvements was 30,000l.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

see also London by Day and Night - click here

    Let an Englishman make a park, and his production will be admirable; but if you wish for an entrance into a park, you had better not apply to him. Fortunately Hyde Park is much larger than its two splendid portals. There is plenty of room to lose them from your sight; and there are a great many agreeable scenes which will banish them from your memory. Passing through the Marble-arch to those regions where the Exhibition building stands, we cross a meadow large enough to induce us to believe that we are far away from London. In the west, the ground rises in gentle hills with picturesque groups of trees on their summits and in the valleys; here and there an old tufted oak, with its gnarled branches boldly stretched out; the grass is fresh and green, though all the passengers walk on it. It is green up to the very trunks of the trees, whose shade is generally inju?rious to vegetation; it is green throughout the winter and through the summer months, though there is not a drop of rain for many weeks, for the mild and moist atmosphere nourishes it and fa?vours the growth of ivy which clusters round any tree too old to resist its approaches. Thus does Hyde Park extend far to the west and the south, until it finds its limits in bricks and mortar. A slight blue mist hangs on the distant trees; and through the mist down in the south there are church towers looming in the far distance like the battlements of turretted castles in the midst of romantic forests. The trees recede; a small lake comes in view, it is an artificial extension of the Serpentine, which has the honor of seeing the elegance of London riding and driving on its banks. Early in the morning the lake is ple?beian. The children of the neighbourhood swim their boats on it; apprentices on their way to work make desperate casts for some half-starved gudgeon; the ducks come forward in dirty morning wrappers. Nursery-maids with babies innumerable take walks by order; and at a very early hour a great many plebeians have the impertinence to bathe in the little lake. But today the park and the river are in true aristocratic splendour; here and there, there is indeed some stray nursery-maid walking on the grass, and some little tub of a boat with a ragged sail floating on the lake; there is also a group of anglers demonstrating to one another with great patience that the fish wont bite today, but all along the banks of the river far down to the end of the park and up to the majestic shades of Kensington gardens there is an interminable throng of horses and carriages. Those who have seen the Prater of Vienna in the first weeks of May will be rather disappointed with the aspect of the drive in Hyde Park, where the upper classes of London congregate in the evening between five and seven o?clock, partly to take the air, and partly because it is considered fashionable to see now and then in order to be seen. Extravagant turn-outs and liveries, such as the Vien?nese produce with great ostentation, are not to be found in London. The English aristocracy like to make an impression by the simplicity and solidity of their appearance ; and the metropolis is the last of all places where they would wish to excite attention by a dashing and extravagant exterior. They have not the least desire either to dazzle or to awe the trades?people or to make them envious. They are too sure of their position to be tempted to advertise it: whoever wants this assurance cannot pretend to belong to the aristocracy. By far more interesting, and indeed unrivalled, is Rotten-row, the long broad road for horsemen, where, on fine summer evenings, all the youth, beauty, celebrity, and wealth of London may be seen on horse-back.
    Hundreds of equestrians, ladies and gentlemen, gallop to and fro. How fresh and rosy these English girls are! How firmly they sit! What splendid forms and expressive features! Free, fresh, bold, and natural. The blue veil flutters, and so does the riding-habit; a word to the horse and movement of the bridle, and they gallop on, nodding to friends to the right and left, the happiness of youth expressed in face and form, and no idea, no thought, for the thousand sorrows of this earth. A man of a harmless and merry mind may pass a happy summer?s evening in looking at this the most splendid of all female cavalcades but he who has become conscious of those all-pervading sufferings of humanity which, felt through thousands of years, denied through thousands of years, and asserted only within the last few years by the millions of our earth?he who has pressed this thorny knowledge of the world to his heart, let him avoid this spot of happiness-breathing splendour, lest the thorns wound him more severely still. Then comes an old man, with his horse walking at a slow pace, his low hat pushed back that the white hair on his temples may have the benefit of the breeze. His head bent forward, the bridle dangling in a hand weak with age, the splendour of the eyes half-dimmed, his cheeks sunken, wrinkles round his mouth and on his forehead, his aquiline nose bony and protruding; who does not know him? His horse walks gently on the sand; every one takes off his hat; the young horse-women get out of his way; and the Duke smiles to the right and to the left. Few persons can boast of so happy a youth as this old man?s age. He turns round the corner; the long broad row becomes still more crowded; large groups of ten or twenty move up and down; fast riding is quite out of the question, when all of a sudden a couple come forward at a quick pace. There is room for them and their horses in the midst of Rotten-row, however full it may be, for every one is eager to make way for them: it is the Queen and her husband, without martial pomp and splendour, without a single naked sword within sight. The crowd closes in behind her; the young women appear excited; the old men smile with great glee at seeing their Queen in such good health. Dandies in marvellous trowsers, incredible waist?coats, and stunning ties, put up their glasses; the anglers on the lake crowd to one side in order to see the Queen; the nursery-maids, the babies, and the boys with their hoops come up to the railings; the grass plots, where just now large groups of people sat chatting, are left vacant, and the shades of the evening are over the park. The sun is going down behind the trees; its parting rays rest on the Crystal Palace with a purple and golden glare, whose reflection falls on Rotten-row and its horse-men.  
    In a very short time this spot will be empty.  
    But all hail to thee, Colossus of glass! thou most moral pro?duction of these latter days; iron-ribbed, many-eyed, with thy many-coloured flags, which would make believe that all the nations are united by the bonds of brotherhood ; and that peace, universal peace, shall henceforth reign among the soils of men.

