Travel Report: The Regent’s Park, London.
The Regent’s Park, London.
It was a grey afternoon in London and the lazy wanderings of the day had led me to The Regent’s Park, one of London’s eight royal greens. As with all of London’s royal parks, there was much history to grapple with. Thus I wasted no time in grabbing a nearby bench, from which to follow the park’s long, action-packed timeline. And it seemed a sizeable gathering of the local bird community was also keen on a history lesson.
According to those in the know, Regent’s Park traces back to The Middle Ages when it grew as the grounds of a manor house belonging to Barking Abbey. The abbey was a royal monastery described by historians as one of Britain’s most important nunneries.
Next comes Henry the 8th. No matter what London park I write about, he always seems to get involved. In the 1530s Henry got rid of Britain’s monasteries and, ta dah, found himself with sprawling chunks of new land. Some of it he sold to fund his grisly military campaigns. Others, he said, “I’ll have that, thank you very much”.
This particular park became a hunting and forestry ground. Henry, who apparently couldn’t obtain enough hunting land, called it Marleybone Park. And here he’d come to kill animals. You know, when he wasn’t doing away with wives and peasants.
The Regent’s Park, London.
It was at this point of my reading that I realised the birds around me were increasing in numbers. And they definitely weren’t there for the history. Rather, the focus was entirely on the pastry I’d begun munching on, brought from a nearby bakery. They certainly weren’t shy in getting very close! So much so, that for several hairy moments it was all getting positively Hitchcockian.
Marleybone Park remained in royal hands until the early 1800s. This is when The Prince Regent (George Augustus Frederick) who eventually became King George IV, proposed transforming it into a pleasure garden. Initially, The Crown itself was going to fund the project. However, it ultimately pulled out, leaving the park’s future in a state of limbo.
Thoroughly determined, the prince recruited the renowned property developers James and Decimus Burton, who secured private funding for the new park. Moreover, he hired the famed architect John Nash to design the place.
After years of meticulous landscaping, The Regent’s Park, named after the prince, finally opened in 1811. In those early years it was only available for royalty, aristocrats and by special invitation. In fact, general public admission didn’t happen until 1835, some years after King George’s death. And even then it was for just two days a week.
A Princely Park.
The Regent’s Park wasn’t just eye candy. It helped develop the entire area, with rows of grand townhouses springing up all around it. Again it was The Burton Brothers and Nash who were behind the development. Having finished my pastry and left the birds behind (for the moment at least), I soon saw one of these buildings, the striking Sussex Place.
John Nash designed Sussex Place, which opened in 1823 as 26 terraced houses. By the 1840s some of Britain’s wealthiest people lived here, including William Crockford, who owned the infamous London gambling club Crockford’s. Today the building houses The London Business School.
One thing I soon realised, as I explored that day, is that this is undoubtedly the most bird-friendly park in London. They really are everywhere… not just around the benches, but paddling in the water, waddling in the grass and flitting between the trees.
The Regent’s Park, London.
Apparently, Regent’s Park has around 200 species of birds. On any given day you’re likely to see pigeons, ducks, geese, swans and swallows. Canaries, house martins, sparrows, finches, black birds and wag tails. Furthermore, if you’re luck’s in, you may catch a glimpse of several peregrine falcons that nest in a nearby townhouse.
Eventually, I arrived at the lovely Boating Lake. In better weather it’s common to see dozens of pedal boats scurrying back and forth. But I much preferred it like this, sleepy and mystical, just a couple of blue boats causing mild ripples across the water.
What’s more, the quietness and general gloom made appropriate companions for some reading on a grim chapter of the park’s history. On the 15th of January 1867, over 200 people crashed into the lake after the ice they’d been walking on broke. 40 of them died, leading park management to reduce the depth of the lake to just four metres.
The Boathouse Cafe.
It was a touch too chilly for me to consider boating myself. Consequently, I made do with a warming cup of coffee at The Boathouse Cafe. Open from 9:00-18:00, they do a wide range of hot and cold drinks, in addition to sandwiches, toasties, soups and pizzas.
With a bellyful of hazelnut latte, I pushed on to the north end of the boating lake. Here, I crossed the pretty Hanover Bridge, a wooden walkway that has a twin bridge of the same name a little further down the canal. Try as I might, I haven’t been able to track down any info on the bridges.
What I do know is that they take their name from the Kingdom of Hanover, established in 1814 by the Congress of Vienna. This was to restore the Hanoverian territories to King George III following The Napoleonic War. In short, I’m not sure if the bridges are originals, or modern additions. Nevertheless, it was fun to lean over the eastern bridge and grab a shot of its nearby sister.
Sometime later, the sky getting darker by the second, I came across a match at Regent’s Park Cricket Club. Serving children and teenagers aged between 8 and 17, the club is run by parents and volunteers and is fully accredited by The English Cricket Board.
I have never been a cricket fan. To be honest, I can barely claim to even understand the sport. And yet, having spent so many years of my life living abroad, there was something strangely comforting about sitting in the park that day embracing the bottled Englishness unfolding before me.
The Regent’s Park, London.
Fearful that the sky was working its way towards heavy rain, I picked up the pace along the park’s northern edge, heading for the exit that would lead me to Mornington Crescent Tube Station. As I went, the path took me past the backs of several animal enclosures at London Zoo. Separated by what seemed like some flimsy fencing, I spotted some emus… a huddle of flamingos… a dusty camel.
