London's Kensington Gardens: Diana & Albert memorials, Peter Pan Statue, park maps and more
Kensington Gardens is immediately to the west of Hyde Park, and is 275 acres of glorious formal gardens, ponds, wandering paths, and green-ness.
The Gardens are right next to Hyde Park, and you can walk straight across from one to the other, provided both are open.
Kensington Gardens is open slightly shorter hours - while Hyde Park is open from 5am to midnight year-round, the Gardens are open from 6am to nightfall. In the winter, it can get dark pretty early in London, and the difference in opening-times is therefore more obvious (think 4pm in December.....)
Kensington Gardens are quieter and less active than Hyde Park - if you want to play casual games of rugby, cricket or rounders, or hire horses, or be generally loud and noisy, Hyde Park is the better bet.
If you want a calmer atmosphere, and to enjoy peace and quiet amid wonderful gardens in central London, this Royal Park is for you!
It's also great fun to walk from Kensington to Westminster, through first Kensington Gardens, then Hyde Park, then St. James' Park, without stepping out into the busy atmosphere and traffic of the centre of town.
King William III and his wife, Queen Mary II, were joint monarches.
Mary was the elder (and protestant) daughter of King James II.
Mary and William were first cousins, and married in1677.
King James II had converted to Catholicism during his second marriage, and only lasted 3 years as King.
When James was forced out in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, his nephew William and daughter from his first marriage, Mary became King and Queen together.
William and Mary had no children together, and after Mary died, William continued as King on his own. After William's death, Mary's younger sister, Anne, became Queen.
The Royal couple bought Kensington Palace because it was, at the time, a semi-rural and peaceful place for the asthmatic King.
The Palace remained a royal residence - Queen Victoria was born there, and lived there until she became Queen.
Mary of Teck, wife of George V, mother of George VI, and grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II, was also born in Kensington Palace, as her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Teck, were visiting London at the time of her birth.
The Prince and Princess of Wales lived there from their marriage in 1981.
It continued to be Diana, Princess of Wales' London home after the couple divorced, until her death in 1997.
Kensington Gardens was also, for many years, home to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, wife of George VI and mother of Elizabeth II.
History of Kensington Gardens
Kensington Gardens were originally part of Hyde Park.
Owned for centuries by the monks at Westminster Abbey, Henry VIII bagged the lot in 1536 and created a massive hunting park for his private use.
The hunting park remained in Royal hands - in fact, both Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are still Royal lands, although today both are part of the Royal Parks organisation and open to the public.
The Gardens were separated from Hyde Park when William and Mary bought Kensington Palace.
Kensington Gardens were laid out in the form surviving to this day by George II's wife, Queen Caroline, starting in 1728.
It was she who caused the damming of the River Westborne, which created both Long Water and the Serpentine, and she who created the Round Pond.
The lake created by the damming of the Westborne is the same stretch of water, but it is known as Long Water in Kensington Gardens and the Serpentine in Hyde Park.
Queen Anne, younger sister of Mary II, and successor to the throne, built the Orangery next to Kensington Palace.
The Albert Memorial was the major addition during the 19th century
- Serpentine Gallery
The website of the Gallery, giving details of current exhibitions, facilities, and opening hours.
The layout of Kensington Gardens
The Round Pond is the centre of four tree-lined avenues which each give a different view of Kensington Palace.
They are beautiful and the mature trees add to the view.
Queen Caroline's "ha-ha", the ditch which marked the boundary between the Gardens and Hyde Park, was a novel and then fashionable idea in landscaping at the time it was dug.
Most of it is now filled in, and is West Carriage Drive, and still marks the boundary.
The north-west corner of the park contains the formal Italian gardens, and just north of the Palace is the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial playground.
It's a great play area for children, with a model ship at the centre which kids can climb all over. My 3 year old son adores it.
East of the Palace is the Round Pond, which isn't round, and the tree-lined avenues radiating away from it.
It's a popular place to sail model boats, and if the weather's half-decent, you are likely to find children (and big kids) having fun with their boats here.
The Serpentine Gallery, in a 1930s building, holds fantastic exhibitions of modern art.
A link to the Gallery's website can be found to the right of this text.
- Albert Memorial
A very detailed account of the Albert memorial, which identifies and explains all the statues, images, and building materials.
The Albert Memorial
The Albert Memorial was built in honour of Prince Albert, husband and Consort of Queen Victoria.
It was built by the astonishing neo-gothic architect George Scott. It is made from red granite and grey granite.
It’s an incredibly elaborate work, with a 169 carved figures and angels, and separate sculptures representing the different continents of the world, arts, industry and science.
It suffered a lot with pollution and damage, and was repaired and restored at the cost of £10million in the mid 1990s. It is now sparkling and beautiful.
The Memorial is in Kensington Gardens directly north of the Royal Albert Hall, and is 176 feet tall.
The inscription reads:
Queen Victoria and Her people to the memory of Albert Prince Consort as a tribute of their gratitude for a life devoted to the public good.
At the top of the Memorial are statues of Faith, Hope, Humility, Charity, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance.
At the top of the tower is a large gold cross.
On the pillars of the canopy are statues representing geology, chemistry, astronomy and geometry, and in the four niches, rhetoric, philosophy, physiology, and medicine.
There are four mosaics on the outside of the canopy featuring allegories painting, architecture, poetry and sculpture, supported by historical statues.
King David and Homer support the poetry mosaic, Solomon and Ictinus the architecture, Phidius and Michelangelo the Sculpture, and Apelles and Raphael the painting mosaic.
There are also the allegorical sculptures depicting commerce, engineering, manufacturing and agriculture, all elaborate and detailed works, which featured in the Great Exhibition 1851, organised by Prince Albert.
The four statue groups of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas are also fascinating.
It’s an amazing work and needs to be looked at in detail to be properly appreciated.
- Kensington Garden by Thomas Tickell
The full text of the poem
Literature associated Kensington Gardens
Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J M Barrie features the famous boy who doesn't grow up. It is set mostly in the Gardens, after dark.
Barrie wasn't the first person to associate fairies and other little people with the Gardens.
Thomas Tickell wrote about them in his 1722 poem, Kensington Garden.
This is an extract from the poem, the link to the right of this text will show you the whole verse:
From every region to his palace-gate
Came peers and princes of the fairy state,
Who, rank'd in council round the sacred shade,
Their monarch's will and great behests obey'd.
There is a statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, and near the Diana playground the 900-year old Elfin Oak, which is carved to show fairies and elves peaking out of the bark.
Trinity is a computer game, famous amongst its kind, set largely in Kensington Gardens.
It involves grass that doesn't like to be walked on, and armies of nannies trying to imprison you in the Gardens.