Max Schlesinger, Saunterings in and about London, 1853

see also George Sala in Twice Round the Clock - click here

HYDE PARK, which derives its name from the Hyde, an ancient manor of the priory of Westminster, suppressed by Henry VIII., occupies an area of about 300 acres, and lies between Park Lane and Kensington Gardens, and is separated from the Green Park by Piccadilly. During the season, Hyde Park attracts within its precincts all the wealth, fashion, and beauty of London, and in no other civilised country can be seen such a spectacle as is then presented by the "Lady's Mile" and "Rotten Row."
"Rotten Row," the long bridle-road stretching from 7 Apsley House to Kensington Gardens, is  supposed to have been originally Route du Roi, or the King's Drive. The richly-wrought gates at the west entrance were made by the Coalbrook Dale Ironworks Company for the Exhibition of 1851.
    The Lady's Mile is the carriage-drive along the northern-bank of the Serpentine.
    The Serpentine, a fine sheet of water, which is by no means of a sinuous outline, was formed by Queen Caroline, consort of George II. Bathing is allowed here before 8 a.m. Boats are let for hire, near the Royal Humane Society's Receiving-house. When frozen over, the Serpentine is a favourite resort with London skaters, and the torchlight displays which are then got up infuse something of the  picturesque and romantic into our monotonous metropolitan life.
    The Archway and Iron Screen, at Hyde Park Corner, were designed by Decimus Burton, in 1828. The bas-reliefs were imitated from the Elgin marbles, by Mr. Henning; total cost, 17,0691. On the opposite side of the Park (and facing Great Cumberland Street), the entrance is dignified by a stately Marble Arch, removed from its position at Buckingham Palace, in 1850-51. Its original cost was 80,0001.; the cost of removal, about 11,000l. Chantrey's equestrian statue of George IV., now in Trafalgar Square, was intended to surmount this arch. The south front was executed by E. H. Bailey; the north front by Westmacott the younger.
    The Achilles Statue was imitated from an antique on the Monte Cavallo at Rome; but it is now admitted that the antique was not designed as a figure of the Homeric hero.
    The principal entrances are: Albert Gate, near Knightsbridge Barracks, S.E.; Prince's Gate, S.; Iron Gates, near Kensington Gardens, S.W.; Hyde Park Corner, Stanhope and Grosvenor Gates, Park Lane, E.; Cumberland Gate (and Marble Arch), Oxford Street, N.E.; Albany Street, for foot passengers, N.: and Victoria Gate, Bayswater, N.W.

Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865

see also Andrew Wynter in Our Social Bees - click here

    But we now enter the great Hyde Park itself, assuredly the most brilliant spectacle of the kind which the world can show. It is a scene which may well tax all your powers of reasoning and of philosophy. And you must know the Park very well, this large open drawing-room which in the season London daily holds, before you can sufficiently temper your senses to be critical and analytical---before you can eliminate the lower world, the would-be fashionable element, from the most affluent and highest kind of metropolitan life---before you can judge of the splendid mounts and the splendid comparisons, between fine carriages and fine horses---fine carriages where perhaps the cattle are lean and poor, or fine horses where the carriages are old and worn; the carriages and horses absolutely gorgeous, but with too great a display; and, again, where the perfection is absolute, but with as much quietude as possible, the style that chiefly invites admiration by the apparent desire to elude it. In St. James's Park you may lounge and be listless if you like; but in Hyde Park, though you may lounge, you must still be alert. Very pleasant is the lounge to the outer man, but in the inner mind you must be observant, prepared to enjoy either the solitude of the crowd, or to catch the quick glance, the silvery music of momentary merriment, then have a few seconds of rapid, acute dialogue, or perhaps be beckoned into a carriage by a friend with space to spare. As you lean over the railings you perhaps catch a sight of a most exquisite face---a face that is photographed on the memory for its features and expression. If you have really noticed such a face the day is a whiter day to you; somehow or other you have made an advance. But it is mortifying, when you contemplate this beautiful image, to see some gilded youth advance, soulless, brainless, to touch the fingers dear to yourself and look into eyes which he cannot fathom or comprehend. Still more annoying to think that a game is going on in the matrimonial money market. I sometimes think that the Ladies' Mile is a veritable female Tattersall's, where feminine charms are on view and the price may be appraised---the infinite gambols and curvettings of high-spirited maidenhood. But I declare on my conscience that I believe the Girl of the Period has a heart, and that the Girl of the Period is not so much to blame as her mamma or her chaperone.
    But, speaking of alterations, I cannot say that all the alterations are exactly to my mind. It is not at all pleasing that the habit of smoking has crept into Rotten Row. The excuse is that the Prince smokes. But because one person of an exceptional and unique position, doubtless under exceptional circumstances, smokes, that is no reason why the mass should follow the example. Things have indeed changed within the last few years; the race is degenerating into politeness. In the best of his stories, "My Novel," Lord Lytton makes Harley, his hero, jeer at English liberty; and he says: "I no more dare smoke this cigar in the Park at half-past six, when all the world is abroad, than I dare pick my Lord Chancellor's pocket, or hit the Archbishop of Canterbury a thump on the nose." Lord Hatherley's pocket is still safe, and we are not yet come to days, though we seem to be nearing them, when a man in a crowd may send a blow into a prelate's face. We have had such days before, and we may have them again. But smoking is now common enough, and ought to be abated as a nuisance. Some ladies like it, and really like it; and that is all very well, but other ladies are exceedingly annoyed. A lady takes her chair to watch the moving panorama, intending perhaps to make a call presently, and men are smoking within a few paces to her infinite annoyance and the spoiling of her pleasure. Her dress is really spoilt, and there is the trouble of another toilet. Talking of toilets, I heard a calculation the other day of how many the Princess of Wales had made in a single day. She had gone to the laying of the foundation stone of Earlswood asylum, and then to the great State breakfast at Buckingham Palace, and then a dinner and a ball, and one or two other things. The Princess truly works very hard, harder indeed than people really know. I went the other day to a concert, where many a one was asked to go, and the Princess was there, in her desire to oblige worthy people, and sat it all through to the very last with the pleasantest smiles and the most intelligent attention. Let me also, since I am criticizing, say that the new restaurant in the Park is a decided innovation, and that to complete the new ride, to carry Rotten Row all round the Park, is certainly to interfere with the enjoyment of pedestrians. It is, however, to be said, in justice, that the pedestrians have the other parks pretty much to themselves. There is, however, a worse error still, in the rapid increase of the demi-monde in the Park. A man hardly feels easy in conducting a lady into the Park and answering all the questions that may be put to him respecting the inmates of gorgeous carriages that sweep by. These demireps make peremptory conditions that they shall have broughams for the Park and tickets for the Horticultural, and even for the fetes at the Botanical Gardens. This is a nuisance that requires to be abated as much as any in Regent Street or the Haymarket. The police ought to have peremptory orders to exclude such carriages and their occupants. Twenty years ago there was a dead set made in Cheshire, against the aspirants of Liverpool and Manchester, by the gentry of that county most famous for the pedigree of the gentry, who wished to maintain the splendour of family pride. For instance, the steward of a county ball went up to a manufacturer who was making his eighty thousand a year, and told him that no tradesman was admitted. That was of course absurd; but still, if that was actually done, an inspector should step up to the most fashionable Mabel or Lais, and turn her horses' heads, if obstreperous, in the direction of Bridewell or Bow Street. Anonyma has ruled the Park too much. The favourite drive used to be round the Serpentine; but when the prettiest equipage in London drew all gazers to the Ladies' Mile, the Serpentine became comparatively unused, and the Ladies' Mile, ground infinitely inferior, became the favourite until the renovated Serpentine or change of whim shall mould anew the fickle, volatile shape of fashionable vagary.
    At this present time Mr. Alfred Austin's clever satire "The Season"---a third edition of which is published---occurs to me. The poem is a very clever one, and it is even better appreciated on the other side of the Channel than on this, as is evidenced by M. Forques' article on the subject in the "Revue des Deux Mondes." We will group together a few passages from Mr. Austin's vigorous poem, belonging to the Parks.

"I sing the Season, Muse! whose sway extends
Where Hyde begins, beyond where Tyburn ends;
Gone the broad glare, save where with borrowed bays
Some female Phaeton sets the drive ablaze.
Dear pretty fledglings! come from country nest,
To nibble, chirp, and flutter in the west;
Whose clear, fresh faces, with their fickle frown
And favour, start like Spring upon the town;
Less dear, for damaged damsels, doomed to wait;
Whose third---fourth? season makes half desperate,
Waking with warmth, less potent hour by hour
(As magnets heated lose attractive power).
Or you, nor dear nor damsels, tough and tart,
Unmarketable maidens of the mart,
Who, plumpness gone, fine delicacy feint,
And hide your sin in piety and paint.

