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Royal Parks in London: Regent’s Park

Updated on October 7, 2015
Source

There are eight Royal Parks in London; they are in order of size: Richmond Park, Bushy Park, Regent’s Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Greenwich Park, St James’s Park and Green Park. They are known as Royal Parks because they were originally owned by the monarchy and were used mainly as hunting grounds. Today they are still part of the possessions of the Crown and though they are open to the public, the public does not actually have any legal right to use them – access is still dependent on the ‘grace and favour’ of the Crown. Regent’s Park is the third largest of the Royal Parks and has a long and interesting history. The park is in the north-western part of Central London, partly in the City of Westminster and partly in the Borough of Camden.

The ruins of Barking Abbey
The ruins of Barking Abbey | Source

Abbey Lands & Hunting Chase

Centuries ago Regent’s Park was once part of the forest of Middlesex in the possession of Barking Abbey. The park did not come into the possession of the Crown until the sixteenth century and the dissolution of the monasteries. When Henry VIII was made head of the Church of England in 1534 he became particularly keen on disbanding the monasteries and repossessing their assets and land. What was then ‘Marylebone Park’ was repossessed from the Abbess of Barking in 1538 and turned into a hunting chase. This land was made Crown property in 1538 and has remained in their hands ever since, with the notable exception of 1649-1660 during the English Civil War.

The Civil War & Restoration

The Civil War was an important time for England; it saw the execution of monarchs and the establishment of the Commonwealth of England (later replaced by a Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell). As a result of these tumultuous times, Marylebone Park was passed from the Crown’s possession to that of the Commonwealth Government. The new government did not use the land as a hunting chase as Henry VIII and his successors had; instead, the land was leased out in an attempt to pay the debts accumulated in the war. Sadly, thousands of trees on the land were cut down. When the monarchy was restored with Charles II’s return from exile, the park reverted back to the property of the Crown. Marylebone Park however, did not stay a park for very long. Eight years after the Restoration the park was changed into farm land and was rented out to farmers for the next century.

1833 Map of the Inner Circle in Regent's Park
1833 Map of the Inner Circle in Regent's Park | Source

The 'Regent's' Park

The beginnings of Regent’s Park as we know it did not occur until the second half of the 18th century. The land was surveyed in 1760 and deemed suitable for development. London at this time was growing at a fast pace and building developments were becoming more profitable than farm land. In 1811, George IV chose the land as the location for his new summer palace. The architect John Nash, whose work includes Buckingham Palace, Marble Arch and the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, was commissioned with the task of designing the area. Though Nash’s plans were fairly extensive, involving fifty-six villas and a canal, the majority were not completed. Eight villas were built before the Prince Regent decided to focus on a different area. The Prince’s involvement with the park, however brief, gave the park a new name: ‘The Regent’s Park’. Today you can still see Nash’s circular design and the terraces of houses he designed still stand around the edge of the park.

The Zoological Gardens
The Zoological Gardens | Source

Zoos & Societies

Though Regent’s Park had acquired its name, it was still a fair way off the park we know today. The park was not open to the public until 1835, and even then the public were only allowed in the eastern side of the park. Extra space in the park, left vacant by un-built villas, was rented out to local societies. The Zoological Society of London was one of the organisations that moved into Regent’s Park and made their base there. The society opened the first scientific zoo in the world in 1828 – however it was not made available to the public until twenty years later in 1848. The zoo initially met with some complications. Due to the belief that tropical animals would die if left outside in the English weather, the animals were kept inside – dying instead of a lack of fresh air and exercise. This practice was only changed in 1902. Visitors flocked to the zoo to see camels, elephants and the now extinct thylacine – also known as the Tasmanian tiger.

Queen Mary's Gardens
Queen Mary's Gardens | Source

Regent's Park Today

The course of the twentieth century saw Regent’s Park become the park it is today. When the Royal Botanic Society moved out of their rented section of the park in the 1930s, Queen Mary’s Gardens were added their place. Like much of London, the park was bombed in during the events of World War II, but the damage was quickly reversed and the rubble from collapsed buildings was quickly removed. Today people come to the park to enjoy the scenery and the Regency architecture. There are many things to do in the park, such as visiting the park’s cafés or watching some open air theatre. Many people also visit the park to make use of the sports facilities on offer. Perhaps due in part to the beautiful grounds of the park, the area surrounding Regent’s Park has quickly become a highly sought-after section of the London property market.

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