The land on which Regents Park now stands was once part of the manor of Tyburn which was given to the Abbey of Barking by the East Saxons.
Marylebone Park was heavily wooded with slopes leading up to Primrose Hill with some open areas suitable for deer.
Henry VIII acquired it from the Abbess of Barking Abbey following the dissolution of the monasteries. He enclosed the area and turned it into a private hunting park.
In order to help pay the debts of the civil war Oliver Cromwell had a lot of the trees chopped down. When the resulting land reverted back to the crown, the resulting land was leased out as small holdings for hay and dairy produce.
When the leases expired in 1811 the Prince Regent (later King George IV) commissioned architect John Nash to create a master plan for the area. Nash had plans for a palace for the Prince surrounded by villas for his friends. Nothing came of these plans but some of his other ideas such as Regent Street were implemented. The park was first opened to the general public in 1835.
Queen Mary's Gardens in the Inner Circle were created in the 1930s, bringing that part of the park into use by the general public for the first time. It is renowned for its 400 species of roses and also contains a summer open air theatre.
Regents Park occupies 410 acres and is mainly open parkland, but contains a large lake which contains a wide range of waterfowl. Herons are abundant. Regents Park is also home to Regents University and London Zoo.
The land containing Primrose Hill was one of many endowments given to Eton College by it’s founder Henry VI. Along with Marylebone Park it was part of the private hunting park created by Henry VIII.
Primrose Hill had a twin Barrow Hill. This was flattened in order to create a reservoir which served neighbouring villas. By 1820 Eton College realised that the land was becoming valuable and drew up schemes to develop the land. One scheme involved a giant pyramid housing a 94 storey necropolis. This would have contained up to 5 million cadavers.
The land was acquired from Eton College. In 1842 an Act of Parliament secured the land as public open space. The hill is 256 feet high and is open 24 hours and well lit. It is a great place to see night time views of London.
While Sir Stanford Raffles was on leave in Europe he visited the Jardin des Plantes in Paris which by the end of the eighteenth century had expanded to include a large collection of animals. This inspired him to begin building a collection of his own collection of mammals, reptiles and birds and well as documents, diaries and over two thousand drawings of animals.
After a long career as a colonial administrator in which he founded Singapore, Raffles was now 42 and in poor health. He set sail for home with his entire collection but 50 miles from land a fire broke out. All crew and passengers escaped in lifeboats and made it back to shore but Raffles entire collection was lost.
Raffles was shattered but was a very determined man and decided to spend another year in Malaya building a second collection of animals. He arrived back in London in 1824. Already a member of the Royal Society Raffles had connections. Together with Sir Humphrey Davy they set up a committee to establish a Zoological Society in London. This project had the important backing of the Prince Regent. Sadly Raffles died at 45 before he could see his dream realised.
London Zoo sometimes called Regent's Park Zoo was opened in 1828 originally as a place for scientific study of animals. It was decided to close the Royal Menagerie in the Tower of London in the 1830s and the surviving animals were transferred to London Zoo. Animals were also transferred as a result of the closure of the Windsor Park Menagerie. The zoo was opened to the public in 1847. It is the world's oldest scientific zoo.
Originally tropical animals were kept indoors, however when Dr Peter Chalmers Mitchell was appointed secretary of ZSL in 1902 he began reorganising the enclosures and let more animals live in the open air. He also came up with the idea of Whipsnade Zoo which opened in 1931. In the 1980s London Zoo got into financial difficulties and in 1991 it was announced that the zoo would close. After public protests and increased visitor numbers it was reprieved. Some of the larger animals like elephants and rhinos were transferred to Whipsnade. Today London Zoo houses a collection of 800 species of animals, with 19,000 individuals.
The Manor of Hyde was mentioned in the Domesday Book. The land was bounded by 2 Roman roads Watling Street (now Bayswater Road) and Via Trinobatina (now Park Lane) and was ideal for hunting. It was given to Geoffrey de Mandeville by William I because of his help in the overthrow of King Harold in 1066. Upon his death Geoffrey gave the land to the Benedictine monks of St Peter, Westminster who farmed the land.