"Incongruous group, they come; the judge's hack,
With knees as broken as its rider's back;
The counsel's courser, stumbling through the throng,
With wind e'en shorter than its lord's is long;
The foreign marquis's accomplished colt
Sharing its owner's tendency to bolt.

"Come let us back, and whilst the Park's alive,
Lean o'er the railings, and inspect the Drive.
Still sweeps the long procession, whose array
Gives to the lounger's gaze, as wanes the day,
Its rich reclining and reposeful forms,
Still as bright sunsets after mists or storms;
Who sit and smile (their morning wrangling o'er,
Or dragged and dawdled through one dull day more),
As though the life of widow, wife and girl,
Were one long lapsing and voluptuous whirl.
O, poor pretence! what eyes so blind but see
The sad, however elegant ennui?
Think you that blazoned panel, prancing pair,
Befool our vision to the weight they bear?
The softest ribbon, pink-lined parasol,
Screen not the woman, though they deck the doll.
The padded corsage and the well-matched hair,
Judicious jupon spreading out the spare,
Sleeves well designed false plumpness to impart,
Leave vacant still the hollows of the heart.
Is not our Lesbia lovely? In her soul
Lesbia is troubled: Lesbia hath a mole;
And all the splendours of that matchless neck
Console not Lesbia for its single speck.
Kate comes from Paris, and a wardrobe brings,
To which poor Edith's are 'such common things;'
Her pet lace shawl has grown not fit to wear,
And ruined Edith dresses in despair."