Generally speaking, I’m not into zoos. But a window into this one did make me smile, especially as I have a vague memory of my mum and dad taking me here as a kid. London Zoo has a decent reputation, as zoos go, plus it would be cool to look around the world’s oldest scientific zoo, which opened its doors in 1828. Maybe one day…
I can’t say I explored all of Regent’s Park that day. As a result, it has gone onto my list for a revisit in 2022. Sladja and I have this idea of spending a day investigating all eight of London’s royal parks. If we do make it back here, we’ll be sure to stop by Queen Mary’s Rose Garden, closed on the day of my visit.
Queen Mary’s Rose Garden.
Photo courtesy of Royal Parks.org.uk
And, among other things, to pay our respects to the seven British Army soldiers who died in 1982 when The IRA detonated a bomb at the park’s bandstand. Regent’s Park is open daily (except Christmas Day) all year round from 5am. Closing times vary depending on the season.
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It must have been nice to be a king back then and have all of these great spaces to play in and no press to deal with. The birds seem to think it is their park. Thanks for the tour.
I think it might belong to the birds actually. One of those crows looked like it could have bullied someone into signing a land deed.
Another of London’s fine open spaces Leighton. I’ve also treated myself to a coffee in the cafe there and relaxed by the lake. I like the facade of Mornington Crescent Underground Station with its brick arches and lettering. Great post, Marion
Thanks for your thought, Marion, as ever. I hope you are having a good weekend in England. It is 1 degree here in Sarajevo and wonderfully foggy and atmospheric.
Yes I think I’ll have to visit again after reading this post, thanks. But I think you’re being very optimistic about doing all the parks in one day!
Probably… but you know, would be fun to sweep aside a day, start early and see how much we can wade through. Thanks for visiting!
Yes it would ..you would need a plan
I love all London’s Parks – so much green space. I used to live close to Hyde Park and very much regarded it as my back garden.
And what a back garden to have, Sheree. Unfortunately, I had to scrap a potential Hyde Park piece for this series. I wasn’t happy with the volume/quality of my photos. So it’ll be high on the 2022 to-do list. Thanks for reading!
I shall look forward to that!
What? Another great park … the UK surely have wonderful green spaces to explore (even on a grey day)! Hmm, I was wondering about those birds right from the start … they didn’t really look like ‘students listening to a history lesson’, but more peckish!! The Rose Garden looks like a great place to visit, hope you get your chance soon! Thanks Leighton, I’ve enjoyed the stroll through another lovely garden … for me, it was the perfect way of spending a Saturday morning 😉.
Hooray! Glad you got to visit London on this Saturday morning. And hope you enjoy the next three instalments before I turn my attention back to Vietnam for a bit.
What a lovely park and so walkable. Fascinating history as well. Too bad the weather didn’t allow you out in a blue boat. Those are fun to explore in. I’ll have to remember not to take a pastry to a park full of birds. Is the building you show as Sussex Place just a single home or multiple co-joined homes? A cozy little weekend getaway nonetheless. I hope someday you can find a place to take a photo dressed as Henry VIII. I’ll order my copy now.
Sussex House is now almost entirely owned by The London Business School, but was originally 26 terraced homes. It’s a really fine building.
I have not seen The Regent’s Park so green and flourishing with leaves: when I visited in December 2015, all trees were bare of any greenery, and the ducks were nowhere to be found (as it was the dead of winter). Spring in London is another world, and it looks to be the perfect time to visit!
Oh wow, I’m trying to picture Regent’s Park in such a skeletal mode. Glad you enjoyed this version Rebecca, thanks for dropping by. And congrats on the booster jab! We’ll be looking to grab those in December when we’re back in Belgrade.
Thank you! I’m surprised that countries in Europe are rolling out the boosters, too. Aside from a numb-like chill I experienced when I slept last night, the side effects are not as bad as the previous doses I’d received!
This looks like such a beautiful park with so much interesting history. It also looks like the pigeons and geese are starting to take it over though!
Don’t mess with da birdz.
Wonderful tour and history of the park, amazing it dates back so far! Also quite a bird collection you acquired ha – reminds me of the pigeons all over NYC
The park is now owned by Lord Pigeon The 3rd of Nestville.
Ha! Love it 🙂
Another wonderful tour of the history and natural beauty of London’s parks!!! I will never be a fan of great collections of birds coming up to me though, especially ducks as they bite and bite hard if food might be available. I like bird watching from a distance but not up close like that.
Fair enough Meg. Birds generally don’t bother me much except for swans. Most I’ve come across, while undeniably beautiful, are pure evil!
Hitchcock should of used swans and ducks in ‘The Birds’- that would’ve certainly raised the fear factor.
I remember venturing to Regent’s Park at least once, away from my usual St James’s, but I was unaware of all its rich history. The birds, however, were already greedy. A side question, how come the word ‘boathouse’ is so popular in English and used for all sorts of trades. I don’t think other languages have the same.
Glad you enjoyed the historical backdrop. Ha, I’m not sure how boathouse (or boat house) became so flexible, as strictly speaking it should be a shed (not even a proper house) used for storing… yes… boats. This one I guess was a boathouse and got converted into the cafe of today.
A lovely spot. I like the term pleasure garden. I would have stopped at that cute little cafe as well. And there are the blue highlights on that little bridge again!
Ha ha yes, it’s a lovely shade of blue right? It gives off such a quaint feel.