In 1536 Henry VIII acquired the manor of Hyde from the monks and re-established it as a private hunting ground for deer. He enclosed it for the first time and made it a Royal Park. It continued to be a private hunting park until the reign of James I who allowed limited public access.
In 1637 Charles I opened the park to the general public. In 1689 William III created a drive laid out which eventually became Rotten Row. The Serpentine was created by George II's wife Queen Caroline who also began the process of separating it from Kensington Gardens.
In 1851 Prince Albert organised The Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. In recent years the park has been popular as a venue for open-air concerts. In the 2012 Olympics the park was used to stage both the Triathlon and the 10km Open Water Swimming events.
Speakers' Corner is an area near to Marble Arch where speakers may speak on any subject as long as the police consider the subject lawful. This area is close to the site of Tyburn Gallows where the condemned men would utter their last words before being executed. Individual speakers are not as common as they were in the past but the site is still popular for mass demonstrations.
The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain is a memorial in London opened in 2003 which is dedicated to Diana Princess of Wales who died in a car crash in 1997. It was designed to express Diana's spirit and love of children.
Today Hyde Park covers 350 acres and is open daily from 5am to midnight.
Most monarchs have been keen hunters. Charles II was different and was a keen walker. He was particularly influenced by the time he spent in exile in France with the French court. He wanted to create a continuous green walk from his palace at Whitehall to Hyde Park Corner. He bought some little used meadow land between St James Park and Hyde Park, enclosed it with a brick wall, and started to turn it into a new Royal Park which was initially called Upper St James Park. His daily walk through the park explains the name of the road called Constitution Hill. Charles introduced features such as the Ice House and the Snow House.
Charles famously race walked between his palaces of Whitehall and Hampton Court. The Kings Road, Chelsea was built as part of the route. Young nobles at court suddenly also became interested in walking. A famous instance occurred in 1670 when Lord Digby, watched by Charles II and the Duke of York, attempted to win a bet by race walking 5 miles in an hour barefoot over Newmarket Heath barefoot. He failed by half a minute.
Queen Caroline wife of George II made the park extremely fashionable and added features like the Tyburn Pool, The Queens Basin and the Queens Library. Queen Caroline died from complications resulting from her 10th pregnancy in 1737. In 1746 Upper St James Park was renamed as Green Park by George II. The reason is unclear.
In 1743 George II led his troops to victory in the battle of Dettingen at the age of 60 (the last British monarch to do so). In celebration of his victories in 1748 George II had a new building called the Temple of Peace built and commissioned Handel to compose a new orchestral work. At its premier a stray rocket hit the Temple of Peace which held 10,000 fireworks. The temple burnt down injuring hundreds of spectators.
When George III bought Buckingham House he acquired the land south of Constitution Hill to be the grounds of the new Buckingham Palace. This reduced the size of the park by half.
In 1814 the Prince Regent had the Temple of Accord built to celebrate 100 years of Hanoverian rule. This burnt down in an almost identical manner to the earlier Temple of Peace.
In 1826 the park was becoming a haunt for duellists and highwaymen and the Royal Family decided to fully open it to the public.
Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837. There were 3 assassination attempts on her on Constitution Hill and in retaliation she had all buildings and features demolished in Green Park and it became a park simply consisting of grass and trees.
In recent years both the Canadian War Memorial and the Bomber Command Memorial have been added to the park.
Today Green Park covers 47 acres and is open 24 hours.
In 1703 John Sheffield who was made Duke of Buckingham and Lord Privy Seal by his long time friend Queen Anne built a grand house at the top of the Mall. Later this was bought by George III as a house for his wife Queen Charlotte.
George IV expanded it and turned it into a palace and had Marble Arch built as its entrance. He also had The Mall turned into a grand processional route which led up to the palace.
When she ascended to the throne Queen Victoria moved there and it became the prime Royal Residence which it still is today. In 1906 work began to move Marble Arch into its current location and replace it with the Victoria Memorial.