    Mr. Austin is sufficiently severe upon the ladies, especially those whose afternoons in the Park have some correspondence with their "afternoon of life." I think that the elderly men who affect youthful airs are every whit as numerous and as open to sarcasm. Your ancient buck is always a fair butt. And who does not know these would-be juveniles, their thin, wasp-like waists, their elongated necks and suspensory eye-glasses, their elaborate and manufactured hair? They like the dissipations of youth so well that they can conceive of nothing more glorious, entirely ignoring that autumnal fruit is, after all, better than the blossom or foliage of spring or early autumn. All they know indeed of autumn is the variegation and motley of colour. The antiquated juvenile is certainly one of the veriest subjects for satire; and antiquated juveniles do abound of an afternoon in Rotten Row. Nothing we can say about a woman's padding can be worse than the padding which is theirs. All their idiotic grinning cannot hide the hated crows'-feet about their goggle, idiotic eyes. They try, indeed, the power of dress to the utmost; but in a day when all classes are alike extravagant in dress, even the falsity of the first impression will not save them from minute criticism. Talk to them and they will draw largely on the reminiscences of their youth, perhaps still more largely on their faculty of invention. What a happy dispensation it is in the case of men intensely wicked and worldly, that in youth, when they might do infinite evil, they have not the necessary knowledge of the world and of human nature to enable them to do so; and when they have a store of wicked experience, the powers have fled which would have enabled them to turn it to full account! At this moment I remember a hoary old villain talking ribaldry with his middle-aged son, both of them dressed to an inch of their lives, and believing that the fashion of this world necessarily endures forever. Granting the tyranny and perpetuity of fashion---for in the worst times of the French revolution fashion still maintained its sway, and the operas and theatres were never closed---still each individual tyrant of fashion has only his day, and often the day is a very brief one. Nothing is more becoming than gray hairs worn gallantly and well, and when accompanied with sense and worth they have often borne away a lovely bride, rich and accomplished, too, from some silly, gilded youth. I have known marriages between January and May, where May has been really very fond of January. After all, the aged Adonis generally pairs off with some antiquated Venus; the juvenilities on each side are eliminated as being common to both and of no real import, and the settlement is arranged by the lawyers and by family friends on a sound commercial basis.
    It is very easy for those who devote themselves to the study of satirical composition, and cultivate a sneer for things in general, to be witty on the frivolities of the Park. And this is the worst of satire, that it is bound to be pungent, and cannot pause to be discriminating and just. Even the most sombre religionist begins to understand that he may use the world, without trying to drain its sparkling cup to the dregs. Hyde Park is certainly not abandoned to idlesse. The most practical men recognise its importance and utility to them. There are good wives who go down to the clubs or the Houses in their carriages to insist that their lords shall take a drive before they dine and go back to the House. And when you see saddle-horses led up and down in Palace Yard, the rider will most probably take a gallop before he comes back to be squeezed and heated by the House of Commons, or be blown away by the over-ventilation of the House of Lords. A man begins to understand that it is part of his regular vocation in life to move about in the Park. And all men do so, especially when the sun's beams are tempered and when the cooling evening breeze is springing up. The merchant from the City, the lawyer from his office, the clergyman from his parish, the governess in her spare hours, the artist in his love of nature and human nature, all feel that the fresh air and the fresh faces will do them good. There was a literary man who took a Brompton apartment with the back windows fronting the Park. Hither he used to resort, giving way to the fascination which led him, hour after hour, to study the appearances presented to him. The subject is, indeed, very interesting and attractive, including especially the very popular study of flirtation in all its forms and branches. If you really want to see the Row you must go very early in the afternoon. Early in the afternoon the equestrians ride for exercise; later they ride much in the same way as they promenade. The Prince, for a long time, used to ride early in the afternoon, if only to save himself the trouble of that incessant salutation which must be a serious drawback on H. R. H.'s enjoyment of his leisure. Or, again, late in the evening, it is interesting to note the gradual thinning of the Park and its new occupants come upon the scene. The habitue of Rotten Row is able, with nice gradations, to point out how the cold winds and rains of the early summer have, night after night, emptied the Park at an earlier hour, or how a fete at the Horticultural, or a gala at the Crystal Palace, has sensibly thinned the attendance. As the affluent go home to dress and dine, the sons and daughters of penury who have shunned the broad sunlight creep out into the vacant spaces. The last carriages of those who are going home from the promenade meet the first carriages of those who are going out to dine. Only two nights ago I met the carriage of Mr. Disraeli and his wife. I promise you the Viscountess Beaconsfield looked magnificent. Curiously enough, they were dining at the same house where, not many years ago, Mr. Disraeli dined with poor George Hudson. When Mr. Hudson had a dinner given to him lately, it is said that he was much affected, and told his hosts that its cost would have kept him and his for a month.
    The overwhelming importance of the Parks in London is well brought out by that shrewd observer, Crabb Robinson, in his Diary. Under February 15, 1818, he writes: "At two I took a ride into the Regent's Park, which I had never seen before. When the trees are grown this will be really an ornament to the capital; and not a mere ornament, but a healthful appendage. The Highgate and Hampstead Hill is a beautiful object; and within the Park the artificial water, the circular belt or coppice, the few scattered bridges, &c., are objects of taste. I really think this enclosure, with the new street leading to it from Carlton House (Regent Street) will give a sort of glory to the Regent's government, greater than the victories of Trafalgar and Waterloo, glorious as these are." Here again, almost at haphazard, is a quotation from an American writer: "So vast is the extent of these successive ranges, and so much of England can one find, as it were, in the midst of London. Oh, wise and prudent John Bull, to enoble thy metropolis with such spacious country walks, and to sweeten it so much with coutry air! Truly these lungs of London are vital to such a Babylon, and there is no beauty to be compared to them in any city I have ever seen. I do not think the English are half proud enough of their capital, conceited as they are about so many things besides. Here you see the best of horse-flesh, laden with the 'porcelain clay' of human flesh. Ah! how daringly the ladies go by, and how ambitiously their favoured companions display their good fortune in attending them. Here a gay creature rides independently enough with her footman at a respectful distance. She is an heiress, and the young gallants she scarce deigns to notice are dying for love of her and her guineas."
    But, after all, is there anything more enjoyable in its way than Kensington Gardens? You are not so neglige as in St. James's, but it is comparative undress compared with Hyde Park. Truly there are days---and even in the height of the season too---when you may lie down on the grass and gaze into the depth of the sky, listening to the murmurous breeze, and that far-off hum which might be a sound of distant waves, and fancy yourself in Ravenna's immemorial wood. Ah, what thrilling scenes have come off beneath these horse-chestnuts with their thick leaves and pyramidal blossoms! And if only those whispers were audible, if only those tell-tale leaves might murmur their confessions, what narratives might these supply of the idyllic side of London life, sufficient to content a legion of romancists! It is a fine thing for Orlando to have a gallop by the side of his pretty ladylove down the Row, but Orlando knows very well that if he could only draw her arm through his and lead her down some vista in those gardens, it would be well for him. Oh, yielding hands and eyes! oh, mantling blushes and eloquent tears! oh, soft glances and all fine tremor of speech, in those gardens more than in Armina's own are ye abounding. There is an intense human interest about Kensington Gardens which grows more and more, as one takes one's walks abroad and the scene becomes intelligible. See that slim maid demurely reading beneath yonder trees, those old trees which artists love in the morning to come and sketch. She glances more than once at her watch, and then suddenly with surprise she greets a lounger. I thought at the very first that her surprise was an affection; and as I see how she disappears with him through that overarching leafy arcade my surmise becomes conviction. As for the nursery maids who let their little charges loiter or riot about, or even sedater governesses with their more serious aims, who will let gentlemanly little boys and girls grow very conversational, while they are very conversational themselves with tall whiskered cousins or casual acquaintance, why, I can only say, that for the sake of the most maternal hearts beating in this great metropolis, I am truly rejoiced to think that there are no carriage roads through the Gardens, and the little ones can hardly come to any very serious mischief.
    Are you now inclined, my friends, for a little---and I promise you it shall really be a little---discourse concerning those Parks, that shall have a slight dash of literature and history about it? First of all, let me tell you that in a park you ought always to feel loyal, since for our Parks we are indebted to our kings. The very definition of a park is---I assure you I am quoting the great Blackstone himself---"an enclosed chase, extending only over a man's own grounds," and the Parks have been the grounds of the sovereign's own self. It is true of more than one British Caesar:---

"Moreover he hath left you all his walks,
His private arbours and new-planted orchards,
On this side Tibur; he hath left them you
And to your heirs for ever; common pleasures
To walk abroad and recreate yourselves."

Once in the far distant time they were genuine parks with beasts of chase. We are told that the City corporation hunted the hare at the head of the conduit, where Conduit Street now stands, and killed the fox at the end of St. Giles's. St. James's Park was especially the courtier's park, a very drawing-room of parks. How splendidly over the gorgeous scene floats the royal banner of England, at the foot of Constitution Hill, which has been truly called the most chastely-gorgeous banner in the world! If you look at the dramatists of the Restoration you find frequent notices of the Park, which are totally wanting in the Elizabethan dramatists, when it was only a nursery for deer. Cromwell had shut up Spring Gardens, but Charles II gave us St. James's Park. In the next century the Duke of Buckingham, describing his house, says: "The avenues to this house are along St. James's Park, through rows of goodly elms on one hand and flourishing limes on the other; that for coaches, this for walking, with the Mall lying between them." It was in the Park that the grave Evelyn saw and heard his gracious sovereign "hold a very familiar discourse with Mrs. Nellie, as they called an impudent comedian, she looking out of her garden on a terrace at the top of the wall." Here Pepys saw "above all Mrs. Stuart in this dress, with her hat cocked and a red plume, with her sweet eye, little Roman nose, and excellent taille, the greatest beauty I ever saw, I think, in my life." Or take a play from Etheridge:---
    "Enter Sir Fopling Flutter and his equipage.
"Sir Fop. Hey! bid the coachman send home four of his horses and bring the coach to Whitehall; I'll walk over the Park. Madam, the honour of kissing your fair hands is a happiness I missed this afternoon at my lady Townly's.
    "Leo. You were very obliging, Sir Fopling, the last time I saw you there.
    "Sir Fop. The preference was due to your wit and beauty. Madam, your servant. There never was so sweet an evening.
    "Bellinda. It has drawn all the rabble of the town hither.
    "Sir Fop. 'Tis pity there is not an order made that none but the beau monde should walk here."
    In Swift's "Journal to Stella" we have much mentioning of the Park: "to bring himself down," he says, that being the Banting system of that day, he used to start on his walk about sunset. Horace Walpole says: "My lady Coventry and niece Waldegrave have been mobbed in the Park. I am sorry the people of England take all their liberty out in insulting pretty women." He elsewhere tells us with what state he and the ladies went. "We sailed up the Mall with all our colours flying." We do not hear much of the Green Park. It was for a long time most likely a village green, where the citizens would enjoy rough games, and in the early morning duellists would resort hither to heal their wounded honour.
    Originally, Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park were all one. Addison speaks of it in the "Spectator," and it is only since the time of Geaorge II that a severance has been made. Hyde Park has its own place in literature and in history. There was a certain first of May when both Pepys and Evelyn were interested in Hyde Park. Pepys says: "I went to Hyde Park to take the air, where was his Majesty and an innumerable appearance of gallants and rich coaches, being now a time of universal festivity and joy." It was always a great place for reviews. They are held there still, and the Volunteers have often given great liveliness to the Park on Saturday. Here Cromwell used to review his terrible Ironsides. It was Queen Caroline who threw a set of ponds into one sheet of water, and as the water-line was not a direct one, it was called the Serpentine. The fosse and low wall was then a new invention; "an attempt deemed so astonishing that the common people called them ha-has to express their surprise at finding a sudden and unperceived check to their walk." It is said that a nobleman who had a house abutting on the Park engraved the words---

" 'Tis my delight to be
In the town and the countree."