St James's Park
The land which now forms St James's Park was originally marshland caused by Tyburn Brook frequently bursting its banks. In 1205 King John granted the land to the Sisters of St James the Less who built a hospital to care for female lepers. The lepers were given the task of raising hogs. Eventually leprosy declined in England and the land fell into the ownership of Eton College probably as a result of an endowment by its founder Henry VI.
During his rise to power Thomas Wolsey had developed York Place to be one of the most impressive houses in London. After his fall from power in 1530 Henry VIII redeveloped the site which became Whitehall Palace.
In 1532 Henry VIII acquired the leper hospital and adjoining land from Eton College, he had it drained and enclosed it as a private deer park for his new St James's Palace which was built on the site of the leper hospital. The adjoining land became St James's Park and was mainly used as a nursery for his main hunting park of Hyde Park.
In 1603 James I had the park further drained and landscaped, so that he could keep his private zoo there. His animals included camels, crocodiles and an elephant as well as exotic birds. During Cromwell's Commonwealth the park reverted back to being a private deer park.
Whilst in exile in France Charles II was impressed by the layout of the gardens in the French Royal Palaces and had St James Park laid out in a more formal style. In particular a 850 by 42 yard canal was introduced. Charles II opened the park to the public. Duck Island was created in 1665 and many waterfowl were introduced. The Pelicans the first of which was the gift of the Russian Ambassador became a permanent presence. The cavalry who accompanied Charles II into exile were stationed at the east of the park. Later this area was paved over and became Horse Guards Parade.
In 1691 Whitehall Palace burnt down and was never repaired. Nearby St James's Park went into decline and the canal became stagnant. For a period cattle were grazed on the park. Later prostitution and robberies became widespread.
In 1826–27 the Prince Regent commissioned John Nash to sort out the problems with the canal which resulted in the creation of a more naturally-shaped lake. St James’s Park became fashionable again.
Today St James's Park covers 57 acres and is open from 5am to midnight.
The Centre of London
The centre of London is considered to be the traffic island south of Trafalgar Square which contains the equestrian statue of Charles I. This is the site of the original Charing Cross not where the Victorian replica stands outside the station. It is one of the places from where the distance from London to other cities has been measured.
The Charing Cross was the last and most elaborate of the 12 Eleanor Crosses constructed by Edward I marking the overnight stops of the funeral procession of his wife Queen Eleanor who died in Harby in Nottingham and was buried in Westminster Abbey. The cross was destroyed by the parliamentarians following the execution of Charles I.
Following the restoration of the monarchy the site was used for various activities including a Punch and Judy show. The site was also used to execute a number of men for regicide. These were men who signed the death warrant of Charles I.
The equestrian statue of Charles I was commissioned by his Lord High Treasurer Richard Weston for his house in Roehampton. This was appropriated by parliamentarian forces and given to John Rivett to melt down. John Rivett decided to bury it instead and to make money selling souvenirs to both royalists and parliamentarians. After the restoration he confessed to what he had done and surrendered the statue which was erected at this location.
There are a number of restaurants and cafeterias in Regent Park. The Garden Cafe and The Boathouse are the ones I normally use. Most catering has been taken over since November 2013 by Benugo. I need to investigate. https://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/the-regents-park/food-and-drink
In Hyde Park there is the Serpentine Bar and Kitchen (formerly the Dell Cafe) and the Serpentine Lido Cafe. https://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/food-and-drink
In St James's Park there is the Inn the Park restaurant. https://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/st-jamess-park/food-and-drink
In Whitehall there are a lot of pubs serving food all day including the Wetherspoons pub Lord Moon of the Mall. They can be crowded in summer.
There is plenty of restaurants in the nearby Covent Garden area which is in the next section.
London Zoo. http://www.zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo
The Duke of Wellington's former home Apsley House. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/apsley-house/
There are tours of the State Apartments of Buckingham Palace. http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-state-rooms-buckingham-palace