    Antiquaries may find out countless points of interest, and may be able to identify special localities. Once there were chalybeate springs in a sweet glen, now spoilt by the canker of ugly barracks. It was on the cards that the Park might have been adorned with a rotunda instead. Most of the literary associations cluster around Kensington Gardens, concerning which Leigh Hunt has written much pleasant gossip in his "Old Court Suburb." A considerable amount of history and an infinite amount of gossip belong to Kensington Palace, now assigned to the Duchess of Inverness, the morganatic wife of the Duke of Sussex; gossip about Gearge II and his wife, about Lord Hervey, the queen and her maids of honour, the bad beautiful Duchess of Kingston, the charming Sarah Lennox, Selwyn, March, Bubb Doddington, and that crew, whom Mr. Thackeray delighted to reproduce. There is at least one pure scene dear to memory serene, that the Princess Victoria was born and bred here, and at five o'clock one morning was aroused from her slumbers, to come down with dishevelled hair to hear from great nobles that she was now the Queen of the broad empire on which the morning and the evening star ever shines.
    I am very fond of lounging through the Park at an hour when it is well-nigh all deserted. I am not, indeed, altogether solitary in my ways and modes. There are certain carriages which roll into the Park almost at the time when all other carriages have left or are leaving. In my solitariness I feel a sympathy with those who desire the coolness and freshness when they are most perfect. I have an interest, too, in the very roughs that lounge about the parks. I think them far superior to the roughs that lounge about the streets. Here is an athletic scamp. I admire his easy litheness and excellent proportion of limb. He is a scamp and a tramp, but then he is such, on an intelligible aesthetical principle. He has flung himself down, in the pure physical enjoyment of life, just as a Neapolitan will bask in the sunshine, to enjoy the turf and the atmosphere. In his splendid animal life he will sleep for hours, unfearing draught or miasma, untroubled with ache or pain, obtaining something of a compensation for his negative troubles and privations. If you come to talk to the vagrant sons and daughters of poverty loitering till the Park is cleared, or even sleeping here the livelong night, you would obtain a clear view of that night side which is never far from the bright side of London. I am not sure that I might not commend such a beat as this to some philanthropist for his special attention. The handsome, wilful boy who has run away from home or school; the thoughtless clerk or shopman out of work; the poor usher, whose little store has been spent in illness; the servant-girl who has been so long without a place, and is now hovering on the borders of penury and the extreme limit of temptation; they are by no means rare, with their easily-yielded secrets, doubtless with some amount of imposture, and always, when the truth comes to be known, with large blame attachable to their faults or weakness, but still with a very large percentage where some sympathy or substantial help will be of the greatest possible assistance. As one knocks about London, one accumulates souvenirs of all kinds---some, perhaps, that will not very well bear much inspection; and it may be a pleasing reflection that you went to some little expenditure of time or coin to save some lad from the hulks or some girl from ruin.

for the rest of this book, including pictures, click here 

W.S.Gilbert , London Characters and the Humorous Side of London Life, 1870?

see also Charles Maurice Davies in Mystic London - click here

Hyde Park? ?the park? par excellence ? forms the western boundary of Mayfair, and is the great fashionable promenade and public lounge of London. It stands high, and forms with Kensington gardens?which are simply a continuation of it, under somewhat different rules in respect of hours of closing, &c. - a vast open spa nearly a mile and a half in length by three-quarters of a mile width. The park proper, which is crossed in every direction by carefully kept footpaths, is rounded by a carriage-drive of about two and a half miles, and has eight gates, viz, two at the N.W. and NE. corners, Victoria and Cumberland (Marble Arch); two on the east side, Grosvenor and Stanhope, opposite the respective streets; two at the S. E. and S.W. corners, Knightsbridge (Hyde-park-corner) and Queen?s-gate ; and two on the south-side, Albert-gate and Prince?s-gate. A large piece of ornamental water called by the authorities the Serpentine where it traverses the park, and the Long Water so far as concerns the portion in Kensington gardens, runs in a sort of irregular quadrant from N by way of S.W to E., and is commonly known as the Serpentine throughout. It is a favourite place for skating, and about the most dangerous in London. Indeed, skating has recently been prohibited on that portion of the water which is in Hyde Park, and is really the Serpentine. The Humane Society?s establishment stands at about the middle of the north shore; and a portion of the south bank, exactly opposite, and between the water and Rotten-row, is set apart before 8 a.m. and after 7.30 pm. for bathing. Boats are to be had on hire on the north shore. Rotten-row is a piece of road set apart for equestrians, and extending originally from Hyde-park-corner to Queen?s-gate. A supplementary ride has now been laid out on the other side of the Serpentine, and runs from, the Magazine by Victoria-gate to Cumberland-gate. From Hyde-park-corner to Queen?s-gate runs also a carriage-drive, the site of the original Great Exhibition of 1851 lying between. Near the west end of this drive stands on its north side the Albert Memorial. For two or three hours every afternoon in the season, except Sunday, the particular section of the drive which happens that year to he ?the fashion? is densely thronged with carriages moving round and round at little more than a walking pace, and every now and then coming to a dead-lock. The portion of the road specially affected varies from time to time, but is usually either that along the north side of the Serpentine or that between Hyde-park-corner and Queen?s-gate. For the last few seasons it has drifted back to the latter, but in no case does the orthodox Londoner think of extending her drive to any other part of the park. The road from Queen?s-gate to Victoria-gate is now open to cabs, &c,; the remainder of the park to private carriages only. The park-gates open at 5 am, and close at 12 p.m. all the year round. The minor gates are closed at 10 p.m. The great omnibus routes of the Strand and Holborn skirt it on the north and south sides, and that from Victoria to Royal Oak on the east. The nearest stations are ?on the south, Victoria (Dist.), about three-quarters of a mile down Grosvenor-place; and on the north, Edgware-road (Metrop.), a few yards less.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

see also Henry Vigar-Harris in London at Midnight - click here

see also Skating on the Serpentine - click here

I spent from five o'clock until seven this evening watching the spectacle of London society airing itself in Hyde Park. There can be no more wonderful sight anywhere. Certainly there is no place on this earth where there can be seen at one time so many gorgeous equipages, such beautiful horses, and such a display of elegance. Queen Victoria, who is said not to like London, and is therefore seldom seen in the capital, has been out every day of this momentous week. She drove into the Park at a quarter-past five - all traffic being waved to one side - in a great C-springed landau with outriders and gentlemen riding alongside. Shortly after she was followed by the Princess of Wales [Alexandra] a most beautiful woman whose great popularity with the people, especially the women, is in no doubt. There were hundreds of carriages, landaus, barouches, victorias, curricles and private hansoms, and such horses! The powdered and bewigged foot- men in front and behind the vehicles, the red, blue and yellow plush of breeches, the silk stockings of the flunkeys, the flashing buckles just like a fairy tale. The great thing to do, if you are a " blood " and in the swim, is to lean over the iron rails and be recognised by milady as equipage after equipage rolls by in lordly grandeur. There was not a shabby-looking turn-out to be seen. It is one of the worst of social misdemeanours to send a carriage and pair into the Park indifferently accoutred.

R.D.Blumenfeld's Diary, June 27, 1887

HYDE PARK ... This fine park of 388 acres is open free. Great improvements have recently been made here, by large additions of flowering plants, the formation of shrubberies, &c. In the London Season, the fashionable rides and drives present a very animated scene. On the lake are boats, which may be hired for rowing.

Reynolds' Shilling Coloured Map of London, 1895



Sir, - The state of this part after dark is known (must be known) to all who have the misfortune to make a short cut across it after nightfall. The reason is simple: it is not lighted. Applications have been made over and over again to the proper authorities, but, although we are spending Imperially one hundred millions per annum, there is no money forthcoming to light up Hyde Park. And yet it is open to the public until, I believe, 12.30 a.m. How can one wonder at the danger of the place? "They love darkness because their deeds are evil." The very worst of characters, male and female, abound the park. The remedy, as I have said, is simple. The electric light well place and well distributed would alter the conditions of the place half an hour after lighting up, and for ever.
    Let us hope that, now public attention and indignation have been aroused, thanks to your reverend correspondent, her Majesty's Office of Works (which has done so much for the improvement of all the Royal parks) may immediately (even without waiting for a supplementary vote in Supply) give the necessary instructions for lighting Hyde Park in such a way as to prevent any recurrence of the evil complained of.
    I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
Pall-mall east, Sept. 6

The Times, September 7, 1895

Victorian London - Publications - Humour - Punch - cartoon 25


Punch, 7th May, 1898

see also Coaching Clubs - click here

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - The Drive and Rotten Row, Hyde Park

The Drive and Rotten Row, Hyde Park - photograph


Hyde Park is the largest breathing-space which can be fairly reckoned as belonging to London itself. It was laid out in the days of King Hal, but was actually sold to private buyers by the Parliament. It was of course reclaimed at the Restoration. Charles II. established the Ring, a fashionable circular drive; but since the early part of the present century this has been superseded by the Drive and the Row. In the former are seen unbroken lines of sumptuous equipages drawn by the finest coach-horses money can purchase, and occupied by some of the best dressed and most beautiful women in the world, who drive here at stated hours. In the Row are to be found those from the same ranks of society who prefer horse-exercise ; the ground being carefully laid down in tan and gravel for their use.

see also A.R.Bennett in London and Londoners - click here